‘This is about a community of people exploring the Mining Institute, and exploring light’ – House of Light’s Helen Averly [Interview]

For this year’s Juice Festival, Circus Central, with support of Arts Council England, are bringing circus performance to Newcastle’s Mining Institute.  Ellen Orange speaks to Artisitic Director Helen Averley to find out more about these performances.
Can you tell me a little bit about how the performances work in terms of the shows, involving the audience and making the film?
The events that we are doing at the House of Light are a combination of audience participation and engagement with performance. We are looking at how circus fits in the Mining Institute, which is a heritage building, and so we hope to engage people in a different way and during performance, and also looking at the building in a different way. People coming to the event should come prepared to be involved in unexpected ways and we would like them to bring their smart phones, to arrive dressed up for an event – (not dressed up as clowns or circus characters, as such). When they arrive they will be invited to participate in creating small videos on their own smart phones, those will be hopefully shared with other members of the public at following events and also online and we hope to use these films of the circus to make something in November.
What can audiences expect from the show?
There is going to be roaming performances as well as the set ones. Younger members of the audience will be invited to participate in a Discover Arts Award, so there is going to be a trail around the building for them to get involved in. That will mean that they will end up with a qualification. 

Who are the performers? Are they professionals, young people etc.

We’ve got some professionals, and some people who did it for the love of it. Circus Central have a range of artists of all ages, instead of being a youth circus show, it’s about community performers gathering at the Mining Institute. We are looking at the building as a home for circus and a place we feel at home, so the circus are inviting the audience to come and be at home with them. We are doing something different to the building’s usual residents so we are showing it in a different way. It’s an experiment as well, the audience may not know what they will see until they are there. 
Does the title, ‘House of Light’ mean something in particular?
There are two ways of looking at it. The building has got an amazing stained glass window, and they are known as ‘leaded light’. The Mining Institute has a history of coal, so light is symbolic and circus often involves light, so some of the performances are going to be focused around these ideas. It’s a starting point for what we are working on. 
The feeling of a heritage building being like a house and full of ideas and activity, and a house being a welcoming place where people live, that’s why we want it to be a house rather than an institute. Because we are doing a residency surrounding these events we will already have been in there for a while working out the site specifics. 

Can you explain to me a little bit about the workshops you have been running?

These workshops are contributing ideas for the performances and also creating small films for the audience to watch on their smartphones when they come. Quite often things like performance and circus arts are quite ephemeral; you do them then they are gone, so we wanted to do something with circus people, not necessarily performance but making images which have movement in them, these short films, will have a life after the action. This will become a portrait of the circus at this time in the Mining Institute, which is a different way of looking at what we do and how we do it. For the artists involved it is also a different way of working. Circus artists have to work in different buildings, in parks in trees, not always in a tent or theatre so how you relate to your space is important.

What do you want people to take from the show?

We want people to gain knowledge, pleasure, seeing circus in a beautiful place, but I think families, young people, individuals, adults who come are will be engaging with individuals who are passionate about their arts form it’s a conversation between the artist and audience, we need this interactivity. We hope audiences go ‘Ah that’s great,’ because without them engaging we are in the dark, audiences allow the artists to shine.
Classically with circus you know what to expect. You go into a field and go into a tent and think ‘this is going to happen and that is going to happen,’ there is a predictability in that. We are breaking the format but this is about a community of people exploring the Mining Institute, and exploring light.
It’s a really intergenerational project, it is research and a way to share this research in an interesting way. It depends upon the audience being up for it as well, about having it from the audience’s point of view not just the artist.
As artistic director, what has your role involved?
I came up with the initial concept, though a lot of people at Circus Central have been behind it so it’s been really exciting and we are really looking forward to it. I suppose I’m a bit like the audience member, because I’m waiting to see how it turns out as well. Also, I have been really keen to get a project which is intergenerational, rather than what we have done in the past, it reflects our organisation and community much better.
What has been your favourite moment so far?
The moving image workshops with Ken Fanning and seeing how quickly people got into the project devising and the risks they took artistically. It was really nice to be working creatively with a lot of different groups, that was exciting and the journey itself is exciting. 
Make sure you book tickets online at bookwhen.com/circuscentral to see House of Light during Juice Festival. It’s on Wed 28th Oct and Thurs 29th Oct at The Mining institute. You can find out more about the event here and more on Circus Central here.
Please note this event takes place in the Mining Institute which is an old building and not fully accessible.