Zip, Zap, Adapt: How a Circus Survived

Cape Town, 7 April 2020: In February 2020, Zip Zap Circus delighted over 50 000 people at the Federer vs. Nadal showcase match. That was its last live performance. A year on, and the team has invested countless hours and resources in keeping its ‘circus family’ afloat. It’s also done something remarkable and managed to make MOYA – their first-ever acrobatic art film – during the pandemic. Ahead of World Circus Day, the performers are gearing up for another act with impact, with surprises in store for Capetonians on 14 April in the city centre.

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Teenagers, especially, have been severely impacted by the trauma of Covid-19. Zip Zap – which provides free youth and outreach programmes to young people from all walks of life – is a safe, fun, creative space where performers can find the human connection they crave, in a place where they can express themselves fully.

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Walking the Covid-19 Tightrope

Laurence Estève, Co-founder and CEO of Zip Zap, says the team used the time to radically rethink their budget, cut all possible costs, and innovate. “We’ve never worked that hard in our lives.” Prioritising the wellbeing of the team and performers was the primary goal. They reopened their physical programmes as soon as they were able to, with the requisite protocols in place.

Throughout the varying levels of lockdown, the Zip Zap team stayed connected with performers, providing airtime, regular phone call check-ins, data, food parcels and an e-learning management system, with online programmes, training, tutorials, videos and games for its beneficiaries. This ensured all young people felt cared for – from performers based in Hout Bay’s Imizamo Yethu Township to Khayelitsha.

Acrobatics Out of the Ashes

The idea to make a movie came from Laurence’s daughter, Sabine van Rensburg. A former Zip Zap student and member of contemporary circus company Seven Fingers Arts Collective, she returned home and started teaching the professional performers at Zip Zap. Inspired to create, she dreamed up the idea of the acrobatic art film. The team committed – which meant not seeing anyone outside their ‘bubble’ for the duration of production – and filming was completed in just two months.

Estève says, “The result is beautiful. It’s energetic; it’s Cape Town. You know the flame lily that only grows when everything burns. And the phoenix that rises from the ashes. That’s what I learned. When everything is devastated, just create something new.”

As well as the art film, Zip Zap has a new live comedy-circus show called SLAPSTICK, coming in July, plus an Artscape performance planned for October. But fans don’t need to wait that long! MOYA will air for 48 hours from 24-25 April, with tickets available on Quicket. Plus, residents and visitors in the Cape Town CBD on 14 April, are in for a surprise…Performers will dazzle with a series of pop-up acrobatic stunts set to take place around the Central City.

Tasso Evangelinos, CEO of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), says, “We have so much admiration for the work that Zip Zap has done for the last 29 years. They’ve been phenomenally tenacious throughout lockdown and we salute them for their innovation and never-give-up attitude. We look forward to seeing the performers lighting up our CBD!”

The Show Must Go On

Estève adds that while the community has rallied and supported the circus throughout this time, they still really need support. She stresses that Zip Zap is not just a show. The team runs myriad outreach programmes to reach at-risk youth. It’s flagship vocational programme, Dare to Dream (D2D), aims to alleviate poverty and reduce unemployment by using circus arts as a practical medium to teach soft skills, technical skills, artistic development and teaching capabilities.

D2D students are selected for the programme based on potential, and participate in different modules, including coaching the younger children. There’s also a ‘professional insertion year’, where they become work- and life-ready by working with Zip Zap.

Xolani Sikunana, a D2D student, says the programme means the world, “I have learnt so much about my personal value and the importance of being myself. Through the programme I have opened up to others and I love sharing my knowledge.”

Siyabonga Swelindawo, a former student turned instructor, says D2D provides myriad opportunities to beneficiaries, “Opportunities to travel and to perform, to hone their skills, to meet and learn from our international interns who are specialists in various circus disciplines.  They benefit enormously from the skills share and transfer, enhanced self-development, and preparation for potential employment.”

A Special Circus Surprise

The pop-up performances are set to take the Central City by storm. If you want to catch them in action, here’s a schedule of where they’ll be performing on 14 April 2021:

  • 09h30:  Waterkant Street between Long Street and Loop Street
  • 10h00: Corner of Government Avenue and Parliament Lane at the ‘Arch for the Arch’
  • 12h30 – Thibault Square
  • 13h00 – Outside Newspaper House in St Georges Mall
  • 13h30 – Bart Simpson Statue at St Georges Mall