Back in the late 1960s and early 70s a group of Australian performers from the Soapbox Theatre in Melbourne and the New Circus from Adelaide got together to form a new type of circus. They all had traditional circus skills but were also hell-bent on political reform. This was a time of radical community politics. Australia was ripe to get rid of its long time conservative government, get out of the Vietnam War and address gender inequality. And Circus Oz wanted to address these issues through performance.
Laurel Frank was one of the founding members of Circus Oz. She joined in 1978 and tried her hand at everything from trapeze, to juggling to tight rope then designing their costumes. Eventually she became their resident costume designer and has since been with them on countless Australian and international tours, enhancing their special brand of leftie ratbaggery and comedy with her innovative and colourful outfits. Circus Oz costumes were always an integral part of their performance. Traditional lycra and sequins were given a new twist.
There have never been any animals in Circus. According to Laurel this was partly philosophical and partly because ‘we simply weren’t capable of looking after animals’. However, the strong sense of Australiana saw the creation of some classic costumes with performers dressed as mobs of large red, bounding kangaroos and hilarious flying trapeze Cockatoos. While the costumes are colourful and fun they also need to be durable. All the stretching, free-falling and pole climbing, as well as the constant touring means a lot of wear and tear. They also need to be readily changed quickly and sometimes hold secret openings, pockets and layers. Laurel’s’ job is to make sure the costumes are beautiful, easy to get-off and able endure all the physicality and touring. She says that after all these years with the circus she never tires of coming up or discussing possibly designs with new performers. She says ‘it is still a real thrill’.