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An interview with Felicity Simpson, Director of Circolombia

16 May 2018 | Suzanne Frost

Originally from Sheperd’s Bush, London, Felicity Simpson is founder, Artistic Director and Creative Producer of Circolombia. After a career as a circus performer, she co-founded the Foundation Circo Para Todos in Cali, Colombia, and two years later opened the first professional circus school in the world specifically dedicated to underprivileged children. The school has now become the National Circus School of Colombia. Circolombia was established to produce shows and create jobs for the graduates, and continues to promote the talent and uniqueness of Colombian performers.

London Calling: I assume there aren’t a lot of female circus directors?
Felicity Simpson: There are few. But we are very good. It is about quality with us not quantity.

 

LC: Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?
FS: I always had my own initiative. I used to be a circus artist with a circus troupe from Brazil. Then we set up a circus school in Colombia, Circo para Todos.
 
LC: What attracted you to the circus when you were young?
FS: I got into a drama school when I was 16 and on my first day just ran out of there. I couldn’t possibly spend two years with these people. I fled to Paris, because I used to ride a unicycle anyway and played trumpet. There I discovered that I like the circus but didn’t really like what the French circus was doing, so that took me out to Brazil. I was looking for much more life and energy. I stayed in Brazil for years and years until I met this Columbian man, who became my partner. We came back to Europe until we had this crazy idea as a retirement plan of opening a circus school in Colombia, which we actually did. Once the school was up and gaining strength, it became the National Circus School and I set up Circolombia, initially as a platform for our graduates but now the cast comes from all over the place, mostly Colombian but not necessarily all from the school.

 

LC: Circolombia is headlining Underbelly this year.
FS: Yes, we are and it’s going to be great. A bit funny to do this whole circle around journey to come back to London after all these years.
 
LC: Part of the profits from Circolombia are supporting vulnerable children in Colombia.
FS: Half of our profits are going back to fund the school, which is set up to train talented children. One worry I have is that people are going to interpret that it’s all underprivileged children on stage when actually we are showcasing the talent and diversity of Colombia. My last show Urban was really 100% a product of the school, they were really determined youngsters succeeding against the odds. This one is quite a mix. Since it has become the National Circus School, the entrance criteria have changed, 75% are social-economic criteria plus talent.
 
LC: Can everybody learn a circus skill?
FS: Sadly no. Let’s be truthful. Everybody can enjoy practising circus. There are things you can get out of circus school, very basic things like playing in a group, self confidence – but that doesn’t make an artist. Out of 300 to 500 children at the workshops each year, only 25 get a place in the school. The great thing about Colombia is that people do still dream. It is an incredibly positive country. Compared to that capacity to dream and plan forward, I feel sometimes there is almost a recession of the soul in Europe.

 

LC: This year we are celebrating 250 years of Circus. What does the circus mean to you?
FS: Circus is the only art form where it is a daily ritual to risk your life. That is a kind of morbid fascination people have, to be close to those risks and see ordinary people with legs and arms like you and me do extraordinary things. It is primal, it makes people feel alive.
 
LC: What can we expect from the show?
FS: Intensity; it’s ferocious from start to finish.
 
Circolombia is at Underbelly Festival 24 May - 14 July.
 
 
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