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My Melbourne: Freyja Edney

31 May 2017

We had a chat one of the stars of Circus Oz, Frejya Edney — a true Melburnian whose love for circus performing is only rivalled by her love for good coffee.

Talk us through the training you have undertaken to be in the position you are in with Circus Oz today.

I actually started circus training with Circus Oz in about 1997, so it’s a bit of a full-circle story. In 2001 my mum and I moved to Albury/Wodonga so that I could join the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, which is a circus school for children aged eight to 18. It’s an incredible place. They operate as a public school, where the kids learn all the normal academic stuff they would learn at any primary school. Over the river is the circus training space, where I would train twice a week during school hours and every night of the week for two hours after school. They also tour shows at a professional level and I think that is a huge part of why 'ex-Fruities' have a really good reputation in the circus industry.

I started working in theatres at about the age of 12, and in my final year of high school, I spent three months on tour with a big show called Circus Girl, with an all-female cast and crew. Here, the focus on preparing the students for a well-rounded career in circus is strong, and I’m still grateful for the things I learned over ten years ago at the 'Fruities'.

I graduated from the 'Fruities' in 2007 and when I was 19 I joined Brisbane based contemporary circus company called C!RCA where I spent seven years as an ensemble acrobat and learned so much more. Throughout all this time I’ve definitely taken a quite rounded approach to circus training, I strongly believe that hard physical work and deliberate physical practice are key components but equally important are stage-craft, communication skills, resilience and lateral thinking. So I like to include those things in the skills I have learned that help to make me a good performer today.

When it comes to circus skills/tricks, what is your favourite category and why?

I really enjoy working with other highly skilled acrobatic bodies and minds. I can lose myself for a whole day with just one hula hoop, but what I keep coming back for is the team effort, the feeling of putting someone up on top of a high tower of other people, or when four people come together to throw one person really high. That’s fun, and it’s very rewarding when you have a like-minded and driven group of people to work with.

Can you give us some insight into how a Circus Oz show is developed?

Model Citizens was my first show with Circus Oz. I found the process to be quite collaborative. Rob Tannion, the Artistic Director of the company, had a clear idea of the world he wanted to create. He oversaw the development of the props and apparatus you’ll see in the show and kept a close eye on all the design aspects. He was with us in the room every day creating choreographic material or work-shopping framework for the circus skills, but we were given a lot of free reign over content development and were involved in a lot of the broader show planning. At the moment, the whole cast has been there from the beginning, which is really nice.

How far in advance do your rehearsals begin and what do your rehearsals entail?

Model Citizens had an eight-week creation. Which for me seemed a long time compared to what I was used to. Considering how much went into the show though — huge new apparatus, a whole new cast of people who’d never worked together and all of us with hugely varied skills and backgrounds — eight weeks went by very fast!

There’s a lot of creating and throwing away in creation for a show. We probably made more than twice the material we ended up using. One of the things I love about circus is that it’s never satisfied. If you’ve been working on a new skill, you can often find a place to slot it into the show, or if you’re questioning the relevance of a certain element of the show, the conversation is always open for the show to change around that. That way we don’t stagnate which is really important.

The tricks and acts in Circus Oz are incredibly impressive, but to the average person seem dangerous and at times scary. How do you manage the element of risk during your rehearsals and performances?

It’s like learning any new skill. When you learn to drive, you do it in stages. You have someone who knows the skill nearby giving you guidance. You go slow at first. You might learn in an automatic car before you try a manual, and then a few years later you’re in control of a big speeding metal death machine and it’s fine because you’ve practised and you understand how to operate it — it’s like that. We build it up slowly, we learn from people we trust and sometimes, we have to swallow the fear to get to the next stage and trust in our training.

We also have a number of safety procedures in place that mean we’re minimising as much risk as possible at all times. We’re much safer on the stage than in a car, for example.

What has been the most interesting experience in your career as a circus performer?

I couldn’t name just one. It’s the accumulation of different experiences and people. I’ve been bogged in the desert in Morocco. I’ve bought a very expensive hand-made woollen coat in Croatia and claimed it on travel insurance. I’ve showered in stinking brown bore water in central Queensland for weeks, I’ve performed in every state of Australia and almost 40 different countries and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve bumped into a friend I’d never expect to see in a city I don’t know yet.

I’m often surprised at the different skills I’ve picked up along the way. For example, being better than most at understanding English spoken in many different accents, or navigating a system built for people whose lives look nothing like mine. Or, finding the best hipster coffee almost anywhere I go (sometimes though, the coffee is just bad so last year I bought an Aeropress).

What does an average day in the life of a circus performer entail?

There are no average days. Every day is different. Some days I sleep until 1pm, some days I get up before the sun to get on a plane. Some days I’m exhausted, covered in other people’s sweat and need to scrub the black off the soles of my feet in the shower and some days I eat chips in bed. It’s hard to keep a routine when we travel all the time. I haven’t had a place to live that wasn’t a hotel/airbnb/sub-let or friend’s couch in eight years. So a lot of time is spent packing and unpacking, deliberating over how much milk to buy so as not to waste it, making any space feel like home or googling the best coffee/food in town. I’m studying at the moment so I also try to find time to do that.

What are your interests outside of the circus?

I was an only child, I’m never bored, everything is interesting, I honestly have too many hobbies, and sometimes it gets stressful.

I’m currently doing a course in health and nutrition coaching and I hope to one day work supporting new parents to foster healthy eating habits for themselves and their children. I’m quite passionate about the psychology that surrounds nutrition and I hate that it’s all become so complicated. I hope to be a part of a preventative solution for the next generation.

I’m also getting married next year, so recently I seem to have become quite interested in wedding planning...

We understand you grew up in Melbourne. What is it like knowing you’ll soon be performing in your hometown?

I did grow up in Melbourne mostly and Albury. Most of my family is in Melbourne, so it’s great that they’ll be able to come and see the show. I’ve spent a long time telling myself that when your friends and family are in the audience that’s when you need to be the least nervous. They are only there to support you, and they’re usually the least critical. I think it might be starting to pay off because I’m not that nervous. I’m just looking forward to having a chunk of time in one place around a lot of my people.

What do you love about Melbourne?

I love so many things about Melbourne. The food and coffee scene, the obscenely-hipster vibe, the availability of good croissants, the art, how friendly people are and how many people wear black. I really do love being from a city with such a good reputation. It always makes for good conversation, you know, when I don’t feel like diving into the whole circus performer thing.

Freyja's Melbourne Picks

Restuarant Mario’s. My Mum has been frequenting Mario’s since before I was born, it’s pretty much the longest standing thing in my life. Last year they had their 30th anniversary and celebrated by offering their original menu with original 1980’s prices. While Mum and I were standing in the queue, we overheard someone saying how cool this brand new restaurant that just opened was. We felt very smug (and it did tickle my hipster fancy) that we liked it before it was cool.

Cafe Grub Food Van. Great fresh food, super trendy hipster Melbourne vibe but also very welcoming, amazing juices and of course they have good croissants.

Bar The Rooks Return. Mel Musu is the best bartender in Melbourne (and a damn great DJ too).

View Either Naked for Satan or Transit. Or my Mum’s balcony.

Free thing to do Wander into the NGV.

Event The Australian Hoop Convention. The fact that there is now a hoop convention in Australia and it’s in Melbourne makes me so happy.

Must do for any visitor Wander through the laneways in the city. Start at Flinders St, walk down Degraves St and just potter through to Bourke St, make sure you turn around in Royal Arcade to look at Gogg and Magogg.

Hidden Gem The Journal Cafe upstairs in the State Library.