Casus Circus Interviews
I met with Jesse Scott, Shannon Vitali and Johnathon Brown ahead of the press night for Driftwood. During the interview we talked about the ethos behind Casus, how Johnny is the newest member of the circus and we had fun with the quirky questions.
But first here’s their bios.
Jesse Scott has grown up living and breathing circus for as long as he can remember. Having worked with companies including Legs on the Wall, A4 Circus Ensemble, Candry Stripe Circus and The Australian Opera. Training and touring for 11 years with The Flying Fruit Fly Circus as well as touring international with Circa for 3 years; Jesse has a wide range of perfected circus skills and an in-depth understanding what it is to be a circus performer. A Casus co-founder, Jesse loves that Casus “gives a human face to circus, we don’t hide anything, we make it true – this is our world.”
From a young age, Shannon Vitali dreamt of being on the stage. At fourteen, she began dancing at the Graham Academy of Dance in Far North Queensland, Australia. In 2010 she pursued a Bachelor of Circus Arts degree at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne. Her passion for circus developed in her first year of NICA, where she specialised in contortion, Adagio (partner work), Risley (Human Foot Juggling) and Aerial Acrobatics.
Since graduating NICA in 2012, Shannon has been performing professionally in the circus industry. She has performed for corporate functions, cruise ships and for world-renowned circus companies, such as Circa. She is now currently touring with Casus.
John Brown is a proud Anawin man from Armidale, NSW in the New England region. He first started dancing when he was three years old and first came to NAISDA in 2013 and graduated in 2016. John has a passion to try out new things in life no matter how high or how dangerous it is. He is always striving to push himself in all aspects of his life and is always on the road to improvement.
When was your first experience of this type of live performance?
Shannon – I started as dancer and probably joined quite late at 19. My first contract was on a cruise ship and it took off from there.
Johnny – I’m new to it I joined four weeks ago and my first performance was last night (4/5). Background is I was dancer from when I was little – I guess being a dancer helps with balance? Yes it does.
Jesse – It was good for us when we were setting up the second cast of Driftwood – there’s now two casts. When we created Driftwood one of the co-founders, Natano, is from Samoa and he put some of his traditional dance into the show and we really liked it. So when we looked for the second cast we looked for a dancer. We took a bit of a risk on Johnny as he hasn’t done this before but I have never seen anyone pick it up as fast as Johnny – I mean seriously he’s picked it up and we are all like it’s taken years for people to pick some of this up its quite astounding.
Shannon – I think it definitely helps having the dance background the body awareness and he has the strength as well.
What’s your background Jesse?
Jesse – Ever since I can remember I’ve been in the circus, since I was a baby because I grew up in The Flying Fruit Fly Circus (A Youth Circus in Australia). My parents aren’t acrobats but they are on the admin side of things and my dad is on the technical side, he’s operating this show. So I’ve never known anything else. Myself and two others created Casus six years ago.
I was going to ask whether or not you all came from generations of circus performers but I guess you’ve answered that?
Jesse – That is quite often the case with traditional circus’ but in contemporary it’s often not family based. My sisters in the circus and we (gesturing to Shannon and Johnny) are family, we tour, train and work together so we are together 24/7.
Like all families I guess you have times when you disagree how to does that then effect, performing together?
Jesse – Trust is huge you have to go on the stage a rely on people catching you and so when we were in development of Driftwood we went on my sisters property which is in an isolated part of Australia. We put them in tents and kind of left them to fend for themselves. So they had to work out who was the cook and so on. It was good for them to find that bond and find their roles, it was good to start the bonding process.
Shannon – We are all professionals we all take our jobs very seriously. There maybe times when there are frustrations when skills aren’t working but we are professionals and take care of each other so when we go on that stage we leave everything like that behind and you are in the moment. And you look after each other.
Jesse – Performing is often the best therapy because if you are angry with someone you just have to let it go, because they are relying on you. And this performance is relying on the interaction and connection between performers. For the style of show we do, we don’t hide or pretend to be other people, so if there is raw emotion we let it show, it’s very real.
Shannon – I feel it’s the most rewarding to be a human on stage being yourself, it’s real and so natural. It’s a really nice feeling, to be yourself and to show truth.
When did you first discover you had your particular talent?
Shannon – I did my first dance class at 14, I was always dancing as a child but that was my first real dance class. We were doing our stretching (I’m a contortionist and naturally very flexible) and my leg was going out of the window and people were looking at me. And I was thinking is that not normal? Then we did a seal movement and again my body was different and everyone was looking. The teacher said look and other people who had danced since they were four, had face planted. So I thought I’m actually talented at something?
Johnny – It kind of just happened for me really. Only being in four weeks I don’t yet know my limitations, I give everything my all. My confidence is through the roof at the moment. Providing I keep that and use it to learn I should be able to learn really quickly.
What skill would you like to have excluding your existing ones?
Shannon – Power to tumble, very controlled power, I haven’t got that and I’d love it.
Jesse – I’ve been learning to fly, I’m usually at the bottom of the pyramid because of my height so I’m really enjoying that.
Johnny – Just everything right now I want to do.
What would you have done if you hadn’t been in the circus?
Jesse – I think I’d have always been in the arts. I’ve actually recently started writing for my nephews and nieces and I’m really enjoying that.
Shannon – I wanted to be an archeologist, I like ancient history. I also like photography but realised I can do that alongside this, so I do that now.
Johnny – Dancing probably and possibly explore acting.
How do you see circus as performance medium in this day and age continuing to evolve?
Jesse – Coming from Australia contemporary circus is well-known and the world is now eating up Australian contemporary circus. I don’t like to call it contemporary I just rather see it as temporary circus. And you are right traditional circus is not as popular as it used to be. Cirque du Soleil has brought it back and made it more popular but my personal opinion, the spectacle of it, and the technicality is great, but I prefer to see real people. I don’t like to see people hide behind make-up, I want to see raw emotion and reality.
Does it receive government funding is it supported well in Australia?
No not all – most contemporary circus companies perform overseas. Australia is getting better at knowing what contemporary circus is but most of the time they don’t want to take a risk on it.
At Casus we tour 8-9 months of the year internationally. We’ve been in 20 countries in the 6 years of Casus. Our flagship show Knee Deep has been performed over 600 times. We have two casts of Driftwood and in few days time I leave here to join the other cast to do the Brighton Festival and then Norwich festival. Then we head to Brazil….Driftwood has two casts and we are on tour for the next four months.
If you could have a super power or be super hero what would you have and why?
Jesse – I’d be an X-Men and as a child I always wanted to communicate with nature so that would be my super power.
Shannon – Teleport myself to other places to be somewhere else quickly.
Johnny – Mind reading that would be great wouldn’t it. So that I could understand what people think.
If you could go back in time to any era when would you go back to?
Jesse – For the fashion the 1970’s but I’d really like to go back to caveman times
Shannon – The caveman times and for fashion the 1920’s
Johnny – I wouldn’t go back I’m happy for the journey I’ve had until now but for the fashion the 1990’s
If you had a dinner party which three guests would you invite?
Jesse – David Attenborough, Sarah Blasko and Sigourney Weaver
Shannon – David Attenborough, Lauren Graham and Sara Bareilles
Johnny – Mike Epps, Nate Dogg and Will Smith.
Regular readers of CarnsTheatrePassion.com know how much I enjoy doing interviews and I have to say this has got to be one of my most enjoyable one’s to date. Thanks guys!
Please check out my review of awesome Driftwood, currently part of the Underbelly Festival on the Southbank and of course you can book tickets below!