A thread of fabulousness runs through Jarred Dewey’s practice as an artist. He’s a circus performer, a contortionist, an aerialist on the trapeze, performing amazing feats high up in the air. He’s also a scholar of all things camp, of taste that is so bad that it’s good – and a Melbourne Polytechnic costume design student.
Jarred is bringing all his hard work together in a show, a result of his recent award of a fellowship at Circus Oz. He’s one of just five artists who were granted financial and technical support as part of the company’s inaugural Circus Arts Incubator program.
Jarred, who began his circus career as a youngster in Adelaide, is using the time and space the fellowship provides to bring together all aspects of his practice, in a show that one day he’d love to tour. He’s calling it ‘It's good because it's bad’ and explores ‘the third taste’.
‘So there's good taste, there’s bad taste - and then there's the good taste of bad taste,’ he explains. It’s about the idea of camp, ‘very much inspired by my queer experience as a person. I'm looking at exaggeration, artifice over content, but also the kind of subversive punch that camp has, how it playfully engages with pop culture but is also subverting it at the same time.’
And integral to that exploration are his costume design studies. Circus Oz also has a wardrobe department where he can work on his costume development for the show. ‘Not only is this going to be a physical exploration of the work, but obviously camp is really ostentatious and big and exaggerated and I'm getting the opportunity and space to also explore that through my design work,’ he says.
Costume for circus artists is tricky, they need to be able to move freely in all directions, but Jarred’s already thinking about ‘feather boas and massive oversized 80s attire, maybe some flamingos, drawing inspiration from the Baroque and Rococo eras, they are so ostentatious.’ There’s a process of trial and error, a prototype called a toile is produced and then you ‘bring them onto the floor and you see where they rip’.
Jarred is studying the one-year Diploma of Live Production and Technical Services CUA50415 (Costume for Performance) at the Prahran campus after he ‘had to do the pandemic pivot, most of my work evaporated before my very eyes as a performer. But I then saw the opportunity to invest in myself in a different way and I've always been in love with costume. ‘I was always sewing, so it just seemed like a logical progression and I'm so glad that I did. I love the course, I think it's fantastic.
‘They have taught me so much - construction skills, pattern-making skills, design skills, how to break down a script, how to break down a character from a script and to costume that character. All of these elements are really practical, really fun. It's wonderful.’
Jarred began to learn his circus skills at Cirkidz in Adelaide, performing in the troupe all through his high school years before moving to Melbourne to study at NICA, the National Institute of Circus Arts then joining Circa Contemporary Circus, touring over 30 countries with more than 13 different productions. Circus Oz has always been a big part of his career – he remembers seeing them perform when he was young, then ticked the bucket list when he performed with them under the Big Top. Their festival of experimental circus, Side Sault, ‘gave me the opportunity to get behind the wheel of creating my own work for the first time, after being a company performer for so long’.
For the show he hopes to have a small ensemble of maybe four acrobats, and incorporate elements of aerial contortion, drag, sideshow, illusion and juggling. The course is giving him the skills to design and construct the costumes for the show and he might even be able to bring in some of his classmates to produce them. He’s already had a few costume commissions – ‘I would actually love to create amazing costumes for my fellow performers just in my industry’.
Melbourne Polytechnic Theatre teacher Jenny Lovell says: ‘We often get people coming into the Costume course who are performers - looking to not only be able to create costumes for themselves but to add a money-making string to their bows. This is the case with all our Dramatic Arts courses."
Image - Bryony Jackson