CCL in Action: Mish Weaver, Can of Worms

During the Creative Climate Leadership residential it became increasingly evident to Mish that the circus can play a role in confronting climate change. She speaks of how she attempted to make a show about climate change in 1998, but after seeing very little similar work, considered her environmental cares and profession to be relatively separate realms. However, attending CCL gave her the opportunity to see how she could marry these two interests. Since her time at CCL she has pursued a number of environmental projects.

Serious Circus Symposium:

During CCL, Stumble Dance Circus director Mish Weaver decided that she wanted to create a supportive network for fellow circus practitioners who want to make issues-based work that has a profound impact on audiences. The Serious Circus Symposium, originally held as her CCL dissemination event, is now an annual event and network supported by Arts Council England, which has brought together circus practitioners from all over the UK in 2017 at Circomedia Bristol and in 2019 at Jacksons Lane, London, presenting talks, discussion and new artworks. Environmentalism, ethical design practices and re-connecting with the environment have been headline themes, not only in the programme curation but in the many projects that participants presented via the event’s ‘soap-box’ platform.

Can of Worms and Solastalgia

Mish also received a CCL in Action local development grant, to develop a new idea centred around using ‘Can of Worms’ T-shirt sales to start conversations around the topics of mental health, uncertain futures and climate change. Mental health is still stigmatised in many cultures, and as such the hidden emotional and mental impacts of the climate crisis – anxiety, isolation, fear, anger – often leave people feeling helpless and isolated. Mish planned to attend festivals around the UK with a stall selling T-shirts, hosted by a circus performer, who would draw attention and initiate discussions by using clown and object manipulation techniques. The clown would be exhibiting behaviours based around a ‘Climate Affective Disorder’ called Solastalgia, a term developed by the philosopher Glenn Albrecht. It refers to the feeling of grief that occurs when one witnesses the environments and places they love being destroyed through environmental degradation. To do this, Mish explains how the clown ‘will not act as though they have a disorder; rather present a metaphorical persona, celebrating eccentricities that we perhaps misread as apathy, aggression or madness’.

Unfortunately, Mish says the project did not pan out as she had originally hoped. After either not being granted permission to sell at a couple of festivals, or not managing to engage people enough to sell the t-shirts, she felt that the project idea of having the character exist alongside a T-shirt selling initiative simply didn’t work. She describes how people were confused by the character, and were apprehensive to engage with the ideas.

Mish decided she needed to re-evaluate her approach, and worked with the performer who played the clown to make a show called Solastalgia. The show is a twenty minute performance piece based on the experience of solastalgia.  Making a conscious decision not to make the show overtly about climate change, Mish decided to approach the show with some dark humour: ‘it was helpful having the humour there because it made things slightly easier to swallow’. Solastalgia has since been performed at a Serious Circus Symposium, where it received exceptionally positive feedback. Mish is currently exploring further opportunities for the performance, including potential support from the Extinction Rebellion movement.




Photo: Mish acknowledging the elephant in the room at the recent ‘Serious Circus Symposium’.  Photo by Rowan Virgo.

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