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"It’ll be like a big participatory promenade, with the audience very much part of the show!" Doug Francisco
ArtspaceLifespace’s The Island project comes to life over the Bristol Do weekend with three nights that’ll let you ‘live your dreams, face your realities and disappear into a plume of burnt sugar smoke as... read more
ArtspaceLifespace’s The Island project comes to life over the Bristol Do weekend with three nights that’ll let you ‘live your dreams, face your realities and disappear into a plume of burnt sugar smoke as the cold dawn approaches’.
‘Masks, costumes, parodies and perversions required.’ So ends, somewhat unusually, the invitation to what promises to be the spectacularly rousing late-night finale to the Bristol Do’s evening entertainment. Staged by the irrepressibly inventive Invisible Circus, the performance of wing of artists’ collective ArtspaceLifespace, ‘Carny-Ville’ runs on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights (26-8 Sep) in The Island, aka the old Bridewell police and fire stations, and will turn the whole venue into an ‘upside down world populated by clowns, priests, madmen and princesses, bohos, baronets, jesters and beggars.’
“It’s going to be a site-specific performance, using lots of different parts of the building,” offers IC’s resident ringmaster and MC, Doug Francisco. “I don’t wnat to give too much away but there’ll be lots of different scenarios in lots of different areas - sideshows, installations, performance pieces, interactive games, a barn dance… And we’ll be opening the venue up to bands and DJs later on. It’ll be like a big participatory promenade, and the audience is very much part of the show - that’s why we’re encouraging fancy dress and masks, so that the audience are indistinguishable from the performers. We’ve kept ticket prices low and programmed different bands and acts on each night, so even if you come back a second time you’ll see a different show.”
So far, Doug reckons, the cast and crew aone number close on 100 and, without wanting to blow any surprises, we can say that, among the many guests on the bill, you’ll find Kid Carpet, Glitzy Bag Hags and Los Albertos, as well as Cut A Shine (“determined to propagate traditional folk music and dance to as wide an audience as possible”) and Twisted Fairground, a sideshow-meets-freakshow “with the edge of something ‘slightly wrong’” - this all framed with sculptures by Joe Rush from the Mutoid Waste Co and the Arcadia Spectacular from this years infamous Trash City area at Glastonbury. These though, are really only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and in and around all this lot there’ll be all the weird and wonderful characters created by Invisible Circus themselves to populate “the murky worlds of past carnivals and fun-fairs”, Zenith Circustry, Cptn Dengby’s Odditorium, the Psychic Sisters and the Jazz Rabbit among them.
‘Carny-Ville’, however, isn’t just about capping off the Bristol Do in flamboyant fashion. The three-night spectacle also marks the launch of the Island itself. This, if you’ve not been paying attention, is ArtspaceLifespace’s latest - and most ambitious - project in the city. After the success scored at the Pro Cathedral last year, it continues the collective’s reclaiming-unusual-buildings theme and, in partnership with current owners Urban Splash, the Island will be - for the next year at least - an all-embracing ‘creation centre’ housing all manner of studio, rehearsal, exhibition and performance spaces.
‘Carny-Ville’, in other words, is merely the start. “It’s the fun bit,” confirms Doug, “The launch party for the whole year. But it’s also a big fundraising night for us so that we can finalise work on the Island and get everything up and running.”
"It’s really sad that these kind of spaces will be taken over by developers and turned into flats." Doug Francisco
For many younger Bristolians, the grand but decaying building in Park Place has always been a bit of a mystery. What is it? What was it? What is it like inside... read more
For many younger Bristolians, the grand but decaying building in Park Place has always been a bit of a mystery. What is it? What was it? What is it like inside?
Bristol’s former Roman Catholic cathedral has been quietly forgotten for nearly a decade, but since May this year new life has been breathed into the cavernous venue with the arrival of ArtspaceLifespace.
And coinciding with their arrival, for the first time in years, the Victorian Pro-Cathedral can be seen from the Clifton Triangle as demolition work continues in front of the 1848 building.
“You don’t get many chances to take over a cathedral with a theatre built on the side of it. I felt it was an opportunity that we couldn’t miss,” said Artspace production manager Wim Penhaul when asked why the arts collective is now based there.
“It’s really sad that these kind of spaces will be taken over by developers and turned into flats,” added artistic director Doug Francis. “But at the same time, this place has been empty for 35 years.
“In that time, many people have thought something should be done here, but there was nobody crazy enough to see it as a potential project until we arrived.”
Doug and Wim began working together as a street theatre group in 1994, collecting fellow performers along the way. Last year, the group took over the old Audi garage on Cheltenham Road for six months. After an extensive clean-up, they organised exhibitions, workshops, circus and theatre performances, with 100 people performing for audiences of up to 300.
Since May, Artspace - the formal company behind the Invisible Circus - has taken over the Pro-Cathedral and performed similar magic.
Urban Creation, the current owner of the site, was keen about the idea so has given the group free reign to work within the building until work starts on converting the cathedral into flats in January.
Writer and performer Sarah Fielding said that the transient nature of the Pro-Cathedral appealed to her. “For me, the pointlessness of it is the point. So often, people do not do things because they seem impossible. By doing things that seem impossible, I hope we are inspiring a lot of people.”
Last week, the Invisible Circus collective performed their most ambitious production yet at the cathedral, a site-specific show called Ghost Town which saw the audience become part of the performance as they were led around the building.
Performers mingled with spectators and the show culminated in a spectacular circus display right in the heart of the old cathedral.
“Bristol is going through a complete change at the moment,” Sarah said.