Circus Voices in BLM

Circus Voices in BLM

We are still in the middle of so many things happening this year. We previously talked about some of the BIPOC voices in circus currently sharing their stories. This is a continuation of that prior article. It’s important for us to hear voices from varied backgrounds and insight into experiences different than our own. Here we look at 3 more voices of color currently speaking up in the circus industry. 

Paris the Hip Hop Juggler recently spoke with Jonathon Iverson on  In Center Ring. He joined an afterschool circus program at his school in Harlem at 9 years old and that was just the beginning. In 7th grade he joined a performing arts school where circus was part of the daytime curriculum. He originally didn’t like juggling, till he was inspired by the right teacher, and he was hooked. He got his moniker from appearing on The Today Show at 14 years old. They discuss both having parents who are immigrants who don’t see the point of non practical traditional careers. Paris lied and told his parents he wanted to be an accountant. He went a traditional route and then was inspired to follow his heart after going to watch a friend busk. He’s gone on to perform on the Daily Show, at the White House, on Sesame Street and follow his heart as an independent artist. They discuss his inspirations being Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson who inspired him as a black youth. He approaches part of performing as ambassadorship in being himself to inspire other black youth to juggle. He’s adapting in pandemic in part by teaching an online outreach juggling program in the Bronx and performing in virtual shows including this act directly speaking about BLM. 

Being an ambassador can bring growth in terms of leadership. Noeli Acoba spoke to Vicki Amedume & Bill Forchion about their experiences as leaders of color in circus recently on her Youtube Channel.  They both have achieved many accolades but this interview focuses on Amedume’s experience as a female director of color and on Forchion’s experience with Cirque. Amedume says barriers in directing as a woman of color include we still tend to think of directors in this industry as white males especially as you get into bigger companies. She mentions even with all of her years and awards in the industry it’s hurtful to still be questioned if she should be in spaces. She was awarded a fellowship in the UK a few years ago that was very competitive and prestigious and had someone respond she only got it because she was black when she announced it. 

Forchion shares he’d auditioned 4 times and made it to the final rounds at Cirque each time but not being hired until 10 years after he saw his first of their shows. He later in a frank discussion with someone who had been at his auditions was told it hadn’t been possible to hire him before because they couldn’t recast as replace him if he left suggesting it would only be possible to replace him with another person of color that matched his skillset. He also says how valuable his experience was in being part of Cirque to his growth and development. 

In ways we could do better microaggressions being small but become heavy as they add up is addressed. Forchion said he was relieved when his thoughts were confirmed that he’d told people in the past Cirque didn’t hire Black people but it’s also such a narrow way of thinking about casting. Amedume touches on this too in terms of it’s not enough to be extremely talented when she sees many artists of color get less work.  It’s also pointed out that tokenism strips  away individuality as a complex human being and artist when one person is seen as a culture. A way we could address this is by casting with archetypes and make the best fit for the job all being looked at and scaled in a similar manner including artists with disabilities. It’s mentioned as part of the problem is companies and audiences look with a lens of what has been successful before. The more we invest in an endeavor it becomes more risk averse, maybe the industry needs to take more risks. Forchion started his career as a clown but found it didn’t work everywhere and transitioned to being an acrobat to work more. Amedume says she’s starting to see more professional performers of color in the UK  as well as more disabled performers being represented on stages. Forchion mentions as we see people from different backgrounds were going to hear new stories and have new experiences to touch on.  I for one am excited to see what the future holds in terms of diversity in representation and stories we may see when stage-lights return. 

article by Christine Denker