Circus Oz's newest member comes to the Big Top with some stories of his own
Circus found Nathan Kell when he was 11 years old, bouncing off the walls in a blue-collar town in Western Australia. His father hoped that a circus outreach program might help him channel his energy into something creative. Today, he’s suspending himself horizontally from a pole – arms flexed, legs pointed outward like a flag – in preparation for his first appearance with Circus Oz.
Landing gracefully on a crash mat, Kell welcomes Time Out to Circus Oz’s new digs. Having recently moved from Port Melbourne, the team is flourishing in their new Collingwood space, which at 15 metres tall is the same height as their Big Top in Birrarung Marr.
Weeks out from the new show But Wait… There’s More, the team is deep in the distinctive Circus Oz rehearsal process. Proudly animal-free, the newly-formed troupe starts each new show with an open-ended idea, which the performers interpret using their unique set of talents. This time around, audiences will find themselves in an abandoned theatre, where they will encounter brand new ring-mistress and hip hop artist Candy Bowers at the helm, alongside Lilikoi Kaos – known for swinging 50 hula hoops around her waist – flying trapeze daredevil Spenser Inwood and Kyle Raftery, who can ride a unicycle, juggle and play the trumpet – possibly all at once.
Then there’s Nathan Kell. He was asked to audition during his 13-month stint spent (quite literally) on the back of King Kong, manipulating the one-tonne puppet in the hit 2013 musical, and describes joining the Circus Oz team as a “breath of fresh air”. With a background in self-devised street theatre, he relishes the chance to experiment, learn, and create something that is both entertaining and meaningful.
“We don’t want to get lost in self-aggrandisement and just doing skills for the sake of applause. We really want to make sure the audience leave thinking or feeling something,” he says.
Circus Oz performers have always been upfront about reflecting the company's core beliefs of social justice in their work (“circus is art, and art is a mirror,” says Kell). Their most recent show, Cranked Up, was set at a construction site, and featured songs about racism and diversity alongside Indigenous performers from Circus Oz’s BLAKflip program.
Make no mistake: there’ll be no shortage of flying trapezes, unicycles, escapology and comedy under the Big Top this winter. But as for the meaning behind the antics, for now, Kell’s keeping things open-ended – after all, it’s the scope and subtlety of circus that seduced him in the first place. “I can do anything and everything I want to get my meaning across,” he says. “It’s almost limitless in a way and there’s a beautiful freedom in that.”
Circus Oz: But Wait... There's More, Birrarung Marr, Jun 25-Jul 4.