Annual Report 2016

Westside Circus had a strong year in 2016: we saw greater participation and engagement from our community, consolidated our financial position and continued to deliver exciting programs for young people. And our new home looks amazing (thanks to Jane Hartnell and Jade Borjesson)!

In terms of numbers, we delivered over 25 workshop programs each term and filled over 15,000 workshop places. But the exciting developments in 2016 were around the renewal of our strategic vision and program improvements. The primary goal of increased sustainability was addressed by prioritising community engagement, program review and stakeholder management.

Our success engaging communities is evidenced by growth of our term program and relationships with local councils, in particular our own Council, Darebin, with whom we commenced an Arts Partnership Initiative in 2016. We enjoyed ongoing partnerships with Moreland Council and Hume Council and, a new long term project starting in 2017 sees us partnered with Banyule Youth Services, Headspace and Concord School.

Our program review affirmed access and inclusion as a foundation of our activities and resulted in a strengthening of our arts in education programs. In 2016 we were approved as an NDIS provider, and planned for our disability circus program, MY Circus, to move from a funded project to a self-sustaining social enterprise. Our other access and inclusion programs had us working with Furlong School for Deaf Children and Ignition Theatre, as well as building new projects in partnership with Occupational Therapy Service providers to deliver more structured and targeted circus programs to a broader number of young people living with a disability.

As for Arts and Education, we worked with Melbourne Polytechnic to deliver a tailored Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. This was done in response to one of our education partners, Shepparton ACE College, wanting to bring circus into their curriculum. It also presents an opportunity for Westside Circus to formalise a more structured approach to the way we use non-formal education methodologies within formal education settings. In 2016, Westside Circus became one of four partners to deliver an international project, funded by the European Union. National Treasures is a collaborative research project, youth exchange, creative development, and a platform for future international opportunities.

Westside Circus is moving towards our vision of a vigorous and inspiring youth circus for all young Victorian, valued by its communities for the contribution it makes to arts and education.

I’d like to thank my incredible team, Jane Hartnell and Christine Ritter, in the office, and welcome Jafar Abdus-Samad in the role of Admin and Operations Coordinator. A big thank you and congratulations go to our wonderful artists and circus trainers, and, of course, the Board.

From the CEO

The biggest thanks is reserved to all our supporters. The parents, schools and community groups who understand the benefits circus can bring to young people, our funding partners and philanthropic support and lastly, the youth themselves. You continue to impress me with your skills, dedication, imagination and courage. Well done to all!Simon Clarke CEO

Message from the Chair

I want to sincerely thank the staff of Westside Circus who did a sterling job in 2016 and acknowledge the marvellous work done by Board Members. I welcome Theatre/ Circus Director Zebastian Hunter who joined the Board in 2016Tony Nippard - Chair

Westside Circus is terrific organisation providing wonderful opportunities to young people (and their parents) from many backgrounds.

We have a reputation of delivering high quality programs that build emotional and physical confidence in young people to assist them to develop positive relationships with peers, family and community. We focus on engaging young people in vulnerable or disadvantaged circumstances because we understand they have less access to activities we believe so vital.

Our longevity (celebrating 21 years of operation in 2017) and our success in building new partnerships with different community groups is a testament to our ongoing relevance to communities and our practice of innovative collaboration.

In 2016, we enjoyed substantial growth in our social enterprise activity and community engagement. To achieve this, we have maintained a focus on ensuring our delivery of services is of a constantly high quality.

This is the fruit borne of our response to the challenges of the last two years. We have made significant progress, but as an arts organisation in the current economic climate, we cannot be too cautious of our successes.

In 2016 we achieved

  • 25% enrolment growth in our Term workshops.
  • Average participation of 17 students per class across all programs
  • 15% growth in our workshops with schools and community groups
  • meeting all budget targets
  • the strongest financial finish for some years with a modest surplus

I take this opportunity to thank Board Member and Secretary Julia Adams, who has announced that she will be standing down at the AGM in May. Julia is currently the longest standing Board Member, serving for the last six years and as secretary since 2015. Her expertise and experience has been invaluable and we thank her for her contribution.

Finally, we have some exciting prospects for 2017 and beyond that we are planning or executing, but more on that later.

Youth Circus Ongoing Program

With a focus on building personal resilience and circus skills that are challenging but achievable the Westside Circus Youth Circus Program runs throughout the year during the school term. Participants work on circus skills such as tumbling, acro-balance, aerials, manipulation and equilibristics and improve participants’ coordination, body awareness, strength and stamina. In addition to the focus on physical skills, Westside Circus classes have a strong emphasis on the development of self-expression, teamwork, confidence and leadership skills.

In 2016, Westside Circus ran 21 classes per week catering to an average of two hundred and fifty eight participants per term, starting as young as three years old.

This adds up to
workshop sessions
individual engagements

School and Community Access Program

Our Access Workshop program experienced a slight drop in the number of partners we had, but an increase in long term programs meant the number of experiences was consistent with the previous year. We were active in Shepparton, Grampians, Monash, Stonnington and Melton, to name a few, where we provided circus at numerous festivals and community events, including Harmony Day celebrations, Darebin Council’s Kite Festival and Children’s Day, Sydney Road Street Party and holiday programs at Lamendi Hebrew School and Team Holiday.
Other clients included Berry St School in Shepparton, Academy of Mary Immaculate, Chabad Youth, Aquinas College, Shepparton ACE College, Santa Maria College, VICSEG New Futures and Dee Wardrop Speech Pathology and Occupational Therapy Services.

We delivered
Young People
individual experiences

A circus program for young people with disability

In 2016 the Westside Circus disability program “MY Circus” moved from strength to strength. We continued to offer our fortnightly sessions at the Preston Studio and we presented two inclusive company shows, bringing together all of the Westside Circus community in the celebration of inclusivity.

The foundation of MY Circus is a fortnightly class that sits within our recreational circus program for young people. In 2016 on a total of 24 Sundays we ran 2 sessions, one for 4-13 yr olds and another for those aged 14-25 years. Participants in the younger class were joined by parents and siblings – a great way for families to have fun together. The older students were able to choose to attend without their parents, supporting increased independence. In these classes participants learn new skills in a range of circus techniques, with a number of them performing in the Westside Circus showcases to an audience of over 250.

A unique program, for many it is one of the most varied and flexible physical activities that are offered to them. The sessions engage the participants on many levels, including their curiosity. Through the program the participants are not only increasing their physical abilities and agility, they are adding a range of vital life skills such as increased confidence, improved relationships and better communication.

Returning to Furlong Park School for Deaf Children we presented a term of circus workshops that culminated in a performance to the whole school and some impromptu peer to peer teaching The program was a great success and provided a positive experience for the participants. We are working on the development of a larger program to be presented in 2017 with an opportunity to provide training for a Deaf artist to become one of the facilitators.

Strengthening existing relationships in the sector and developing new ones is also an exciting part of the program. In 2016 students from Melbourne Polytechnic Certificate 1 in Work Education “Ignition Theatre” group performed and ran a workshop for our Youth Troupe and undertook work placement as assistant stage managers on our final show. Their input always adds great value to the experience of the Westside Circus community, and skill sharing happens in both directions

Perhaps the most exciting thing that happened in 2106 was our successful focus on increased sustainability and strength of the program, most significantly the transition of the fortnightly classes from one that relied on support from Philanthropic groups and grants to a self-sustaining model. This included our successful registration as an NDIS Service provider and training of new trainers, and we are excited to see where this leads in 2017.

Parents now see their children in a different, more capable lightTrainer
[Our son] has been embraced and is part of the (circus) community. It’s really good because when he goes in there he is in a milieu he understands and he just flies. It is welcoming and all embracingParent

A circus project working with young people experiencing disadvantage in Moreland and Shepparton

Altitude is a long term project developed to work with young people at risk of disengagement from education and impacted by the tensions that can emerge in communities experiencing rapidly increasing multicultural diversity. Designed to offer new ways of engaging the minds and bodies of young people, it teaches circus, facilitation and performance skills as an alternative way to learn essential life skills, be inspired to be aspirational and perhaps accidentally discover new pathways to success. Imagined as a chance for participants to get some new perspective, they supported to re-imagine what they are capable of and re-engage with education and each other.

In 2016 the project was presented in 2 main locations – the City of Greater Shepparton and the City of Moreland. In each location Westside circus partners closely with schools identified as having students at risk of disengagement and of diverse multicultural backgrounds. First initiated in 2015, the strength of the project was reinforced by success in new sources of funding that saw a third school added and the program progress from Stage 1 to Stage 2 at both John Fawkner College and Glenroy College in Moreland. The program model is based on a three stage experience that builds from introduction to circus, to skills development and finally performance focus.

Activities in Shepparton in 2016 focussed on developing a show for Shepparton ACE College’s annual Awards night (our partner school). During term 4 Westside Circus artists worked with 10 students aged 16-20 years and together they created a short performance presented to an audience of 130. As usual we were astounded at the speed with which the students caught on to new ideas and the focus they gave to this experience, despite whatever other challenges they were facing. During the project teachers noted a marked increase in school attendance by participants, commenting on how the program was able to ignite new enthusiasm in students.

In Moreland the project partners are Glenroy College and John Fawkner College. 2016 saw Stage 1 finish up at John Fawkner College and Stage 2 introduced at both schools. These stages involved workshops offered afterschool and during lunchtime, with a focus on ongoing skills development throughout the year. Participants were predominantly in Years 7-10 with up to 8 at each school participating on regular basis afterschool and up to 50 in each of the lunchtime sessions. In addition, participants from John Fawkner College presented a show and tell to parents and performed at the “Fawkner Festa” community event, and Glenroy students participated in the Westside Circus showcase ‘Wish Away”. One of the most significant changes for participants was their social confidence, evident in their ability to make connections with new people or deepen existing ones, and to feel comfortable in their own skins.

At an organisational level one of the most exciting developments in this project is that together with our partners we are starting to formalise connections between circus activities and certified education outcomes in the VCAL system. The success of circus activities to support learning in a range of educational and work ready areas is no new news, but formalising this opens new and exciting opportunities to work with more young people and more non-conventional educational settings. Working towards this a number of Westside Circus staff and circus artists completed their Certificate IV in Training and Assessment in December 2016 and in 2017 we are looking forward to using them to directly support young people to achieve their Year 12 equivalent certification.

The new skills that they [the participants] have worked hard to learn have taught them perseverance so that they won’t give up on work or education just because it is hard or because they don’t get things the first few times of tryingTeacher

Youth Troupe

Hi, I’m Maalini Ellis, I am 14 and I’ve been attending Westside Circus since 2007. I joined Westside Performing Troupe in 2014. All us troupsters love performing and roving at gigs and festivals. Here are some highlights of our gigs and performances in 2016.

Sydney Road Street Party

This gig was exciting because there was an aerial rig, so some troupe members got to perform on trapeze and tissu out in the open. Some of us performed unicycle and we all performed acrobalance.

Darebin Kite festival

Troupe has been performing at the Kite Festival for many years. 2016 was great because some of us got to rove on stilts for the first time. After the performances we got to help out at the workshop with kids who haven’t done any circus before.

The Stawell Gift Street Festival

For this gig we drove up to Stawell in the Westside vans or Troupe parents’ cars. When we got there we got to practice our roving in the park next to our accommodation (Senior Citizens Club). It was great staying over and getting to know each other and our trainers Rocky Stone, Sal Frances and Merryn Chenoweth and it was fun playing games in the evening.
The morning of the festival we did a warm-up and run-through. We all enjoyed performing acts we had devised ourselves. We roved on stilts with proper stilt pants.
The trainers and parents who came along ran the whole thing very well.
It was good to be able to perform to children who didn’t get to see circus very often. They were also excited to join in the workshops.

“Evolutionary” Westside Midyear performance

This show was performed at Westside. Lots of classes did acts in this show. Troupe did group acts and solos throughout the performance. It was directed by Simon Clarke and the class acts were devised by the trainers with some contributions from the students. It was a really cold night so it was great that audience members and performers could buy warming home-made soup and other treats made by Westside parents.
During one of our Troupe classes we got a visit from the Ignition Theatre drama group (from Melbourne Polytechnic Work Education Unit) who performed their own play for us. Some of their music they played themselves on stage. The whole play was very entertaining. Afterwards we joined them in a character-playing workshop.

In the second half of the year Troupe didn’t do gigs and festivals because we were working towards the end of year performance.

End of year performance “Wish Away”

This was performed at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre. The show was fairytale themed. This show was also directed by Simon Clarke, devised by trainers and contributed to by students.
Like the midyear performance, Troupe did double and solo acts such as trapeze, rolla bolla, tissu, tight wire, tumbling, stilts, equilibristics and acrobalance, in between other classes’ group acts. We also did a whole Troupe act on unicycle.
The students from Ignition Theatre that visited us earlier in the year were our backstage crew with help from Jane Hartnell. Jane also made the set. For this show Troupe had costumes made based on our characters. They were made by a costume making student. She was assisted by her teacher, who is also a Troupe mum.

2016 was a good year, especially at the start when we were doing lots of gigs! All us troupsters are looking forward to developing our gig acts and learning more roving skills in 2017!!

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Over the weekend of June 17-19, Westside Circus transformed into a very workable theatre, thanks to Showtech and their enormous generosity in providing the drapes and rigging for free, NICA for the loan of some lighting equipment and Circus Oz for being available and helpful and also loaning us a bit of equipment.

The show celebrated our success in the Department Infrastructure and Regional Development, Stronger Communities Grant Programme, and was opened by the Hon. David Feeney MP whose office was very helpful through our application process.
Evolutionary was inspired by gothic detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Batman, the show utilised the miniscule changes that are imperceptible to the eye, yet have a massive impact on the world we live in, as a launch pad for the creativity each workshop group put into their performance.

It was a great night of stilts and aerials, unicycles and tumbling. Everyone involved should feel proud! Particular thanks go to Melbourne Polytechnic for the loan of chairs, more lighting equipment and arranging to install three phase power for us! We felt very valued.
It was also followed by Perhaps Hope, a show by WSC trainer and Artistic Associate Rockie Stone and her performance partner Vincent Van Berkel. The development of the show was supported by Westside Circus and it went on to win awards and tour extensively. Needless to say, it was a great show! Well done Vince and Rockie.

Wish Away

Performed at the Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre, Wish Away sprang from the Westside Circus Troupe wanting to explore and play with fairy tales. The Troupe participants developed their own acts, full of skills, story, comedy and moodiness.

It was also one of our truly representative showcases. We had performances from our Term program, MY Circus (circus for young people living with disability), Education program with youth from Glenroy College taking part, and Incubator program with the Clowning workshop strutting their stuff as well.

It was a fantastic night enjoyed by over 260 people and a great way to cap off a fun filled year of activity.

Our People

  • Office

    Simon Clarke

    Operations & Finance
    Christine Ritter

    Program Manager
    Jane Hartnell

    Jafar Abdus-Samad
    Jade Borjesson

  • Board


    Chair – Tiny Nippard
    Vice Chair – Tim Rolfe
    Treasurer – Sanjay Gund
    Secretary – Julia Adams

    Kate Fryer
    Anne Derham
    Zeb Hunter

On the Ground

Steph Lewis – Sal Frances – Rockie Stone – Ana Real Sanchez – Jho Cardona –
Nikki O’Tool – Bianca Sciaretta – Cleo Cutcher – Morgaine Presser – Byron Hutton –
Ollie Versteegen – Emily Ross – Merryn Chenoweth – Scott Hone – Sundi Pereira –
Tom Davis – Jordan Pheasant-Kelly – Katie Mackie – Scott McBurnie – Luke O’Connor –
Tim Rutty – Liz Skitch – Brad Woodhead – Vince van Berkel – Carmen Maddison –
Tarah Carey – Tara Gallop-Brennan – Karen Edelenbos – Oscar Beggs-Steventon – Avan Whaite –
Fran Anderson-Dwyer – Ella Horner – Asmare Dress Nega – Jessica McCrindle – Lauren Cruickshank –
Aleisha Manion – Alex Weckes-Huck – Felicia Lannon – Amy Nightinggale-Olson – Joe Fisher –
Hamish Smithers – Jane Schofield – Katheryn Niesche – Grant Shane – Pauric Freeman –
James Runciman – Georgia Knight

Our Clients & Partners

Chabad Youth – InTouch – Maribyrnong Youth Services –
Academy of Mary Immaculate – Berry Street Shepparton – Epping Views Primary School –
City of Darebin – Strut & Fret Production House – Melton City Council – StawellBiz –
Haileybury College – Concern Australia – Mid West Mental Health –
Monash Community Family Co-operative – Aquinas College – Shepparton Ace College –
Dianella Community Health – Santa Maria College – VicSRG – Sacred Heart College –
Melbourne Library Services – Education First Youth Foyer – Team Holiday –
Lyndhurst Secondary College – Hume Central Secondary College – St Bernards College –
Hume Anglican Grammar – Batman Park Kindergarten – Flying Fox –
Dee Wardrop Speech Pathology – Melbourne Polytechnic –
Independent Schools Victoria – Glenroy College – John Fawkner College –
Moreland Youth Services – Furlong Park School for Deaf Children

Numbers & Stats
in 2016

we ran
workshop sessions
and generated
workshop experiences
we employed
circus artists
for a total of
on average we engaged with
every day of the year