The creator of 2016’s superb Alice in Wonderland is returning to Edinburgh
Hello Joanna, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello! We are from London. Although the group as a whole, in typical circus fashion live fairly nomadic lives and are often scattered around the globe.
Can you tell us about your sports career?
So I trained as a gymnast at a young age competing as a base in sports acrobatics. Which is funny as in circus I’m always a flier. I competed for three years but at the age of 14 transitioned to circus. I went back to gymnastics at Cambridge University and competed for the university team each year.
Where, when & why did you make the transition to the more creative, & less competitive world of circus?
I quit competitive gymnastics at the age of 14 when competition between the squad and even against my own pair and trio felt toxic. With such an emphasis on appearance and perfection I realised it wasn’t the world for me. I felt an emptiness in my life when I left but then went to see Traces by the Seven Fingers and was instantly inspired. My first contemporary circus show – I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. Incredible acrobatic ability with such aesthetic and artistic beauty and creativity. Before I knew it I was auditioning for the youth program at the National Centre for Circus Arts and that was that. I trained in flying trapeze and tumbling throughout my teenage years at the incredible space in Shoreditch and had the honour of working with companies such as Ockhams Razor on our annual shows.
What is, would you say, the quintessence of your creativity?
The quintessence of my creativity. Wow what a question. Probably my adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a forest in Brazil last year. We created an immersive experience, guiding the audience around the forest in the incredible Rosemary Dream with fairies hanging from aerial equipment in trees and Shakespeare and live music ringing out into the night. I had pretty much no budget so made all of the costumes and designed the lighting myself and encouraged students from a circus school to participate. It was a magical experience and something I’d love to develop with more time and money in the UK.
You directed a sell out circus adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at the 2016 Fringe, how did you find the experience?
Alice was incredible. It was my first experience directing and has influenced my life ever since. I had a fantastic team of 30 students all so excited to be up in Edinburgh and enthusiastic to work hard to sell the show. We occupied a large strip of the Royal Mile everyday and flittered in abstract acrobatic poses with jugglers, dancers and musicians all parading around in black and white traditional circus get up. Edfringe still uses images of us flyering on the mile for their information packs on publicity which always makes me smile. It was of course also my first insight into the struggles of putting on a fringe show but clearly didn’t put me off as I returned the following year with Coppelia and now here I am two years on from that with Tarot.
Who are The Feathers of Daedalus?
I set up the Feathers straight after finishing Alice in Edinburgh in 2016. I graduated from Cambridge with an art history degree and nothing seemed more logical than setting up a circus company. I was so inspired following Edinburgh from what I’d seen and the people I’d met. Having studied Art History and being a painter myself I wanted to create a company that would make multidisciplinary shows retelling surreal stories in the manner of Alice. With a date booked in Jacksons Lane the following May to premiere my first professional production and some Arts council funding behind me, I set off to travel the world and be further inspired in my shows developments. I developed parts of the project on an art residency in Japan, worked on some of the circus elements in a circus school in Brazil, and collected music and ideas all the way around.
You’re bringing a show this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
Tarot is an acrobat, aerial and live jazz-soul show based on two audience card readings. With 22 card options and only 6 cards drawn each night, every show is different and the acrobats and musicians never know what’s coming up next. We want to create a show that’s fun, impressive and unites audiences in their shared experiences. Tarot has been quite the adventure. The idea came to me when I had my cards read for the fist time in New Orleans last autumn. I fell in love with the world of Tarot. The imagery of the cards, the history, the stories and the mystery. I returned to London and met with the female lead of my previous show Coppelia who is a clairvoyant. I ran the idea past her of trying to merge live audience readings with circus and she was excited. I organically built an incredible team made up of people I’d worked with previously and those recommended for their interest in Tarot. I felt like I lucked out with my cast and band. They’re all incredibly experienced and talented and have been amazing to work with.
What is the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting your show together?
As with so many shows – lack of time and lack of money. With issues getting funding and a cast who all live busy lives scattered over the world it’s been tough to pull the show together. But we managed to find 10 days when we were all in the UK and with some of us juggling other jobs to fund the show, here we are.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell Tarot to somebody in the street, what would you say?
Ever wanted a tarot card reading? Want to see your tarot lived out in front of you by world class acrobats? Come and check out trot. The circus spectacle with live jazz-soul music in response to audience Tarot card readings. Every show is different. Every show is unique.
What will you & Tarot be doing after the Fringe?
Tour the world? Wouldn’t that be nice. For now the next step is Underbelly on the Southbank in London in September. After that. Let’s see.