Cause & Effect: The New Conformity Juggles a North American Change In Perception

The New Conformity is an evolving show as performed by the critically acclaimed contemporary juggling troupe The Cause & Effect Circus. Vancouver Weekly embraced the opportunity to meet with the trio at the Circus West performance facility to speak on Cause & Effect’s upcoming presentation of The New Conformity, as well as the group’s meteoric rise in popularity.

Created by local Vancouver circus performers Yuki Ueda, Ryan Mellors and Chris Murdoch, The Cause & Effect Circus work to consistently challenge what many envision when they hear the word “juggling”.

Cause & Effect’s 2015 Pick of the Victoria Fringe award opened the floodgates for the collective to embark on the rewarding path that is The New Conformity. Leaning back in grandstands at PNE’s Circus West Ueda reminisces about the group’s formation. “We did the first Fringe show in 2014 with four people. I thought that a bigger production was important and I was eager to juggle with a group.” Murdoch instinctively continues Ueda’s thought by elaborating on the group’s formative years. “The Fringe got us on our feet, and into rEvolver Festival; which is a curated festival, that is when Presentation House paid attention to us.”

The Cause & Effect Circus continues to build up hype both in Canada and overseas and has accepted a residency at Presentation House. As an added shot in the arm, The New Conformity happens to be the first official performance to come out of the recently renovated North Vancouver Presentation House facility.

The idea of working on a constantly evolving performance strategy with like-minded individuals appeals to Ueda, Mellors and Murdock, and is key to the success of The Cause & Effect Circus. Mellors concedes that one-off shows as a circus performer are more often the norm as opposed to the rule. “It is normal in the circus to be a part of a lot of shows because there is always something going on. The uniqueness of having something that we are presenting over and over again is how The New Conformity has taken shape. A lot of circus performances can be disposable in that you are doing the show for Hallowe’en for some company and then you don’t ever do that show again. It is neat too (continually) dig into The New Conformity.

Murdoch admits that performance without the use of dialogue provides a host of challenges in a conventional theatre setting, let alone attempting to convey a story-arch through the act of juggling. ”We are continuously searching for clarity in the storyline and finding perfection in the order in which we lay it out. Juggling is an allegory for what people do in everyday life and how one chooses to go about it. Is there a desire to break out of the system or an inclination to stay within’ the safety of whatever the structure is. We use different styles of juggling to tell that story through predominantly physical theatre.”

As for how the show differs today over a couple of years ago, Murdoch is confident that the change in ending alone has improved The New Conformity exponentially. “There was a point where we decided that the finale of the show was there (simply) because we had to finish with a ‘boom’. However, the show is dystopian as it returns to this meek point towards the end and we realised that the finale that we were going with at the time was not telling that story. We took all of the tricks in the finale and reordered them.”

Mellors is quick to point out that getting North American audiences to climb out of their shells and view performance juggling as a reputable theatre experience is easier said than done. “Part of the problem becomes people’s preconceptions about what they are going to see. If the only information provided is that it is a juggling show the preconception is often very different from what we are doing. Our audiences have their expectations of juggling challenged, and they end up learning something. The marketing problem of a juggling show is that people often tune-out because they have already decided that the show is something that is not interesting.”Murdoch vehemently adds to Mellors’ thought, “a lot of theatre people hate juggling because as they wander around (a festival), they are continuously stopped by audiences who are listening to loud guys who don’t actually juggle and tell jokes. So convincing crowds that we were doing actual theatre through circus took a long time.”

And while Cause & Effect: The New Conformity advertises as fun for the entire family, Murdoch warns that the show does have a couple of moments that one is not likely to find passing a group of juggling buskers. “In North America, we still have a bit of a stigma where juggling is a spectacle, it is safe and is family friendly. There is a point of violence in the show that has left a few people not knowing how to respond. Most audiences think the turn in the show is great, but there have been a few people who react like, ‘we are going to need to talk about that.’”

Ueda is hopeful that the current increase in attention Cause & Effect is experiencing will allow for the troupe’s continued success. “There are not many performance-style juggling collectives in North America. However, there are a lot of companies in Europe that perform theatrical juggling.”

Mellors has a hard time disguising his enthusiasm with The New Conformity’s rise in popularity and prospective outlook moving forward. “The show is in a great place because it leaves an audience wanting to discuss what they saw and pick apart some of the themes about violence and pressure.”