Contra Project

Our Circus Training Space is usually filled with some of the most talented and daring performers in Bristol. One of our favourites is the genre-defying, queer, and female-led Contra Project, made up of Laura Murphy and Nicole A’Court Stuart.

The duo are committed to making, touring and supporting the development of politically engaged, interdisciplinary, and boundary-pushing work in Circus, and they make that work at home in The Island. This July, they published Circus is Not The Only Fruit, a publication examining artist’s motivations, and pulling together all the brilliant strands that make up circus work in the UK. The team also are working to facilitate online trainings for Circus and physical practitioners in Trauma and Autobiographical Content.

In celebration of all the work they do, we sat down to catch up with the team:

When did you first start working together?

We started collaborating on creative projects at university in 2008 and officially working together in 2017 on the initial stages of Laura’s solo show Contra.

What’s changed for you over the pandemic?

We lost our 2020 tour of Laura’s solo show Contra, which was around 14 dates plus a run at Avignon off. We were pretty devastated. We sought a small pot of emergency funding from ACE to explore other ways of working with the themes of Contra, through engagement projects and thinking about sector development for the first time. We curated an online magazine Circus is Not the Only Fruit and organised some exciting training around trauma & supporting survivors of sexual violence. It’s been really rewarding to invite our creative community in to share this process with us. We also used the funds to pay our team 60% of their cancelled wages, which we were so thankful to be able to do. This period has been tough, as it has been for everyone, but working this way has been really inspiring.

We are ready to get back to touring though!

How has being at The Island changed your practice?

In addition to being a circus training space and rehearsal space, The Island is a  community and creative hub. The Island has, and continues to be, a really vital source of support for us both, with regard to us sustaining careers as freelance artists in Bristol.

What’s been the most memorable moment of Contra Project?

Presenting Contra to sold out audiences at Arnolfini Bristol last year, as part of Circus City Festival (which Nicole co-produces), was really incredible – it was amazing to have such a warm (and riotous) reception from audiences in our home city!

What’s next for you?

We are going to try to keep touring Contra, we have dates in France in January, and we are developing a new show, Self Made Man, a surreal, solo exploration, of performance, failure, and power.