Blog: First year of Directing Circus MA studies in Bristol

  • Installation FUTURE IS IN YOUR HANDS by Valentin Vodanovic and Meri-Maija Näykki.
  • Trapeze act directed by Inari for the 1-year students. Light design by Meri-Maija.
  • Meri-Maija directing
  • A workshop led by CHARLOTTE MOONEY of OCHAM’S RAZOR.
  • Background of Bath Spa University

Inari Pölkki and Meri-Maija Näykki are two Finns currently studying in Bristol at Circomedia’s MA for Directing Circus. This originally in-Finnish-written blog text is now published also in English translation:

We have gotten to be a part of the first class of the MA for Directing Circus, the course started last autumn in Great-Britain. Circomedia is one out of UK’s two university-level circus academies and it is located in Bristol, an art city the size of Helsinki. Next September the circus world will get its first six directors with a degree on the subject, of whom one third are Finnish.

Unlike in other circus universities around the world, in Circomedia the undergraduate students are not purely circus artists, the degree programme is called ”Contemporary circus WITH physical theatre”. This means that they have a lot of focus on studying different stylistic forms of performing arts and combining those to circus. When we got to see the performances of the third year students, we were stunned: there was feet juggling clownery on a trapeze, handstand monologue about feet and vaginas, IT-themed male burlesque, physical stand up and political partner acrobatics. The students of Circomedia are versatile performers, they talk naturally on stage and they invest in devising the concept of the performance. The downside of this is that there is not as much time left for training skills and that is why especially the Christmas show we made with the first year undergraduate students reminded more of a youth circus’ spring show than a piece made by professionals.

For directing circus this hybrid school is a good birthplace as there is an atmosphere of intent to develop contemporary circus art and an understanding of the complexity of the art of directing.

In our class, there are – in addition to us two Finns – one local, one from New Zealand, one from the U.S. and one from Hungary. Each of us has a different background education-wise, from video editing to growing up in a traditional circus family. All of us have a background in circus, even though they could have chosen students from purely theatre or dance backgrounds. The studies can be done either as an attending student or through distance studies. Five of us are here in Bristol and one is abroad. Though by doing the course from a distance you will miss the lectures, practical sessions and performer and space resources provided by the school. These are things we pay for in the form of a tuition fee. Even being here on the spot, it is sometimes hard to grasp what and when should be done, part of this is caused by the fact that this is the first year for the course.

The studies have been divided into five modules, in the core of each module, there is a project. We have had a dozen or so visiting teachers addressing different topics regarding the module’s theme. There have been visits from for example Sean Gandini, Jonathan Priest and Bauke Lievens.

We have now carried out our first two modules and started on the third and fourth, the fifth will be carried out over the summer. Now we will introduce the modules shortly according to our current knowledge.

Performer as source

Includes directorial work based on the performer, where the director helps the performer(s) bring their ideas to the stage and uses the performer as the one producing material. In this module we chose one to three projects by the third year circus artist students to participate on, the decision was based on their written proposals. In addition, we (the MA-students) directed together the first year students’ Christmas show, the show was based on the material the students had produced themselves.

Research methodologies and context

A module where everyone sets a research question and carries out the research on the chosen topic with academic criteria. As there is very little written about directing circus, most of us chose the “practise as research” method, where you devise material in circus laboratories, which is then researched on. In her research, Meri-Maija further developed the tool she had devised for dramaturgical thinking in circus called “stolen dramaturgy”. Inari researched the artistic thinking and process of devising transitions in circus.

Director as author

In this module, each director presents a proposal for a piece and chooses the performers for it from the second year students or from outside of the school. During the five-week rehearsal period, an 8-15 minute director oriented performance is being devised, for which there is 9-12 hours of rehearsal space available weekly. The presentations for this project will be at the end of March. So at the moment, we are in deep waters with our visions.

Professional collaboration

A collaboration project you can carry out in a way you choose yourself, for example by doing a placement as a director’s assistant or by doing a project in collaboration with students/professionals from other fields. Among our class, there are variations from making a music video to creating sound design for a circus piece, to a traditional placement.

Major project

A final project which is both written and concrete. Circomedia offers the spaces for training and for the premiere of a show type project or research during the summer. The written work will be about the process of the project.

At the moment we are searching for performers for our final projects, so if you are interested in coming to Bristol for the summer to devise a performance with an experimental angle, or for example have a project in need of a director (in Bristol/Finland/other) do not hesitate to contact us to see if our interests meet. (More information here)

All in all our experience about the studies has had its ups and downs, mainly due to the fact that we are the pilot class for the course. For example, they were not prepared enough in advance for our requirements for spaces, but now Circomedia has rented extra space for us to use. Next year Circomedia is moving to completely new and bigger spaces. The collaboration with the other students has been interesting and as a pioneer class, we have been able to influence the contents of the studies. Together with the other MA students, we have been creating the vocabulary for directing circus and defining the professional field for our own thinking and for the future students.

If you are interested in directing circus and applying to this course we recommend to read the broader descriptions of the programme from Circomedia’s website. What is not clear in the descriptions is that the course does not offer many basic tools for directing, rather the assumption is that your undergraduate degree has included the basic understanding of the work of a director. If your background is in circus artist training it is advisable to for example read material on directing theatre or to acquire directorial thinking by joining a project. It is good to think about the studies as a laboratory, where you can be free of the responsibilities of profit and loss, divide directorial work to smaller pieces, reflect on your own work, and ask help when you need it. Even though the nature of the studies is relatively independent and they won’t give you ready-made tools for directing, Circomedia will give support when there is a need for it.

If you have any questions, you can be in contact with Circomedia office or us!

Meri-Maija Näykki grew up training and performing circus at Sorin Sirkus, but as a teenager, she switched over to theatre. She graduated as a drama instructor from Metropolia University of Applied sciences, the subject of her thesis was directing circus. She has worked as a circus director in contemporary circus piece VIRE and in Linnanmäki Circus School, she has also mentored Wise Fools and Hand Some Feet companies. Meri-Maija has also directed space and community-based performances for her own Täsmäteatteri-company in Tampere since 2014. More information about Meri-Maija can be found at

Inari Pölkki graduated with a degree in circus arts from the performing arts programme at Turku University of Applied sciences. She spent the summer after graduating as a circus volunteer in Japan. Inari has also taught and directed circus at Circus Helsinki, Sirkus Keikaus and Sirkus Unioni. In addition to circus she has a background in Ballroom dancing, from which her passion for designing and making costumes originates.


We are studying for our masters degrees in Directing Circus at Circomedia, United Kingdom and we are now looking for performers for our major projects that are premiering at the end of the summer.

The form of the major project is quite open. At the moment we are looking for performers and mapping out opportunities. Unfortunately, we don’t have money to pay for the performers, but we can negotiate about travel and accommodation costs. The rehearsals will take place between 15th of June and 15th of September. Faster you contact us, sooner we will get to the planning phase. We need to set our Major project schedules by the middle of April.

Contact Meri-Maija, if…
…you are interested in summer in Bristol plus ambitious and exploratory way of making contemporary circus.
… you want to make circus art together with director and other performers and aim to a touring show.
… you are a performer who is open towards new ways of creating and wants to develop oneself as a circus maker.
… you are interested in abstract storytelling and absurd humour.

Contact Inari if
… you want to spend your summer in Finland (other parts of the world can also be proposed).
… anything, Inari is interested in hearing about it.