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Freedom Festival helps pioneer extraordinary circus

What happens when you combine circus and street arts with new technologies?

Freedom Festival Arts Trust is proud to be supporting the development of extraordinary circus as a partner in a cutting-edge project in 2018.

A creative collaboration between academics, researchers, circus and street arts performers and directors, this week saw the launch of XR Circus and the announcement of the five artists who have been chosen to take part in a programme that will push creative boundaries.

Artistic Director and CEO of Freedom Festival Arts Trust, Mikey Martins – himself a former circus, cabaret and theatre performer – explains why Freedom Festival is supporting this exciting project.

“The XR Circus project seeks to address the question of what innovative content and emotionally impactful audience experiences are possible, when we bring together academics specialising in cutting edge immersive technologies with circus and street arts directors and performers.

“This collaborative partnership will also identify the potential national and international market and exhibition possibilities for both the live experience and digital product.

“Funded by AHRC Immersive Experiences Fund we’re really proud to be working alongside Without Walls, Seachange Arts, Driftwood 360 and Brighthouse to support this vibrant sector to bring five new ‘immersive experiences’ to life – a fusion of the latest technology with circus performance.”

A call was put out at the end of January for artists to put forward their proposals, with five since chosen to take part.

During the research phase of the project the five artists will work with academics specialising in immersive technologies. They will then test their performance with a live audience to capture and evaluate audience reactions to the introduction of these new technologies into circus and street arts experiences.

Mikey continued: “This project will significantly advance our understanding of cutting edge immersive technologies in live performance sectors. Shifting the focus from an over dependence on the visual through an exploration of the haptic, the sensual and the sonic potentials of new technologies.

“There is tremendous creative talent and potential within the circus sector in the UK – we can’t wait to see the results and to bring this talent and new shows to future Freedom Festivals.”

As part of the Circus 250 celebrations, circus will play a leading role in this year’s Freedom Festival programme, it’s 11th year.

This year’s Freedom Festival will take place from Friday 31 August to Sunday 2 September 2018.

The five selected artists include:


Emma is an aerial circus performer with a background in fine art, design and events who uses circus to explore socio-political themes. In an age of digital isolation, captivating performance and storytelling are powerful tools that can engage disenfranchised minds, provoking political discourse and inspiring change. Last year Emma created two pieces of work that explored feminist and environmental issues: Grow Wild for Kew Gardens and a corde lisse piece based on metoo and sexual harassment.  Emma is keen to further explore the use of projections surround sound design, 360 film and perhaps haptic technology to fully immerse the audience in her issue based work.


A freelance choreographer / director / producer and a long-standing contributor to the UK’s grass-roots contemporary circus and immersive theatre scene, Rowan is artistic director of Full Tilt Aerial Theatre who produce small & large-scale, site-specific spectaculars, fusing aerial dance and circus with technologies.  Rowan is interested in seeing how immersive technology could enhance two artist projects she is directing: ‘Anon’ by artist Rosie Ward  and  ‘Ters Okyanus’ by Ciplak Ayaklar Kumpanyasi (TR).


Upswing came into life in 2004 when Vicki Amedume founded the company to expand her solo work as an aerialist and choreographer.  They have been an ACE NPO since 2012.  Upswing are interested in creating duet. The idea is that the audience will watch the duet live and then the piece will be viewed again using two different immerse technologies. Each time it is seen additional layers of a narrative will be revealed creating shifts in how the audience perceive the people and relationship in front of them.


Roderick Morgan is an assistant producer the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio and creates digital performance as part of Trajectory Theatre. His project idea, Circus in a Bottle, is a location based mixed reality experience that skews scale in order to bring the big top to a small space. He will experiment with a combination of head mounted AR, volumetric display, interactive haptics and automated scenography to create a world in miniature that the audience is able to activate and explore.


Carolyn Watts is an aerial specialist undertaking a practice based PHd at the University of Portsmouth looking at social circus and digital technology especially as relates to young women.  Carolyn is interested in exploring further how  technologies such as motion capture, 360 video and green screen can give the audience the experience of being the aerialist.


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