For Ninth Summer, TOHU's MICC Brings Circus World a Full Marketplace of Ideas - StageLync

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For Ninth Summer, TOHU’s MICC Brings Circus World a Full Marketplace of Ideas

Every July in Montreal since 2015, TOHU’sInternational Market of Contemporary Circus (the MICC, for its French acronym) holds an Annual Market that calls together industry professionals and top-tier companies from Quebec, North America, and the world in spaces of art, discovery, and connection. MICC Director Ruth Wikler lets us in on the key details of the 2023 edition.   

Since its first iteration back in 2010, theMontrĂ©al Compl­Útement Cirque Festival—TOHU’s landmark celebration of new forms of circus from within Quebec and the world over, held every summer—has expanded to include more than just a cutting-edge contemporary circus showcase: it has become a meeting point for industry professionals to connect with one another and explore common concerns and possible collaborations in the ever-evolving circus world. This extension of the event takes the form of the MICC Annual Market, a concurrently held professional gathering wherein producers, artists, and more can both meet and connect with one another and present themselves and their own work on an international platform. Each July, the Annual Market offers attendees four days packed with networking and collaboration opportunities, both in-person and virtual, such asworkshops, discussion panels, pitch sessions, and more,as well as chances to experience new artistic trends firsthand in showcases.

Ruth Juliet Wikler, Deputy Director of Programming for Circus, TOHU

For more details about what to expect from the MICC’s upcoming 9th edition, we spoke to MICC Director Ruth Juliet Wikler, also the Deputy Director of Programming for Circus for TOHU, North America’s premier circus presenting organization. Along with her directing of the Annual Market,  Ruth develops programming for the MontrĂ©al Compl­Útement Cirque Festival and TOHU’s mainstage and summer seasons; supervises TOHU’s training and residency program for circus artists; and oversees TOHU’s museum collection of circus history art and objects. Ruth came to TOHU after curating seven seasons of contemporary international theatre and performance for Boom Arts in Portland, Oregon, which she also founded. She previously served as Associate Director of Programs for the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center (The Graduate Center CUNY); in fundraising and administrative capacities for other NYC arts organizations; and as founder, director, and producer for the NYC troupe Cirque Boom. 

CircusTalk (CT): For how many years has the MICC been held, and how do you see this event and its mission evolving in the future?

Ruth Wikler (RW): 2023 is the 9th edition of the MICC Annual Market. TOHU created the MontrĂ©al Compl­Útement Cirque Festival in 2010, and since that first edition, touring professionals (presenters, artists/companies, agents, producers) have made their way to MontrĂ©al each July to experience the range of contemporary circus works being presented at the festival and connect with colleagues. In 2015, TOHU formalized this encounter by creating the MICC as a four-day market program for visiting professionals, embedded in the Festival and geared to complement participants’ Festival attendance. 

I assumed direction of the MICC from En Piste’s now-Interim General Director Nadia Drouin in 2019, which meant that I also spearheaded the MICC’s ‘pandemic pivot.’ The 2020 and 2021 editions of the Market were held virtually, and we resumed in-person gatherings in 2022. This pandemic pivot enabled the MICC to transform in key ways: we launched a membership program and year-round activities, from online workshops to meetings, so now the MICC is what we call the year-round community and the Annual Market, orRendez-vous annuel, is what we call the four-day July gathering. The move online enabled us to recognize that the cost of traveling to MontrĂ©al in July had been the key barrier to access to the MICC for many artists and companies, particularly those based in countries whose governments don’t support international market development for contemporary circus artists (the US very much included)—and that the costs associated with producing an in-person event, from technician fees to food and beverage, would be reduced drastically in an online context. So we were able to reduce those barriers to access through the online programming, and as a result, involvement tripled and went global—we now have over 900 members in 44 countries.

What has been especially gratifying for me is that this global engagement has now fed back into our in-person gathering; 22 countries will be represented at this summer’s MICC. The entire sector is benefiting from our work.

 CT: What can participants expect from the 2023 MICC? What are the main themes of this year’s conference? 

RW: The MICC Annual Market aims to offer presenting professionals a portrait of the richness and diversity of the contemporary circus discipline, and to offer artists and companies from QuĂ©bec, Canada, and abroad the chance to connect and share their work and their vision with presenters who are interested in their art form. The portrait emerges from an amalgam between the full-scale programming of the MontrĂ©al ComplĂštement Cirque Festival, which this year includes over 14 productions, and the incredible variety of productions being pitched at the MICC pitch sessions. Through both the Festival performances and the pitches, artists convey their work on their own terms. Networking events offer incidental time for potential touring relationships to develop. Workshops and professional development sessions expand participants’ toolkits for both presenting and for creation and touring. Our panel discussion themes emerge from both artistic trends we’ve identified (including from within the Festival programming) and burning issues we’ve heard about through our working groups; this year the panel discussions are about scale in circus; global circus development; and gender in circus (a vast theme—we’ll be breaking into small groups for that one).

CT: The pitch session has been a popular and growing element of the MICC.  How many companies are you expecting this year, and what does the regional representation look like? 

RW: This year, our esteemed international jury reviewed a whopping 103 projects, a 50% increase in submissions from last year. We were thrilled to be able to offer pitching spots to 37 companies, of which five will be pitching virtually (an option we continue to offer to those companies who are unable to obtain government mobility support). 22 countries are represented, from Canada to Taiwan to Burkina Faso. In addition, four Quebec-based companies will be showcasing pieces live, including two outdoor works (Flip Fabrique and Cirque Kikasse, both from Québec City) and two indoor ones (Machine de Cirque from Québec City and the 7 Fingers from Montréal).

All the pitching and showcasing companies for 2023 can be seen here.

CT: Besides this in-person annual event, the MICC has also become a membership organization.  What does your membership structure look like, and what benefits do you offer to your members year-round?

RW: MICC membership is open to any individual or organization who engages in the creation, presentation, and/or touring of contemporary circus. If this sounds like you or your organization, then we highly encourage you to sign up. Membership is financially accessible, and a waiver code is clearly marked on the website should your economic situation necessitate it. Plus, anyone who registers for the in-person Annual Market automatically becomes a year-round MICC member. 

The two major benefits of membership, in my opinion, are access to the myriad online workshops we organize throughout the year–recently we held a fascinating session on inclusion riders, for example–and access to the Member Directory. As a circus artist or agent, I can look in the Member Directory and find programming profiles for presenters who are interested in my art form. That is truly specialized information and you really won’t find it anywhere else.

CT: The Working Groups are one part of the MICC’s year-round programming and member engagement.  Tell us about how these groups have been formed. What are the most popular groups? Do these groups work toward a specific result and solution, or are they more like open exchanges and conversation starters that members can follow and take over to their own communities? 

RW: The MICC Working Groups were formed as part of our first online market in 2020. As part of our ‘pandemic pivot,’ I reached out to a wide range of thought-leading colleagues from around the world and invited them to co-lead working groups for the MICC that represented different aspects of the circus sector,- from sector-based ‘affinity groups’ (such as Producing & Touring) to common interests (like ‘Climate and Circus’) to geographical focus areas (like ‘Focus Latin America’) to collaboration-oriented groups (like ‘Presenting Circus in Canada’).  Three years later, the sector and common interest groups have been consolidated into a single ‘Sector Advancement’ working group, and the geographical focus area groups have been consolidated into a single ‘Global Circus’ working group. The four collaboration-oriented groups are still meeting regularly on Zoom, and many, many groundbreaking creations and touring projects have emerged from those, and continue to do so.

CT: We have already shared with our readers the  stellar lineup of this year’s MCC festival. Is the MICC always held in connection with MCC? What are you most excited about in this year’s MCC lineup? 

RW: The MICC Annual Market—the four-day professional gathering—is embedded in the Festival, allowing participants to soak in the Festival atmosphere and see the Festival shows. The whole experience is exhilarating, and should not be missed! When our second pandemic edition of the Market came around in July 2021, the Canadian border was still closed to foreign visitors so while the Festival took place live and in-person (albeit with Canadian companies only), we were obliged to conduct the Market online. That’s when we realized that July is NOT an optimal time to run a standalone market—particularly on Zoom; who wants to watch a screen all day in July? But as a complement to the live Festival, the in-person Market buzzes in July. And MontrĂ©al is a terrific city to visit in the summertime. We try to create fun opportunities for Market participants to truly experience MontrĂ©al. This summer, we are even organizing a field trip on a water taxi on the Saint Lawrence River!

 

Want a deeper glimpse into the Annual Market’s 2023 program? Visit the MICC website here  for both a thorough listing of professional events and a guide to the artistic offerings you’ll find in Montreal.   

Images in this article provided by Ruth Juliet Wikler, of past MICC Annual Markets. Photography Credits to Andrew Miller.

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