The Montreal Circus Festival (aka Montreal Complement Cirque) is an annual event gathering circus companies from around the world to perform in front of an international audience in Montreal, Quebec. This event typically runs for 10 days in early to mid-July. In 2023, the festival ran from Thursday, July 6th until Sunday, July 16th.
It was our third year attending the event. Yet it’s never boring and always different. More than ever before, I felt an even deeper connection with circus art, artists, and the audience who are gathered in the city to celebrate this phenomenal opportunity brought to all of us by the organizer TOHU, the city of Montreal, and the province of Quebec.
Staying in Montreal for nearly one week also helped remove me from my day-to-day overly productive mindset. I felt completely at ease and absorbed by the performances and artists at the same time. As much as I love technology and can’t wait to write the next AI article, I was more attracted to being in the “here and now” when I was in Montreal.
If you have just missed the festival this year but wish to learn more about future festivals, the best way to stay informed is to subscribe to TOHU’s official festival newsletter here.
Why we come to the Montreal Circus Festival
It’s a long story but an important origin of my personal connection was through my dear friend and teacher, Michael J O’Malley, who purchased a pair of Cirque du Soleil tickets for my mom and me in 2015. I still remember watching the first-ever Cirque show called Varekai. After witnessing the aerial strap artists, I decided to reach out to its original creator, the Atherton Twins, and recorded our first audio interview. We became fast friends and kept in touch for years. Eventually, we recorded our second interview and a documentary series on Amazon Prime.
Because of Andi and Kevin Atherton, we were introduced to so many new friends inside the circus world. Talking to circus artists and talking about the tradition of circus art become a habit and a common theme at Feisworld. Finally in 2019 and days before the annual Montreal Circus Festival, I randomly discovered it on my mobile phone and purchased their 6-show bundle in a heartbeat. My producer Adam Leffert and I drove to Montreal with little planned and enjoyed every second of the festival.
During that trip, we spoke with Ruth Wikler, who was appointed Deputy Director of Programming at TOHU just months before. We also had the opportunity to tour the newly renovated space of 7 Fingers headquarter in Montreal and spent quality time with Shana Carroll and Gypsy Snider.
Needly to say, we knew we had to incorporate Montreal Circus Festival into our lives. Going to see the festival each year is a must, but I also wanted to do more for the festival so the general public, particularly creators, can finally visit and learn from this unique experience.
Montreal Circus Festival and AI Overwhelm
I wasn’t joking when I wrote Montreal Circus Festival as an antidote for AI overwhelm. After writing about AI, SEO, podcast, and YouTube strategy weekly (sometimes daily) on the Feisworld blog since 2022, I have heard from more people than ever about the feeling of overwhelm when it comes to AI and fear of missing out (FOMO) on technologies they “should” know.
Every time I find myself attending the Montreal Circus Festival, I’m stunned by how connected I feel even after just one day. The conversations with event organizers, and the interactions with humans at the show (quick or extended chats before and after the show) felt so liberating.
Even for us as content creators at Feisworld, it is easy to have our butts glued to our office chairs, pecking away at the keyword and taking pride in writing for hours without much human interaction. Turns out, we aren’t alone. Most creators struggle to set boundaries between work and personal lives.
Sometimes a short meditation once or a few times a day can help us reduce anxiety, but an extended period of time at the circus festival seems to alter my state of working and being. Because I was no longer tied to my chair, and I intentionally blocked my calendars months in advance and removed any unnecessary meetings, my time at the festival really felt like time reserved for me. All the anxiety associated with AI or technology in general just melts away. They were no longer triggers or ideas I or anyone else needed to pay attention to.
What we learn as creators from the Montreal Circus Festival
This time around, I took more time reflecting on why the event felt so special, leaving me feeling uplifted, connected, and inspired without much effort as a creator.
First, we should talk about what we can learn as creators from the Montreal Circus Festival.
The obvious points are how we create content. Whether you are an audio creator, a video creator, or a visual artist, circus arts can teach you a whole new angle in approaching your work and how to make it engaging for its intended audience.
Most circus shows run between 60-90 minutes. That’s A LOT of attention to ask from an audience who are mixed in age and interests. Think about the fact that most YouTube videos are under 10 minutes. Shorts and reels (under 60 secs) are often more popular. You have to work that much harder to make a program at this length to captivate the audience.
Another dimension I noticed is that when the shows are paid for (as opposed to free on YouTube or social media), the audience may demand more from the artists – individually and collectively as a group. Although the good news in a cultural city such as Montreal, you will see more audience supporting the show and the artists.
Next time you are at a circus show, pay attention to these details that might interest you as a creator:
- How does a circus show start and end?
- What is the flow of each act within the show?
- How the story is written and connected?
- How is lighting used to emphasize the characters, parts of the stories, and various transitions?
- How do the artists act independently and as a group?
- Emotion vs. physical presence – how do artists engage the audience with both?
The shows we chose to see at the festival
BARBU, electro trad fair, plunges into the origins of the circus in Montreal, from the end of the 19th to the 20th century. A fairground, a space for performance and exhibitionism, where the spectator is plunged into a universe of curiosity and eccentricity. No politically correct in this mess. In a series of tableaux where music, video, circus and other skids collide, each artist demonstrates his or her know-how to the public. It’s the law of the most bearded! Supported by musicians with turbulent electro trad, Cirque Alfonse clan plays dangerously with the limits, hoping to surpass them. A bill in the colors of a great circus rave.
Runners is an award-winning contemporary circus company Cirk La Putyka introduces a spellbinding show filled to the brim with enchanting dance, impressive acrobatics and original live music that sets out to examine the experience of time in a world that demands everything be done in haste.
Runners takes on a daring feat performing this completely unique piece upon an extraordinary giant treadmill. Four skilled dancers and two musicians invite the audience to consider life in a fast-paced world – ruminating on the concept of time and the way we move through it, using the treadmill as the central metaphor. As the cast performs powerful choreography, original live music, Cyr wheel stunts and bewildering acrobatics, they also run almost an entire marathon.
Runners was a huge hit at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2022), the biggest theatre festival in the world.
After 10 years of selling out festivals worldwide, the Briefs boys are back with their hills hoist poised ready to air their Dirty Laundry in this brand-new party cabaret you don’t want to miss out on. Led by Fez Faanana aka Shivanana, featuring a line-up of classic Briefs boys as well as some shiny new boys and toys.
With more glitter stains and ballsy attitude than ever before, your favorite Briefs misfits give you a night of intoxifying physicality, gob-smacking comedy, unapologetic truths, and ridiculous showmanship. Turn your cycle to HOT as you watch these boys tumble dry.
A baroque, wild, fun show where extreme acrobatics and primordial feelings generate explosive energy. An immersion in the life of a shameless family where everything overflows, love and hate. There is a guest. Is he the cause of this disaster? Or is he just a victim of this deplorable family? Sundays are sometimes holidays… this Sunday, however, there is a rather special party!
Mamselle Ruiz invites us to a memorable moment with Éclipse, an event celebrating the release of her eponymous fourth solo album. With a team of seasoned musicians, world-renowned acrobatic salsa dancers and sublime circus artists. Faithful to her colorful launches, she offers us a retrospective of her artistic career, and chooses TOHU’s Big Top as the ideal venue to highlight her atypical journey.
Éclipse is the fruit of the meeting of two worlds that inhabit Mamselle, two opposing forces that have shaped her history. Finally at maturity, this fusion between her homeland and her origins is a show imbued with passion and festivity, offering a deep dive into the artist’s soul through her roots, spirituality and creativity. A unique moment at the crossroads of genres and cultures, inviting the audience to enjoy an immersive and spellbinding experience.
As part of MICC which was happening in parallel next to the Montreal Circus Festival, we went to see the show Kintsugi by one of our favorite local companies called Machine de Cirque. Previously we interviewed two artists from the company, Vladmir Lissouba and Connor Houlihan: How to Make a Living as Circus Artists (#211)
Kintsugi is the art of sublimating imperfections. In a bus shelter away from the world and time, strangers wait to be taken somewhere else. They don’t know when they’ll leave or where they’ll go. These motionless travelers rely on outside forces to lose themselves and, paradoxically, find something within themselves. This mysterious place awakens in everyone a thirst for life, for encounters and the unusual. A desire for solidarity, laughter and fun. In a sometimes waking dream, fragments of their past sculpt the present, revealing a new beauty. With Kintsugi, Machine de Cirque creates a moment of great humanity, imbued with vertiginous acrobatic prowess. An inspiring plunge into life, which is here, now and full of beauty.
Conclusion: should you visit Montreal Circus Festival in 2024?
110%! Montreal Circus Festival is a must-see for any creator and family. To make sure you don’t miss future festivals as well as their ongoing events in the city of Montreal, be sure to subscribe to TOHU’s official festival newsletter here.
There are many ways to unplug from your work and there’s more than one antidote to this fast-paced tech world we live in. You may choose to disconnect through a digital detox, or walk in a forest too! But Montreal has a surprising amount of art, culture, circus, and wonderful people to connect with, with whom the conversation goes beyond tech for tech’s sake. My experience not only didn’t take away from my work but it enhanced the way I see things, in a more clearer and connected way.
You might also like…
- Vladmir Lissouba and Connor Houlihan: How to Make a Living as Circus Artists (#211)
- The Atherton Family: Celebrate Art and Family Life (#139)
- Shana Carroll: Co-creator of 7 Fingers’ “Dear San Francisco” (#287)