The Barunga Festival Circus Project 2014

Program Snapshot

The strong interest in circus training for young people from the Barunga area, and the benefits of the many skills, health improvement and related disciplines that flow from it led to the formation of a partnership between the Gurrumul Foundation and the Flying Fruit Fly Circus (FFFC) with support from the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation (TFFF), and the Australia Council for the Arts.

The Barunga Festival Circus Project was run in collaboration with the local school.The program was designed to develop performance and circus skills with the kids of the Barunga area, culminating in theatrical performances for the entire community as well as thousands of visitors, at the remote Barunga Festival in June 2014.

The long-term aim of this project is the development of a local circus troupe, ongoing training by this group of younger children , and opportunities for secondment, skills exchanges and employment with nationally acclaimed circus groups. The intention is to broaden the program to accommodate children from other schools in the region.

How the Program Worked

A rigorous circus skills program was conducted over 3 visits to the remote community of Barunga in the Katherine Region, by FFFC, with a performance outcome at the Barunga Festival.

The project was carried out over 3 phases:

Phase 1 March 31 to April 4, involved the FFFC Artistic Director and Head Trainer visiting Barunga to assess skills levels and identify potential group leaders.  Program ideas were discussed and negotiated. The children were given a program and asked to practise until the next FFFC visit.

Phase 2 April 28 to May 9, involving more members of the FFFC including Head Trainer who visited Barunga for two weeks. Sessions continued with early learning, primary and secondary school students during school hours, in two- hour blocks. The team identified some ‘stand out’ kids and involved them in intensive training sessions, preparing them for more speciality acts.

Phase 3 May 26 to June 10 had the FFFC team return to Barunga for a two week stay. Additional members increased the team to 10. The team continued sessions with early learning, primary and secondary children which included refining and practising for the festival event. 12 students were subsequently recognised for their talents and identified for larger roles.

The performance was showcased twice at the Festival with an open one-hour taster on the Sunday for all young people at the festival.

Program Outcomes

The project was heralded a huge success by participants of all ages, teachers, trainers, community members and festivalgoers who witnessed the two performances.

  • Specific outcomes of the Circus project included -:
  • Improving general fitness and health of participants
  • Improving focus and concentration
  • Improving self image
  • Building self esteem and self confidence
  • Offering opportunities to remote Indigenous young people

Adrian Trost, The Principal of the Barunga School reported that:

‘2014 was the first year of circus in Barunga. The organisation and preparation was a massive task for everyone. I was very pleased with the commitment from all parties. The whole circus experience was valuable and worth the incredible demands it placed on everyone. It was a gigantic team experience that united everyone who participated.

Attendance at the school generally sits at around 65%. During FFFC visits there were days of attendance up to 85%.

Students participated well and developed new skills. Attitudes were positive for most of the preparation. Attendance was much higher for most of the circus preparation. Great effort was put into preparing and motivating students for the performance. The challenge of public performance was too great for some but we expect in the coming years this may get easier.

The Fruit Flies worked tirelessly and sensitively. I was quite amazed by their patience and emotional intelligence. They were professional, compassionate and friendly to the end.