Halifax

Mike Hirschbach founded Halifax Circus 10 years ago in the gym of St. Matthew’s Church. Like Big Medicine Studio in Nipissing, it seems to be a place where community is built when people gather like family members brought together by a common interest in art. In this instance, the art is all about the circus. Truly a place for young and old, Halogonians and others from around the country and around the globe come here to this gym to practice and improve their craft or to learn from scratch. Free classes for kids and touring companies—it’s all here. Some of the more experienced performers show us what they can do—from juggling variations to aerial work and more, we are introduced to the vocabulary of this form. A local big drum circle of Mi’kmaq/Lnu people also welcomes us to the train station and the sound of the drum and the singing fills the place.

As a friend of Jumblies (and Ruth), Mike is hosting us for a couple of days. As with Nipissing, we are intending to create a performance. This time it will be a little more modest in scope. We’re really seeing if we can build our reflections on the journey for these weeks into a performance. In two days we work in teams—visual arts, music/singing, physical comedy, and movement—to encapsulate elements of what we’ve learned and seen. One exercise involves pieces of newsprint paper stretching in a serpentine path across the floor of the gymnasium. Each piece of paper has the name of one of the places we’ve visited written on it with a china marker/grease pencil. Our task is to fill in the rest of the sheet with whatever we know about that place—from our own experiences there to what we have learned about its history and traditional name.

On the evening of our second day here, an audience starts showing up at a little after 5pm. Halifax Circus has put out word of a show here that will be performed by the Train of Thought Travelers and local curiosity has been piqued. I’m part of the clown team who meets people at the sidewalk. Several of us have been collaborating with Mike (who worked as a professional clown for decades) and we have worked up a routine involving getting people from the sidewalk gate down the crisscrossing slope of the front yard and into the building. A crew of us, some with clown noses, try to be as helpful as possible which leads to some great comic opportunities.

Once inside, the audience sees a series of artfully strung together episodes involving song, movement and text. The clown team returns for a physical comedy routine about trying to get all the suitcases past the ticket booth and to the train on time. For me, the most exciting moment comes later when we are all standing in a long serpentine line by our newsprint sheets. We describe the country coast to coast by referencing each place according to what may be an unfamiliar kind of map. Each of us begins with the phrase: “we came to a place where…” or “we came to a place that…” With the exception of Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Toronto, we didn’t give the audience any commonly recognizable clues about the identity of that place. We remapped the terrain using other considerations for how to identify geography according to Indigenous references. It was quite remarkable. A feast follows and the evening finds us in separate groups following our own interests in this nifty city.

The time comes to continue on our way and we rent a series of cars to caravan to The Deanery Project in Ship Harbour on the east coast of Nova Scotia. After driving for only a couple of hours, we arrive in the early afternoon.

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