Ruth Wikler (TOHU): How You Can Be Transformed Through Circus Arts

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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!

Show Notes

  • 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?

Favorite Quotes

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