Wisdom from the Young Stage: How Circus Festivals Are Prizes in Themselves - StageLync

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Wisdom from the Young Stage: How Circus Festivals Are Prizes in Themselves

For festival artists, jurors, and spectators– not to mention the organizing team and their terrific volunteers– it was another big year at the Young Stage festival, and I was delighted to represent CircusTalk on the jury. Industry peers and prizewinners shared their take on the role circus festivals play in helping the art form flourish.
“A festival is between a fairground and a jewel box. For a talent scout with the motto ‘You never know,’ festivals are essential.”
— Pascal Jacob, Artistic Director, Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain
Nadja Hauser, Young Stage Festival and Artistic Director

International Circus Festival Young Stage debuted in 2007, and following what Festival and Artistic Director Nadja Hauser calls a “big, big learning,” took a two-year hiatus to apply their newfound experience and restructure themselves professionally. The next decade saw the festival grow not only in scope, but in critical acclaim, achieving their vision of becoming one of the most important circus festivals in the world.

 The 2022 edition of Young Stage took place in the event hall of Messe Basel, successfully evoking a circus atmosphere with the installation of a round stage and a 1,500-seatgrandstand.

 Following a late night of animated deliberations, I asked this year’s jury members to weigh in on the question: “What role and significance do festivals such as Young Stage have in an artist’s career, and what is the particular value for you as Talent Seekers?”

 “Every circus festival has its own personality,” explains Jacob. “To be there, sharing energy and strength, absorbing the pulsation of the house, it’s the essence of our presence in Basel.” Ian Jenkins, casting director and project development at Europa Park, says that as well as live performance energy, what most festivals tend to share is their purpose: to provide artists “a professional stage to showcase their talent, and, in parallel, to provide show producers and directors from around the world a chance to see, not only the talent, but industry trends, new styles, and exciting disciplines.”

Ten years ago, Circus unARTiq artist Andreas Bartl watched his partner aerialist Lisa Rinne’s festival success catapult her into the international scene. He says, “Discovering the personality, the energy, and the spirit of a new artist cannot be replaced by any visual media. Circus is a performance art, and the impact of a live experience is the result of the co-presence of the artist and their audience.”

 Trio Vertex, winners of the 2022 Golden Star for their hand to trapeze act, appreciates that festivals allow artists to push the art form forward, encouraging and rewarding experimentation and new ideas. “In an industry with more talent than talent seekers, festivals are a hugely important platform to help us springboard our career or a new act. They are an unparalleled chance to put yourself in front of an audience of industry leaders, receive feedback, and potentially secure work and connections for the future,” they say.

 Jacob goes one step further: “It’s crucial for young artists to be seen by a large array of professionals. But this also means the festival has a responsibility… if there are no deals and no contracts clearly signed during the festival, it means we failed. [Festivals] have to be able to line up the perfect parameters: innovative acts, meeting spaces, facilities for professionals, global cultural environment, a lounge and bar, and… a lot of smiles!”

 Act selection for the festival is founded on criteria that includes both artistic and technical performance level, concept development, authentic expression, and the ability to connect with an audience—as the organizers put it, “Do you get goose bumps, do you smile, are you surprised?” Each year, over 400 applications are whittled down to no more than 15 acts for the stage show and festival competition. Adding to the festivities is the open-air circus spectacle that showcases over 100 artists from 20 nations.

Young Stage, as its name declares, selects artists up to the age of 27. Festival organizers are committed to supporting and educating every young circus performer that participates, offering the artists professional development sessions, opportunities for feedback, and the ever-valuable chance to hone their networking skills. “This not only supports the artists participating in the festival but supports every circus in the world that the festival performers go on to work in,” says Jenkins.

One of those artists is Clara Laurent, winner of this year’s CircusTalk Spotlight Award. As a first-time festival competitor from North America, Laurent reflects on her impressions of and takeaways from the event, saying, “From what I understand, festivals are where producers and other people in the industry come to see a curated program of high-level acts, and network. Young Stage takes this a step further, hosting specific networking events that give artists clear spaces to talk to producers and connect with other artists.” Such events offer a valuable glimpse into the European circus world and help form relationships. “It’s not just the connections with producers that end up being important! Now I also know 27 other artists who I can go to for advice and feel comfortable around, should our paths ever cross again,” she says.

A Young Stage artist’s learning and growth happen during the show preparation as well: “Young Stage gave me the chance to learn how to communicate how I want to exhibit my act. For the first time, I had to explain my vision to a technical team, highlighting the elements that were really important to support my vision on stage,” says Laurent.

 Mario Muntwyler of Circus Monti performed onstage in 2019, and three years later sat on the jury. While as a participating artist, his main goal was to have fun, meet great people, and connect with producers and casting directors, he acknowledges that many artists have their eye on a prize. Looking through the lens of a talent seeker, however, Muntwyler believes that making new contacts is even more meaningful than winning an award. Samuel Roy, senior casting advisor at Cirque du Soleil, adds: “A festival is like a huge audition where you have the chance to perform in front of different companies and most importantly, in a professional environment where they can see you act on- and off-stage. It is a great place to expand your professional network.”

Moving forward, the festival organizers have big plans. They intend to open a Circus Center in Basel with the goal of becoming an important international center for contemporary circus. In true Young Stage style, their mission is all circus: to live, love, promote, educate, and let circus flourish in all forms.

Images: Courtesy of Young Stage
Stacy Clark
CEO of CircusTalk, Casting Director, Career Coach -Canada
Stacy is a seasoned professional in the circus and performing arts industry. A former gymnast and circus artist, Stacy worked in marketing and communications before leaving it all behind to perform and teach circus worldwide on stage, at festivals, and on screen. Today she is a freelance casting director, career coach, and artistic advisor. In 2021, Stacy joined the small and dynamic team at the international online platform CircusTalk as CEO. Previously, Stacy was a talent scout and then the Director of Casting at Cirque du Soleil.

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Stacy Clark

Stacy is a seasoned professional in the circus and performing arts industry. A former gymnast and circus artist, Stacy worked in marketing and communications before leaving it all behind to perform and teach circus worldwide on stage, at festivals, and on screen. Today she is a freelance casting director, career coach, and artistic advisor. In 2021, Stacy joined the small and dynamic team at the international online platform CircusTalk as CEO. Previously, Stacy was a talent scout and then the Director of Casting at Cirque du Soleil.