With all its tricky moves and acrobatics, you’d think the circus is the last place for anyone with physical and other challenges. Welcome to Social Circus, and the team that makes the circus accessible to all.
By True Colors Festival Team
At the SLOW LABEL circus company founded by creative producer Yoshie Kris in 2011, it’s not just gravity that’s defied. Expectations are turned on their head as the company stages productions featuring performers of all abilities and body types. Literally.
On this road less traveled, Kris is in good company with experienced accessibility coordinators Kaori Hirooka and Yumi Kaneda on her team. Kaneda, for instance, was Chief Access Coordinator for the 2016 Rio Paralympic Flag Handover Ceremony. Their mission is to ensure that the circus is for all to watch and work in.
Both Hirooka and Kaneda’s passion for access coordination stem from professional stints as nurses and personal experiences of caregiving, either of children or of an elder. Kaneda also battled cancer in 2019.
As meaningful as their work is, it presents challenges that most of us in our office or work-from-home situations can hardly imagine. Ensuring the safety of performers, creating the environment that meets their access needs, and understanding their reasons for wanting to perform – it’s all in a day’s work for Hirooka and Kaneda.
“My role as an access coordinator is to create an environment where everyone who participates in it can do so safely and in their own way,” says Hirooka.
Individuality is key
At SLOW LABEL, individuality is held in high regard and arrangements are made so that each performer’s individuality can shine. To achieve this, much of the accessibility coordinators’ time is spent in consultation with the performers or their parents or guardians. Information about each cast member’s background, including their physical and mental health, is gathered and time is taken to build trust with the performers.
“We observe each performer’s strengths and weaknesses and tap on their strengths so that they can perform at their best. I believe that performers with diverse abilities and disabilities are all unique in their own way. No matter what happens, I try to treat each person as an individual and with respect,” explains Kaneda.
Circus for good
It’s no surprise that SLOW LABEL is part of the growing global Social Circus movement which champions circus arts as a medium for social justice and social good.
At the recent Social Circus Day, celebrated annually on the first Saturday of April, SLOW LABEL and True Colors Festival presented an online circus workshop. Led by world renowned Canadian circus performer Erin Ball and other unique performers from the cast of True Colors CIRCUS’ upcoming show T∞KY∞: Too Good to be a Bug, the energetic session put smiles on the faces of its participants of all ages and abilities.
“The word “circus” conjures up an image of fun! Circus arts also involves lots of practice and when performers start to be able to perform tricks, they become more confident. This helps to build self-esteem,” explains Kaneda.
“Circus arts is based on the idea that the significance of a group’s existence is created when diverse people come together and recognize each other’s unique movements and existence,” adds Hirooka.
In many ways, the circus is an apt metaphor for Kris’ and SLOW LABEL’s vision of what society can be — the coming together of people from all walks of life, in collaboration with one another, to build a world that works for everyone.
Catch a glimpse of Kris’ vision in True Colors Festival’s True Colors CIRCUS: T∞KY∞: Too Good to be a Bug happening on April 25 and 26, 2021.