North London’s Jacksons Lane is an artistic melting pot with a community focus. Since 1975 they have been instrumental in bringing arts to all sections on society, whilst also producing a diverse array of work with a particular focus on contemporary circus. This season is their busiest yet, with over 150 days of performances comprising contemporary circus, mime and interactive children’s theatre (circus for babies anyone)? We spoke to the man behind the operation, Artistic Director Adrian Berry, who has an impressive CV working with a number of cultural institutions including Stratford Circus and The Albany Theatre. Over the past few years Adrian has been working to bring inventive and original theatre to Jacksons Lane as well as developing an inclusive participation programme for people of all ages and backgrounds.
London Calling: You have a packed season coming up at Jacksons Lane - is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?
Adrian Berry: I’m really looking forward to a show called The Band, which is a duet of physical theatre and circus comedy about a band in the 1980s who decide to reform. What they do with this piece is seamlessly merge different forms of circus together. The guy is hilarious, he has a giant afro and 1970s mirror shades, which is always a bonus! And also the mime festival, it’s not the stereotypical black and white stripes, it’s more contemporary and includes circus, puppetry and visual theatre.
It’s particularly exciting this season as we have more shows than we’ve ever had. There’s a really strong visual, physical and circus programme merging with all the family stuff. There’s also four productions being supported by the Finnish institute in London, so it means we’re Brexit busting, bringing more European work over here!
LC: You’re showcasing your own work as well as intergenerational and international work, was it important for you to have a diverse programme?
AB: Diverse yes, but with a really clear artistic thread. Our three key things are circus, visual theatre and family, and the aim of this season was to bring these things together. The idea was that if you came to see something in January there’d be something bringing you back in February, March and April. We wanted people to trust it, with a strong continuity and artistic vision throughout the season.
LC: And to anyone who hasn’t seen any – how would you describe contemporary circus and how does it differ from traditional circus?
AB: I think a lot of people have this conception of contemporary circus as very arty and inaccessible. What we’re doing is telling stories using circus, it’s not just about how good a juggler is, or the skills, really it’s just another theatrical discipline. But you know it also has a lot of the traditional elements of circus, including trapezes and balancing acts, but often on a stage rather than in a tent.
LC: And there seem to be a lot of events for children including a baby circus event – can you tell us a little more about that?
AB: With these shows, what we don’t want is the kids loving it and the parents looking at their watch. The key to it is that it needs to be good theatre so that adults can enjoy it as well and see it through their children’s eyes. What we do is much more immediate, more intimate, and in the moment. We have a baby circus for newborns and they get to do a workshop with their parents where the parents learn to do basic acrobatics with them! I think that sums up what we do, we like to break down the fourth wall.
LC: Your participation work focuses on involving different generations and improving safety for women. How did this come about and what’s it like to work with the wider community?
AB: Our participation work is a really big part of what we do. People don’t always come to us, we actually go to other communities so that people don’t have to travel. Our borough Haringey is really diverse, one minute you’re in wealthy Highgate and the next you’re in Tottenham or Woodgreen. We work with communities that don’t have access to the arts, and we go out to them to work in gymnasiums and libraries.
LC: And this participation work, how does this fit in with your performance schedule?
AB: It used to be really hard to articulate. We sort of started out as a community centre with an arts programme. What we’ve done is retained those community elements alongside the theatre programme. We don’t go ‘oh this is the social bit and this is the art bit’ those ideas are completely intertwined. It wasn’t always like that, we have very limited space within the building, but we have around 3 and a half thousand people a week coming through so we’re running out of space!
LC: What’s a typical day like for you as an artistic director?
AB: Talking to you! Just taking the last week, of an evening I might be watching some really exciting Spanish clowning work, and then in the day I might be writing a funding application to keep Jackson’s Lane secure until 2022. You certainly get the rewards from seeing the performance work, but the background work, management and maintaining the spaces takes time too.
For more information about Jacksons Lane's current season covering 150 days, visit their website.