Our 2020 Round Up

Hello Friends,

Wow, what a rollercoaster of a year this has been. We’ve endured 2020’s challenges with you all and have never before felt so connected to our community and our sector. This – among some other key activities – has truly been the highlight of our year.

As we reflect on the challenges and the revelations of 2020, we also reflect on what a year of unexpected growth it turned out to be – for Upswing and for many organisations like us. By growth, we mean inward growth – the deep thinking, the deep listening, and the questioning. This has enabled us to take a step back, revisit our values and our mission, and reimagine how we can better serve our audiences, the circus sector, and our communities.

So, as we sign off for 2020, we are sharing some of our highlights, with the expectation that we start 2021 as we mean to go on…

At the start of 2020…we were in a very different place, and anticipating a different kind of year…

– We were busy completing the phase one delivery of our multi-year project Seasons – a unique creative programme exploring our changing relationship with nature and the world immediately around us; using music, visual design and circus. In January and February, we were back at The Library at Willesden Green working in collaboration with schools and families in Seed Workshops based around the season of Summer. This was followed by a week of creative development with aerialist Alfa Marks and ended with a sharing of an R&D performance with local families in Brent. Going forward, we’ll take inspiration from these initial sessions to develop a new live performance for libraries; a new show for theatres, and an online experience for children and young people.

– We also welcomed 44 wonderful folk to our Bungee Dance Programme and launched a new addition to the programme: Next Level with Vicki Amedume. We loved watching participants progress from the Taster sessions, through Masterclasses, to the Next Level training, and look forward to welcoming you back in 2021!

Bungee Dance Masterclass; Seasons (artist: Alfa Marks; photo credit: Mark Robson); Bungee Dance Next Level

In spring, as we heartbreakingly pressed ‘pause’ on our entire programme, we also pressed ‘go’ on new initiatives…

– As we braced ourselves in the wake of the pandemic and initial lockdown, artists and freelancers in our sector faced endless cancelled performances and pulled contracts, and many fell through the gaps for self-employment support. In those initial response days, we connected with 18 artists and circus practitioners though free 1:1 Support Surgeries with our team. We talked about everything from mental and physical wellbeing, to emergency funding applications, to artistic ideas.

– We also (rather organically!) launched Slow Thinking – a digital programme that brought the circus sector together in conversations about the right now and the future. To all 245 of you who attended this programme during the course of the year, we cannot thank you enough for your contributions, ideas, and openness. Slow Thinking has now developed into a regular programme and will be back in 2021.

Slow Thinking; Circus Snapshot; Circostrada Lab; BAMEOver

As the early summer months scorched down upon us, the country took to the (real and virtual) streets…

– Like so many others, we said Black Lives Matter and, with inequalities being highlighted by the pandemic, we realised that our response to diversity and inclusion needed a refreshed action plan. We reflected on how we as an organisation support diverse talent in the UK, and what more we can do. We set about strengthening our leadership position to affect change in circus and the wider arts sector. We interrogated our internal systems and continue to do so. We are thankful to organisations and working groups that have pulled together the resources which are helping us continue our learning – Inc Arts and #BAMEOver, Freelance Task Force, #WeShallNotBeRemoved

– In July, we were delighted to host Crying Out Loud’s Circus Snapshot as part of our Slow Thinking programme, where 120 of you signed up to take part in open discussions about the future of Circus. These conversations are progressing into 10 mission groups as part of Circus Change UP. In 2021 we will continue to be a part of this initiative, as well as convening the Diversity, Inclusion and Representation mission group with Sascha Goslin and the Networking and Showcasing mission group with Axel Satgé from Split Second. 

– The world opened up to us (via Zoom!) and Upswing joined 12 talks, seminars and webinars across the UK and Europe, and 4 taking place as far afield as Canada and Australia!

In autumn, we congratulated many others that we have worked with and continue to support…

Joana Dias, ’89 (photo credit: Jemima Yong); The Worst Witch; Sadiq Sadiq, The Chosen Haram; Keiran Warner, Sadiq Sadiq, Joana Dias at Dua Lipa

– The production of The Worst Witch, in which Vicki led aerial direction, won an Olivier Award back in October!

– We were over the moon to congratulate Joana Dias, an Upswing Associate Artist, in her first successful Arts Council England Project Grants application! We will be supporting Joana to develop ’89 – a solo autobiographical aerial piece – next year.

– We were also blown away by Sadiq Sadiq’s film of The Chosen Haram this month. Sadiq shared an early scratch of the performance with us and a full house at Hoxton Hall as part of the Circus Circus Circus programme with Upswing and Certain blacks in 2019. This years’ challenges have not prevented Sadiq from further developing the show into a live and filmed production.

– At the end of November, we joined Dua Lipa in an online concert including Elton John and Kylie Minogue! Vicki choreographed Aerialists Sadiq Sadiq and Joana Dias, and Cyr Wheel artist Keiran Warner for the star-studded live-streamed event.

Between that, we found some space for creative development…

Susan Kempster & Jerone Reid at Catch Me rehearsals and filming; Hannah O’leary, Mike Corr, Joana Dias, Heather Lai at Bedtime Stories rehearsals

– With support from Newham Unlocked/Certain Blacks and Greenwich+Docklands International Festival, we reimagined Catch Me into a socially distanced and a film version of the performance. Creating in Covid had its challenges, but it was so good to be at GDIF for that sunny weekend in September! We are now taking bookings for both version of Catch me in 2021 – find out more here.

– Whilst our Bedtime Stories tour to China was grounded this year, the cast and crew still came together (at distance!) to rework the show and adapt for Chinese translation. We look forward to finally getting out there when the time is right.

…and we waved a farewell, but also said many hellos…

– Whilst we said farewell to our Chair of two terms Deborah Sawyerr, and Trustee Frank Sweeney, we also welcomed five new Trustees to the Upswing board! Welcome (pictured left to right) Interim Chair Lucy Morgan and Trustees Joshua Williams, Mary Helen Young, Katie Walker and Nnena Nwakodo

And finally, as we approach the end of the year…

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped us get through 2020. Our staff and freelancers for being our backbone. Our brilliant Board of Trustees for being our navigators. Our funders: Arts Council England, City Bridge Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, John Lyon’s Charity, London Community Foundation and Brent2020 for their continued support. Those who have donated individually. Our membership bodies ITC, Outdoor Arts UK, UK Theatre & SOLT, for their sharing, support, and advocacy.

Thank you for being here this year.

Wishing you a brighter, bolder 2021🌟

From everyone at Upswing