Step Right Up: How Mark Morreau Is Using Adobe Premiere Pro to Help Contemporary Circus Go Digital
This post is part of our ongoing Unexpected Creative Careers series. Click here to view all posts in this series.
Mark Morreau’s videography career started with the circus. In 1980s London, Morreau was introduced to juggling by the puppeteer who was the left arm and tongue of Jabba the Hut. Before Morreau knew it, juggling as a hobby led to circus school and a job with a touring company as a trapeze artist.
In 2003, after 25 years as a performer and teacher, Morreau decided to “run away from the circus.” He didn’t get very far. Now a videographer and photographer focused on performing arts, Morreau’s wide-ranging projects have included a touring gallery installation of disabled dancers to most recently, an aerial theatre show that explores the teenage brain. He’s also studying for a Master’s of Digital Theatre.
How did you first start dabbling in video?
Morreau: In 1995, the Arts Council gave me money to buy a video camera to take on a study tour of circus schools in North America, and I got to keep it. By then I was already then a bit entranced by this medium of moving pictures with sound, something I’d never met before.
Two years later, when I tried to run away from the circus, I signed up for a Digital Media Course. They showed me all these great tools, like Photoshop, but particularly Adobe Premiere.
I was quite taken by it. It became an extension of telling stories in the same way I’d been telling stories in the circus.
What was it like going from being in front of the audience to behind the lens? What did you learn?
Morreau: I was the only guy with a video camera in my little world of contemporary circus at the time, and everyone started asking me, Can you film my thing?
I discovered really quickly that how you present for stage doesn’t work for the camera. I’ve never met a performer who gives as much to the camera as they do to a live audience. And when you’re filming a circus act in front of a live audience, it can be hard to find the right position, and for the performer to get it as perfectly as they want the one time they can afford for you to turn up.
How has this old art form benefitted from modern technology?
Morreau: What’s really exciting about my work in the past five years or so is there’s been an emergence of a genre which is circus for the camera. It’s not a reproduction of the act they’ve done, but taking some of the elements and using it for the camera.
My particular fascination has been about the things I see as a performer and as a circus skills teacher. You can see very tiny things the audience can’t because they’re too far away. So much of a handstand artist’s balance, for example, is in the minute movements of their fingertips.
How would you describe your particular aesthetic?
Morreau: If I had a unique aesthetic, I’d call it up close and very slow. I like to show the unseen.
I’m quite enjoying playing with time, putting slow motion cameras on circus artists and looking at how muscle ripples in a handstand, for example. Or when you’re a rope artist and the rope comes off, and the mark of the rope is still on you until the blood comes back.
I want my audience to feel intrigued, like they’ve seen something new or had a revelation.
Tell me more about what you’re doing for show about the teenage brain.
Morreau: I’m working with an aerial circus company who’s co-producing a show, Depths of My Mind, about how the teenage brain shifts and changes and makes new pathways to reinterpret the world. It’s not just about the hormones.
We’re working with a neurologist and her two PHD students. We’re looking at images of the brain and going ooh, the hippocampus looks just like a field of poppies. Or that part looks like a river, this one a galaxy, another a Mohican haircut. Let’s project a photograph of a kid with a Mohawk that’s composed of images of hemispheres of the brain.
How have Adobe tools been integral to your art?
Morreau: I couldn’t do what I do without Premiere and After Effects. They’re amazing tools for processing digital video and totally reliable. I make projections for theatre shows, and half the time I’ll happily run those projections from the Premiere timeline rather than processing it through other kind of software. Just because it works.
I also know their possibilities, and what I can get away with when I’m shooting. There’s some really simple tricks I use all the time because I know Premiere will let me manipulate the video in such a way that I can improve whatever I shoot in the edit.
I was complaining to someone the other day that the software now is so fast that you don’t have time to have a cup of tea anymore. It’s all in real time. You’re so much more willing to try out an effect, or change an edit point or whatever. Nothing interrupts your creative flow.
You can view samples of Morreau’s work on Vimeo.