Let's Run Away and Join the Circus! - An inquiry Unit

Circuses have always been a place of inclusivity, a place the became a home to the outcasts and oddballs. What better way to teach physical activity for all students and make it fun and engaging but most all to embrace mistake making!

Predating even circuses are clowns and jesters evidence of them dates back the Ancient Egyptians around 4500 years ago! 

"Clowns believe they can do anything and their desire and curiosity to try new things is limitless."                                                                                                          - Deirdre Marshall 2016

This unit plan is designed to be an extensive inquiry project into the world of circus arts, it could be undertaken across one or two terms depending on timetable availability and breadth and depth of inquiry. It would ideally culminate in a student centred and created performance. 

Learning IntentionCurriculum Links
To explore and individual and collective physical activities to create an engaging circus performance.(VCHPEP057) (VCHPEP060) (VCHPEP061) (VCHPEM064) (VCHPEM065) (VCHPEM068) (VCHPEM069) VCHPEM081) VCHPEM084) (VCHPEM086) (VCHPEM087)

Introduction: Ideally this unit would be introduced with an actual circus performance of some kind, an excursion or incursion would be ideal. Hoopla Doopla is also a great introduction to circus in a highly accessible format for junior students.

Explain that we are going to be an inquiry unit on the circus and it will involve lots of experimenting with circus equipment and our own bodies. Explain that the areas of circus arts we are going to look at are; juggling, acrobatics, balancing and clowning and that we always need to feel safe and comfortable and make sure that we warm our bodies up before and stretch after ever session and we need to make sure we have space around us so we don't bump into each other. 

Free Exploration: Students are introduced to different circus equipment each lesson, juggling scarves, juggling rings, devil sticks, plate spinning, a mini trike. 

After a demonstration and explanation students are free to explore different pieces of equipment and asked to thing about how they might work in a performance. 

Collaborative tricks like juggling to a mate or 'stack of cats' are introduced spread out across the unit. 

At all times mistakes are to be celebrated as an expression of learning and growing.

Clowning is introduced as a way of recovering and celebrating mistakes and working them into a routine. 

Costumes and simple make up can be introduced towards the end of the unit to help students develop a character for their final performance. 

A more systematic unit plan resource in circus arts is available on the Sports Australia Playing for Life: Circus Companion Book however I find that this plan is far to regimented for the circus which should be about having fun whilst being physical rather than perfecting a certain skill before moving onto the next. 

Clowning: This resource from homunculus theatre provides the following activity plans that provide great scaffolding for students who are uncomfortable with a free form approach and effectively build up the idea of clowning:

Activity 1: Space walk 
• Begin walking and fill all the spaces in the room. Be aware of the space in front of you, beside you and behind you. Own your space.
• When the teacher claps their hands together you will stop walking.
• When the teacher claps the second time, you will move only your head to one side or the other.
• When the teacher claps the third time, you will begin walking in the direction that your head is turned.

Activity 2: Stop‐Go‐Squat‐Jump!
• Begin walking around the space. If the teacher says ‘stop’ you will keep walking. If the teacher says ‘go’ you will stop.
• You will do the opposite of the teacher’s command.

Activity 3: Cirque Train
• Form a single file line. The person at the front of the line will be the first leader. They will begin moving in a way that they find fun and everyone will follow.
• When they run to the back of the line the second person in line will become the new leader. The new leader will change the movement but will be inspired by the former movement. It is important to get out of your head and into your body.

Activity 4: Break out of your baggage & challenge your comfort zone!
Clowns believe they can do anything and their desire and curiosity to try new things is limitless. Therefore, it is important to start with these introductory exercises to challenge our inner critic.

• Have students find their own space in the room. Get them to visualize a material that they could get stuck in. What does it feel like? What texture is it? What color isit? With their eyes closed get them to visualize a way to break out of their ‘shell.’ Ex. being stuck in a pumpkin shell and scooping one’s self out with a pumpkin seed. Have the students act these out physically and verbally. When they escape make sure they celebrate.
• After the exercise, get them to evaluate themselves. Did they work at their maximum?
• Have them repeat the exercise, but this time get them to challenge their comfort zones! Invite them to be louder and more physical. In essence, get them to ‘drop kick their critics!’

Activity 5: Ta da! 
Students love to punish themselves when they make mistakes. We fear failure, but clowns embrace failure and let the problem become the solution.
• Students will begin by throwing a large (real) ball in a circle. The first couple of throws they will imagine that the ball is just a normal ball.
• The next couple of throws they will imagine that the ball is now made of glass.
• The final round of throws they will imagine the ball is a puppy. If at any time the ball falls the whole group takes a moment and says (awe) and then immediately afterward the person