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Want to know how a circus and a symphony will work together on stage?

Imagine trapeze artists sailing across the top of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra while its members perform below

Nerve wracking stuff right? Well, that’s exactly what’s going to happen during the MSO’s production of Cirque de la Symphonie. James Poole, the MSO’s production coordinator, is responsible for the logistics, the set up and safety of the whole lot. 

A former member of the Fruit Flying Circus, Albury’s iconic circus company made up of crazy-talented kids and teenagers, Poole is pleased to be uniting a former passion with his current vocation. “I haven’t done any circus work for probably close to ten years now,” he says. “So, this is exciting. It’s always good to get the butterflies running through your tummy – a bit of adrenaline.”

The one-time base (the sturdy acrobat responsible for catching, throwing and supporting the weight of his or her acrobat colleagues) realised that he had a knack for stage management during his circus days. “I’d always liked to be hands on and during the latter years I was involved with setups and pack ups and looking after our equipment,” he says. “I think I gained interest from those backstage aspects. Also, it’s hard to get a position as a full time circus performer and requires a lot more training than I was probably wanting to do at that time.”

While Poole jokingly describes the MSO as a “big circus itself,” he says that coming onboard as a production coordinator involved a steep learning curve. “For instance, I had to learn how to read an orchestral schedule, what the instrumentation meant, how to lay the orchestra out on stage, where they all sat, and how to deal with 100 egos.”

It’s the first time Poole will be doing anything like this with the MSO. “It will be very interesting,” he says. “Part of the challenge is fitting everyone on stage, while allowing enough room for six performers as well as 60 musicians. The orchestra will be set in the standard position, but the performers will have a big aerial truss over the stage, where there’ll be pulleys and all sorts of circus contraptions. So, while the orchestra is playing, the performers will be swinging over their heads and tumbling on the floor before them.”

Of course there are structural issues too – exactly how do you set up that sort of rig in a concert hall? “We had drill into the foundations of Hamer Hall to create some anchor points for the rig,” Poole says, with a grin.  

Catch Cirque de la Symphonie at  Hamer Hall Fri-Sat Jul 15-16.

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