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HEAD EAST – Behind The Scenes, Out There Arts with Artists Peter Sweet and Leonie Baker

Out There Arts, is the National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus, based in Great Yarmouth. Artists in residence, international circus and street artists, Peter Sweet and Leonie Baker share their insights on this coastal base.

Peter Sweet and Leonie Baker make up the performing arts company, Tiny Colossus, and are artists in residence at the National Centre. They have been creating their brand new show, Foolish Doom, ready to be premiered at the upcoming Out There International Festival of Outdoor Arts and Circus in September.

Out There Arts, Content Strategist, Marcin Rodwell, explored their experiences here in Great Yarmouth during their residency and their perspective on the town as a different kind of tourist.


Marcin Rodwell: Tell us a bit about what you do and how you got into it?

Peter Sweet: I started street performing in 2000, and travelled around the world busking with a partner with juggling and a little bit of acrobatics comedy show. I then got into slack rope and started a little circus company in California, playing in theatres and doing a solo show in street performance. I decided I liked it and so went and did a lot of training. I did a couple years of Circus school, one year of dance school, three years of theatre school and three years of Alexander technique. So I kind of performed all summers on tour for various shows and came back in the winter to train, I did that for a good decade.

I then moved to Berlin and created a masked show with director Matteo Destro and toured for a few years then took a break while doing a lot of directing and teaching over the last few years. I then decided to build a new show, also with Matteo Destro and with Leonie Baker as my partner in…well not crime but mayhem for sure.

Leonie Baker: I’ve not really been in the business for long. In fact this is my first show and yeah, although I’ve been playing the piano, I’ve been training in piano and ballet and dance – I haven’t been a performer until now, since the beginning of this creation. So yesterday was my first performance in front of a crowd, ever as an adult. So I’m a newbie coming in from the back door, so to speak.


Which Circus school did you go to?

Peter: I went to Cirque Zofi in the French part of Switzerland. Wonderful, wonderful coach there, Zigmund who just passed away a couple of weeks ago. He [Zigmund] coached the Polish acrobatics team to a world championship in 1976. Fabulous, fabulous coach hiding up in the Swiss mountains, in a small circus school.

Marcin Rodwell: Like an old Kung Fu master in the movies

Peter: Haha, yeah it was kind of like that actually. We did that too. On our first world tour we trained with a Kung Fu master in the mountains. It seems to be a theme.


Marcin: Your show, Foolish Doom, is premiering in the Out There International Festival of Outdoor Arts and Circus this September. What do you enjoy the most about this festival and what do you look forward to this year?

Peter: I’ve performed twice before. I performed there with my solo show, Meet Pete Sweet, and also with Boom, a duo mask show. What do I enjoy about the Out There Festival? I enjoy a lot of things about it. The community of artists that convene every year. Joe and Veronica and the quality the Out There team bring, are fantastic. They tend to work with artists that are skilled and just great people. The exchange with other artists here, at The Drill House and through the course of the festival is something I look forward to a lot. They also put on a really quality festival in terms of presenting each show well, making sure there’s the right support from technical to audience. It’s a great place to see other shows and to also perform.

The audience at The Out There Festival is amazing. This is the big art festival of the year. I guess Out There Arts are doing more and more things throughout the year but to be able to have a festival that is of this quality in a town that has had it’s hard luck days – that doesn’t have a burgeoning arts and culture scene, but disconnected from a few theatres, Out There Arts is helping revitalising the community. It’s great as the people are fresh and they have no idea what is coming to them and what is possible with outdoor performance.


Marcin: Leonie, I imagine this is your first performance in this context, what are you looking forward to and what are you expecting?

Leonie: I’ve never been to a street theatre festival or an outdoor arts festival except one recently so that I could see what a festival is like. I think I’ll be looking forward to seeing it from the other side and performing for a large crowd outside and interacting with the people.

Marcin: How are you finding your time at The Drill House and do you find these spaces important for the town?

Peter: Absolutely, big affirmative. For us, the time here has been totally super valuable for the creation process of our show. To have a place where we had our training and rehearsal space really connected to our living space, and all the distractions of our everyday life left at home so we could just come here and dive into the work was amazing.

The team from Out There Arts have really supported the creation when we needed something. People like Tim and Jacob have been jumping in to help out and helping us connect with other creatives and technicians in the area like Steve, who helped us with the sound design and people like Claire who’s behind us right now working on our costumes – it’s clear the arts community is very connected here.

There was even a guy that came in one day who wanted to play the piano in the space, who is a sculptor outside of town who came in and just played beautiful music on the piano for a little while as we chatted. So getting to meet the various people that are involved in the arts in Great Yarmouth and feeling supported while we do the final step in our creation, really gave us a huge step forward to getting the show done.

We’ve been building this show for almost two years and this is our last time to spend on it before we premiere.

Leonie: It’s really good to be in Great Yarmouth making the piece. Exploring the town in the evenings in our spare time, having interactions with the locals and hearing their stories – especially as the piece is on Climate Change and how it affects the vulnerable such as economically vulnerable people here in Great Yarmouth and also that it’s by the coast as well. So it’s been doubly affected and being exposed to people that we may not meet in Berlin is like being in a completely new environment. Especially since our audiences will be people from Great Yarmouth, we’ve been thinking about how it would be received, how they might view the piece and how we can bring their perspectives on climate change and what the issue means to them.

We recognised in our work in progress showings, we interacted a lot with the audience asking them questions, and we had no idea what people’s responses would be and it was immediate, particularly the children were extremely engaged. Without even mentioning the theme of the show, it was clear they understood the topic was about the environment. Mingling with the locals has been valuable to help inform that aspect of the show.


What are some of the things you’ve done in your spare time here, visiting Great Yarmouth?

Leonie: We didn’t get to go to any events or exhibitions but we did go to the arcades and played air hockey which is really, really great [laughs].

Peter: She beat me every time. It was terrible, and fantastic.

Leonie: I went to see the mediaeval wall which was interesting to see little bits of it around Great Yarmouth. I also kept my eye out for interesting birds which the town is really great for.

Peter: Most of the time when we had spare time, we would head straight to the coast and just walk, walk along the beach visiting the piers.

Leonie: The architectural history was fascinating too. Seeing these buildings from the turn of the century when Great Yarmouth was in its heyday of tourism with its layers of history. It didn’t stop being interesting.

Peter: I really love the old architecture, that’s all around the town and along the promenade like The Empire bar, the Windmill, The Hippodrome. Oh man, I really wanted to go to the Hippodrome. I’ve seen one show that was part of the Out There Festival in 2016 but I’m looking forward to seeing the actual Hippodrome circus show in September when I come back.

Leonie: In terms of restaurants we really enjoyed the Indian food from Jaipur Restaurant. The fish and chips we had from the seafront were great too.

Peter: The fish and chips are very good in Great Yarmouth!


Marcin: You touched on this earlier, what were your impressions of the arts, culture and history environment in Great Yarmouth as a whole, are there steps being made in the right direction for the development of its culture?

Leonie: Yeah, there’s a kind of a synergy effect that happens when artists come and stay for a while for residencies. Seeing other artists such as Raul [Canas] stay for longer periods of time has had a really beneficial effect on the local people who go on this journey with Raul of learning and teaching rather than coming in and leaving immediately.

Peter: It was really amazing to see the circus classes in The Drill House happening all the time here in a really structured way. Having a very, very high level of teaching here, Raul is a world-class acrobat and juggler, he’s very very good. The kids could have had a circus pedagogue who visited for a couple of months and showed them… something. But to have someone here who is a little more permanent and allows the kids to see that people can make a living from this and has achieved a level of mastery like Raul has, the kids can really begin to imagine themselves doing the same. Raul is showing them the steps to get to where he’s at and that seems really valuable.

The community being able to see artists in residency put on showings of their creations in progress is a unique experience for the community too, as well as for the artists. The BBC Concert Orchestra was here the other day for Family Saturdays and it was one of the best quintets I’ve ever seen. They were playing and it was like four kids sitting in the front row just lapping up every note while their parents were mingling. There’s such a range of things happening here.

Leonie: Family Saturdays have been really good events.

Peter: It all seems to be really accessible for the community but also pushing them see more and experience different things than…you know… they might not go and out and see a concert quintet but its at Family Saturday – the kids are doing crafts and circus and then suddenly there’s a quintet there. So the parents also listen and everybody starts to absorb the culture.

Leonie: The Freshly Greated event that we saw, the Open Mic Night, was good in creating a platform for people to try out, you know, the skills they have or whatever piece they have created – giving them a space to perform is valuable.

To connect with other people in the community who are also singing and writing poems, and the overall quality of the event was amazing. It was really touching to hear the people share their background – what inspired them to write this song, what life event gave them that motivation and hearing the emotion come through – it was a wonderful platform to explore that. The partnership with Freshly Greated seems really fruitful.

Peter: Just while we were here there have been so many varied events. There were Family Saturdays, the Wrestling event, the Beer & Circus Festival, and the Open Mic. It seems pretty awesome. If this was a representative cross section of what’s going on in Great Yarmouth it’s got it going good – especially for an area like this. If I think about my time in the US, I’ve never seen anything, anything like this from where I come from. Especially from a neighbourhood that’s not paying for it themselves out of their taxes.


Marcin: One more before the road, were there any artists you met or saw during your time here that inspired you?

Peter: There was one, Nova Soon, was a singer that performed at the Open Mic. Singer-songwriter Nova Soon who is London based I believe. He was freakin’ epic and it was such a surprise to see him here.

I don’t think we would be able to collaborate as artists as he is a singer-songwriter and we’re a crazy wizard climate change show but I will definitely be recommending him to a lot of people.


To find out more about Out There Arts and the Out There Festival click here
Out There Festival, Great Yarmouth (Runs from 16 till 18 September)

For what’s going on in Great Yarmouth in the lead up to the Festival, click here



This is a Behind the Scenes profile for Head East



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