Fantastic for Families Award 2020 Case Study

Fantastic for Families Award Winners 2020

Circus250’s ‘StrongWomen Science’ thoroughly impressed the judges of last year’s Fantastic for Families Awards, with their combination of creativity and ingenuity creating a powerful show where cartwheels meet science. Dr Dea Birkett, Ringmaster of Circus250, shares with us the impact of winning Best Family Event.

It was a bit noisy in the rehearsal room, where we were working on our new ecology show Breathe. Circus to Make You Gasp, when we told the team that we’d won Best Family Event in the Family Arts Award. Circus people aren’t quiet and tend to express excitement with a cartwheel as well as a whoop, so we had half an hour of joyous tumbling before settling down to concentrate on the new tricks again. We were so thrilled and very proud. We put the Best Family Event digital medal up as the header on our Twitter and Facebook pages. It’s still there.

To be honest, we didn’t think we had a chance. We’re a small circus company that creates and tours ‘circus with purpose’ – bringing live performances and workshops to families and places that may not have experienced them before. We’re particularly interested in challenging boundaries between science and art – most of our work comes under the title of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Maths). Our premiere show is StrongWomen Science – a circus science show for families by two scientists turned circus performers. The show – and the accompanying workshops – don’t only convey scientific facts in fun and accessible ways. We celebrate the power of teamwork and importance of failure, shared by science and circus. And we particularly target families with young girls, whom more traditional science shows have trouble attracting. So we weren’t a regular family show. In addition, no science show had won the Award before. So winning came as a complete surprise. It felt as if our approach to both circus and science was being spotlighted and accepted as part of the broad family offer.

Two circus performers on stage at the Strong Women Science show.
A circus performer balancing rings on her arms and right leg, on stage at the Strong Women Science show.

It immediately made a huge difference to how we could promote and disseminate our work. Who doesn’t like to book an ‘award winning’ show? More importantly, it sent out a message to venues – including museums, theatres, libraries, community halls and festivals – that you didn’t have to ‘do’ either science or art, either as a performance company nor, by implication, as a child. You can do both, enjoy both, and be ambitious in both. It’s a fabulous and wonderful irony that an organisation called the Family Arts Campaign was brave enough to lead the way in recognising that.

In a tough year for live performance, with few opportunities to celebrate, winning this Award helped to give us hope and carry on doing what we believe in. It confirmed to us, as much as to our audiences and participants, that what we do is worthwhile and has meaningful, positive impact.

As live performance slowly returns, it might be time for us to make a change – to take down our Best Family Event 2020 medal from our social media headers. Winning the Award gave us a platform to stand on through hard and challenging times. It’s time for us to leap from it with the strength of the Award behind us. We look forward to making more challenging, purposeful family-friendly performance in the knowledge that it’s important not only to us, but to all of you.

– Dr Dea Birkett, Ringmaster, Circus250

Image credits:
Edinburgh Science Festival – StrongWomen Science, photography by Ian Georgeson

9 July 2021


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9 July 2021