Not Your Average Cirkus

When Stephanie Brown accepted an art teacher position at James Cook Boys High School in Southern Sydney, she soon felt that much of the boys’ aggression and frustration could be channelled positively. She developed the Machismo Project - a circus program for the boys, and years later she now works with a group in Bathurst who have just recently (January 2008) gone on a trip to the US and Canada to work with Cirque du Soleil.

Cirkus Surreal was founded by Stephanie six years ago. It started with this school-based Machismo Project, which aimed to inspire and engage boys, to encourage them to think about who they are and where they want to be in the world. The program became so exceptional that it came to the attention of politicians such as Bob Carr, who asked Stephanie to advise them on policy issues affecting youth and educational issues. After doing this for a year she realised that she wanted to go back to a school environment as she felt that she could have more of an impact there. Stephanie moved to Bathurst to take up a Deputy Principal position at Denison College where she soon started Cirkus Surreal. There are currently 500 kids - both boys and girls - enrolled in the program and the age range is quite wide (from about 9 - 23 years old) as it’s now open to primary school aged children all the way up to people who have finished high-school.

There are many at risk and troubled youth in the program and for a lot of them Cirkus Surreal has become a second family – or the family they never had. The aim of the program is to build up the kids’ self esteem and re-engage them in learning. Kids sign contract at the beginning that stipulates what behaviour they must adhere to (respect each other, turn up to classes etc) and if they break the contract they are not allowed to perform (although they can still be a part of the circus and train). Stephanie loves working with these kids and seeing them reach their potential, and remains in contact with many of them long after they finish school.

Cirkus Surreal currently performs about 20 times a semester, including performances at agricultural shows and corporate events. Stephanie’s next goal is to start up a scholarship scheme whereby kids are sponsored to go to National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne.

VJ Bradley Conomy