Our guest today: Ruth Wikler
Located at the centre of the Cité des arts du cirque, TOHU is a place for dissemination, creation, experimentation and convergence of culture, environment and community involvement. On June 19, 2019, TOHU announced the arrival of Ruth Juliet Wikler for the role of Deputy Director of Programming, Circus Arts. She is the guest on our show today.
As the creator of a podcast that has dedicated so many of our episodes to circus performers from around the world, we immediately reached out to Ruth for an in-person interview in Montreal, Quebec during their annual circus festival.
The annual festival, “Montreal Completement Cirque” which means “Montreal Completely Circus” is created and hosted by TOHU. My associate producer Adam Leffert and I went to experience the festival firsthand in 2019 between July 10 – July 14th. The festival runs for ten days, where different circus companies from the world gather in Montreal to connect with an intimate local audience and people who travel from afar.
To plan for the 2020 Montreal Circus Festival, mark your calendar for July 2 – July 12th, 2020!
“Creation is a process of synthesizing what comes in and what is emerging from your own inspiration.” – Ruth Wikler
There were free shows on the street, including the famous Candide performed by the Montreal National Circus School. (We interviewed the Executive Director Eric Langlois the year before). There were also seven different paid shows where you get to watch inside theaters. The tickets were all quite affordable, between $20-50 USD (as opposed to the usual $100 or more in the United States). I wasn’t able to find an exact number for the government funding in association with circus arts in Quebec, but I can imagine it being something quite significant.
Circus arts, including going to watch circus performance, is part of people’s lives in Quebec. In comparison to the U.S., going to see a circus show can be an extravagant experience or used to check off a box on a wishlist.
I watched 5 shows including La Galerie, Somos, Candide, Finale and Boche Dreams, each from a different company, city or country, and gave us a unique experience and perspective. Adam and I noticed that there was a huge variety in terms of execution and messaging.
The Montreal Circus Festival was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had.
Ruth provided much insight on TOHU, and her new job as Deputy Director of Programming, Circus Arts. One of her main roles is to help source and select shows for TOHU and the circus festival. Prior to TOHU, Ruth was a founding curator and producer for Boom Arts in Portland, Oregon.
In this episode, we talk about her creative process: how she goes about introducing a show to the TOHU audience, and why it’s important to bring circus arts and artists from around the world to Montreal.
Feisworld Prompt for the Day: Here’s the catch though: it’s only possible if you experience the shows yourself. So take this message and check out a circus show, a broadway show, a school play nearby – whatever it may be – watching real people perform in front of your eyes is an extraordinary privilege and worthwhile experience. Can’t wait to hear from you!
- Could you tell us a bit about your role and what you do currently?
- Why do you think it is important to introduce shows and art forms from other countries?
- Why do you think it is important to incorporate circus as part of our cultural activities?
- What are some of the risks in your job? How do you decide among so many great shows out there?
- Can you share a bit about your origin story? How did you end up here?
- How did you learn to speak French so fluently?
- What is it like to have to speak French as the primary language in your work environment?
- How could people learn more about you and TOHU, and eventually get in touch?
He decided that circus is important that it’s a really important part of cultural life here in Quebec. They want audiences to grow for circus, they want artists to grow and develop and have careers here. And so they really invest in that.
Creation is a process of synthesizing what comes in and what is emerging from your own inspiration. So really seeing a lot of artists, forums, different ones, and then seeing a lot of circles from all over the world makes you a better circus creator, also.
People who fall in love with an art form early on, you know, they keep that relationship throughout their life, and they find ways for that art form to kind of stay central in their life. And that’s exactly what’s happened to me is that the role that I have now and the role I’ve played over over the years I never would have thought of when I was in high school.
What I was looking at circus for was its potential to tell stories and tell it and unconventional in interesting ways. I think it was important for me to just get involved with projects that I found interesting in no matter what capacity
Hello. How are you? This is a show for everyone else. Instead of going after top one person of the world, we dedicate this podcast to celebrate the lives of the unsound heroes and self made artists.
They decided that circus is important, that it’s a really important part of cultural life here in Quebec. They want audiences to grow for circus. They want artists to grow and develop and have careers here. And so they really invest in that. Creation is a process of synthesizing what comes in and what is emerging from your own inspiration. So really seeing a lot of art forms, different ones, and then seeing a lot of circus from all over the world makes you a better circus creator also. People who fall in love with that art form early on, you know, they keep that relationship throughout their life and they find ways for that art form to kind of stay central in their life. And that’s exactly what’s happened to me, is that the role that I have now and the role I’ve played over the years, I never would have thought of when I was in high school. What I was looking at circus for was its potential to tell stories and tell it in unconventional and interesting ways. I think it was important for me to just get involved with projects that I found interesting in no matter what capacity.
Hi there. This is Fei Wu, your host for the Feisworld podcast. I’m back today with an interview format of our podcast. Hey, did you know that there is a circus festival in Montreal every year? I want to experience the festival firsthand this year between July 10 and July 14. Typically, it runs for about ten days, where different circus companies from around the world would gather right there in Montreal to connect with an intimate local audience and people like myself who traveled from afar. There were free shows on the street, including a great show performed by the Montreal National Circus School. If you remember, we interviewed the executive director there last year and his name is Eric Longwa. Then there are about seven paid shows where you get to watch inside different theaters. My associate producer. Adam and I went to see five shows including The Gallery, samos Tendit Finale and Bosch Dreams. I will name all the companies that produce these shows because each came from a different one. And you certainly will be confused. There was a huge variety in terms of the art forms, execution and messages. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had.
For when you’re ready to visit Montreal, experience the amazing culture, great food, friendly people, plus the Circus Festival plan ahead for 2020. The festival is scheduled for July 2 all the way through July 12. I can’t wait to be there again. Today’s guest has everything to do with the festival. Her name is Ruth Wickler, deputy Director of Programming, Circus Arts at Tohu. Tohu. To is the company behind Montreal’s Circus Festival. The Tohu Pavilion is a perfect example of Lead Gold, Canada certified green building, which I didn’t know. It also housed North America’s first circus performance space dedicated to the circus arts. Ruth gives us firsthand information on Toku and her job, which I think is one of the best jobs in the world, which is to help source and select shows for Tohu and the annual festival. Ruth is a founding curator and producer for Boom Arts in Portland, Oregon, as well. In this episode, we talk about her creative process, of how she goes about introducing a show to the Toku audience, her origin as a Wisconsin native, and her journey as a curator, producer, and performing arts. The ups and downs she has experienced as a female artist breaking in and staying in the competitive arena.
Ruth is insanely curious and passionate about the art form that isn’t just in the sense of a traditional circus. Circus arts today encompass a huge variety of styles that are designed to connect with their audience in unexpected ways. It’s only possible if you experience firsthand. So thank you so much for listening. I can’t wait to hear your feedback. Please connect with me at Phase World, feisworld everywhere on social media. In the next interview episode of Phase World podcast, you will hear from two circus artists from the gallery, which was a show as part of the Montreal Circus Festival. That show gave me so many perspectives about life and the arts. So, without further ado, please welcome Ruth Wickler to the Face World podcast.
Ruth Whickler is right here with me inside a I believe a temporary location for your company at the moment to really sponsor support the Montreal National Circus Festival. Is that an accurate description? No, it’s all right. I’ll have Ruth explain that.
So I work for a theater called Tohou Tohu. And Tohu is a round venue that was built on purpose 15 years ago to present touring and contemporary circus from Quebec and around the world. It’s a round venue, like I said, like a cylinder. So it’s the only purposebuilt venue for presenting circus in all of North America. It’s on a campus with Cirque du Soleil and the National Circus School of Canada, and that campus is called the Circus City. That’s in another neighborhood. It’s up in a bit far out of the city center, and it was set up there because it’s in a Blighted neighborhood. And it’s also right next to what was a huge city dump that has been restored into a park. And we actually, one of our functions at Tohu is to be the welcoming center for that big park. So because Tohoo is physically located outside the city center, we present circuses there all year long. But in the summertime, we have a festival, and the festival is called Montreal. Complat, monsieur. What that means is Montreal completely circus. And so what that means to us is that we really take over the whole city with circus.
So the way that we do that is we have stuff going on at our venue, but then we also move downtown. And what we’re in right now is the temporary offices that we take up just for the festival time. And we have all kinds of activities and performances, outdoor, indoor going on downtown. And then we also have a neighborhood outreach program that goes and sort of tours neighborhoods across the city. So we really do take over the city in the summer with our festival. Mariaco Bled. Monsieur.
So could you tell us a bit about what you do? Because your role may be a little bit more behind the scenes than some of the circus actors we see on stage.
Sure. So my job title in French is very, very long, so I can say it. It’s directly a Juan de la Program desert. So what that means is that I am working on programming. So that’s choosing which shows to be in our festival, which shows to bring to our venue, that’s what programming is. And then development in French means helping the art form to grow and then defusion. It means touring. So when we bring in a show from abroad, for example, we need to find partners to share the cost with us and to help more audiences around North America to connect with these works. And so I build partnerships like that.
So it’s a little bit behind the scenes, but if I didn’t do what I do, you wouldn’t see this kind of work in Montreal and you probably wouldn’t see it in other parts of the country.
Yeah, I think that’s incredible. We all know that Montreal, in my opinion, specializes in circus acts because Circus Dusala headquarters here, National Circus School is here, and we had the pleasure to interview multiple people from both of the organizations. But why do you think it’s important to introduce circus art forms from other countries or shows from outside of Montreal to be here performing with companies inside Quebec as well?
So Quebec is a very, very special place in Canada, and it’s a very, very special place in North America. And Quebec’s relationship to the arts is very different from the United States, for example. So basically, Quebec has provincial priority to support the arts. What that means is that they figure out what’s important to them and then they invest in it from a governmental level. So that’s really different from the United States. It’s on a different scale, absolutely unimaginable for Americans. And so part of this is that they decided that circus is important, that it’s a really important part of cultural life here in Quebec. They want audiences to grow for circus, that they want artists to grow and develop and have careers here. And so they really invest in that. And so part of that is about building an audience that understands the art form. And yes, there’s amazing. I mean Machrell is one of the major epicenters for circus in the world for sure. But the form grows around the world and in different countries you have different styles of circus creation. And so the investment here is in saying, okay, to become literate, to understand this art form, you need to be exposed to the way that this art is practiced in different countries.
So let’s bring it here so that you can experience it as an audience member. And also if you’re an artist, the more you can learn about art forms around the world than your own. Art form creation is a process of synthesizing what comes in and what is emerging from your own inspiration. So really seeing a lot of art forms, different ones and then seeing a lot of circus from all over the world makes you a better circus creator.
Also, I love what you just explained because even in the short two days since we’ve been here, we feel like there’s such a diversity in the shows that we’ve seen. And as someone in my thirty s, I really started to realize, like you said, it isn’t something I want to do once every two years. I want to integrate this as part of my own life.
Awesome. And it is once you get hooked on it, I mean, you keep coming back. And so if we only presented one thing that wouldn’t satisfy you. Right? We need to kind of keep stay current with trends, understand who’s making what where. Part of my job is to go to festivals around the world and see a lot of work and stay connected with all the different companies that are working in this art form. And the show that you saw was a world premier and that’s by a company that’s based here. Actually they’re based in Quebec City. So that’s a great example of Tohu’s role in developing the art form. A world premiere means that the theater that’s presenting it has invested in taking risk, in saying okay, we support you creating something new. We don’t know what it’s going to be like. We’re ready to welcome you and make sure that you get an audience and help you out. And this is a way of supporting artists for sure.
I think as you’re describing your job, it makes me feel like this is yet another dream job. Literally. I’ve heard of you don’t come across these jobs very often, people who travel around the world. But I think what people don’t realize is that there is a risk element. As much as I absolutely love wholeheartedly everything, every second I watch of the gallery and it really makes me connect with my own experience going to like a modern art museum of pretending to know what it’s all about. This is not without giving away anything that’s been part of that show, but you find it to be so relatable, and you realize that you can become that fuller self, that you can speak the truth and make your life part of that art form. So how do you decide? I feel like there’s so many great shows, these incredible athletes from all around the world. How then do you decide based on what elements?
Well, some of the elements are when we’re making our festival, is to say, okay, this is the flagship contemporary circus festival in North America. So what does that mean that we’re responsible for? It means we’re responsible for really kind of being all things to all people. It means we’re responsible for serving the artists in the circus field here and also serving audiences that are here, but also all the tourists who come in just for the festival, which there are many, many who do. And then also there’s a lot of professional circus artists who come in from all over North America to spend time. We actually get a delegation from Australia of circus students who are at the National Circus School of Australia. 20 of them come every summer to spend the whole festival time. Soak it all up, see every show. So we’re influencing next generations of artists. And then there are people who run festivals and run venues from all over the world who come to our festival as well. We have even a professional market section for them to learn about what’s touring and what are the trends and what are the important ideas and things like that to help program their seasons.
So we are responsible for catering to a very wide range of individuals. And of course, you can segment it by age, right? We want to provide something for families. We want to provide something for adults. Sometimes we do shows that are 18 and up. We’re a little risque. We want to provide something for someone who’s just out for a great night. We want to provide something for someone who wants to discover something unusual, maybe get challenged. We’re presenting a show, this festival that’s a duo in a private apartment, and you don’t know the address till you buy the ticket. So then you find your way to this private apartment, and you have this very unique experience of a performance there. So we’re going for eclecticism for the festival because the unifying factor is the art form. And so when we decide on a show that’s a big part of it is, okay, how does this help us to form a festival program that really does have writing that can kind of meet the needs of this very diverse public that we’re talking about?
I feel like you possess so much of this knowledge besides passion for what you’re doing. Do you currently have a favorite show or certain shows that you enjoy?
No, I can’t choose between. I will tell you what I saw last night. Okay, so we invited a company called El Nucleo, which means the nucleus from France, but they are actually from Colombia and they did a performance that I was at last night and it’s absolutely mind blowing, gut wrenching, gorgeous, significant.
We have to go then.
It’s a must see. So the festival, like I said, we’re called Complaint most completely circus. And part of how we fulfill that is by we choose every year a show that’s a smaller scale. So this one is like it’s a duo. And then we have them do a mini tour of neighborhoods. And this is one of the most magical aspects of the festival. So this summer we have a clown duo called the Kif Kif Sisters. They’re based in Quebec City and they have this show that includes a tennis racket with a potato being thrown through it and it kind of like chops up the potato that way. They have these big balloons that are bigger than themselves. They get in there and kind of mop around. It’s extremely funny. Very funny show. So they are the kind of centerpiece of these neighborhood afternoons. So what happens is that we have an organization that sets up shop in the neighborhood for the day, about three or 4 hours long, does workshops for kids. Kids can try out all different kinds of things. They can meet magical characters. They have like a really fun afternoon and then the sisters do their performance.
So hundreds and hundreds of families who come to these things in their very own neighborhood. And Montreal is very, very it’s big. It’s a big geographically big city. And so, you know, if you’re a family with kids, having something down the street is a pretty special thing. It’s really like the circus coming to town. Wow. So that’s a pretty special thing that we do.
That is amazing. How could people learn more about you? Or To Who was the best way to kind of get in touch or learn more about?
Well to who’s? Website is totally bilingual. So it’s to who CA. And then once you get on there, you can press En, which means English. And our festival website is Montrealcompletmonstrip.com. And I don’t have my own website, so just learn about the organization. You’ll find out. I’ve got my finger on some of the things in there. Awesome.
Thank you so much. I really, really enjoy this process.
Hi there, it’s me again. I want to thank you very much for listening to this episode and I hope you were able to learn a few things. If you enjoyed what you heard, it will be hugely helpful if you could subscribe to the Phaseroll Podcast. It literally takes seconds. If you are on your mobile phone, just search for Phaseroll Podcast in the Podcast app on an iPhone or an Android app such as Podcast Addict and click subscribe. All new episodes will be delivered to you automatically. Thanks so much for your support.
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