Griffith Collective: Kristy Seymour
Name: Kristy Seymour
What do you do at Griffith?
I’m currently undertaking my PHD in the humanities faculty and my topic is the history of contemporary circus in Australia.
Wow that’s really cool, a little bit different from a normal PHD!
It’s an extension from my own practice as an artist and an opportunity to become an expert in my field and I guess basically an indulgence in my circus obsession. Honestly, I pinch myself once a week and think “I get to do this, I have a pretty sweet life at the moment!”
Why did you choose to come to university? What’s your story? Where did you come from and how did you get to where you are now?
All the way back… in 1998, I always wanted to come to university, because I was quite academic, but I was also very artistic, I wanted to study theatre I wanted to be an actor, and so I auditioned at Mt Gravatt campus and I got a place there, but I didn’t want to go, and I wasn’t going to audition here… I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I didn’t really like my audition at Mt Gravatt. I can’t really remember because that year was quite tumultuous for me, which we can go into later… I remember lying on the beach with my mum and my brother rang us, we had a mobile phone, which was huge! My brother was a prankster and he said Dr Nigel Krauth has called and he wants to reschedule your audition (because I hadn’t turned up), and I was like “Yes sure he did Dr Nigel, that’s a good name.” Mum and I said “whatever Luke”. But when we got home, Dad said yes he did call, so I thought I better just ring the number and Dr Nigel Krauth answered, he is head of writing now but he was the head of school of humanities for a long time. Long story short I auditioned, and I am so glad I did because my career was set in to motion from there.
While at Griffith completing my BA in creative arts and majoring in theatre and creative writing Gavin Robins from Legs on the Wall came and did an artist in residency, I became obsessed with physical theatre and he took me under his wing and mentored me, and then I found Rodleigh my aerial trainer through a staff email. Again I thought it was a joke when our techy came into the office and said “Have you opened your staff email?” and I hadn’t because I never read it because it was all engineering information. He said “No, no don’t delete it, there’s an email from a guy in there giving a lecture on the physics of flying trapeze!” It was Rodleigh Stevens, flying trapeze aerial expert. So I emailed Rodleigh and said, “I’m not a physiotherapy student but can I come watch because I want to be a trapeze artist?” he responded “Great YES!” So I watched his lecture and then I became one of his first students when he set up his school here and if I wasn’t here at university that wouldn’t have happened.
Then I went on and had a career in circus for a long time, I had a great job at Flipside Circus, and I was there for 7 years. I felt like I needed professional development. I could’ve stayed there for another 3 years but I was kind of plateauing. And I became interested in using circus as therapy for children with autism.
But there was nothing written down, and I was ringing places and they would say “That’s nice, but you’re from the circus…” they didn’t want to know about it. So I decided after 10 years out of academic writing I’m going to do my masters with honours studying circus and autism, so I came back.
From there I didn’t have any plans to do a PHD I was going to do my masters and then move to Melbourne. But then I set up my circus school and as I was studying and thinking about my art form theoretically, I got really excited about looking at circus from a theoretical perspective and picking it apart, and so I decided to do a PHD. I never planned to, but it all fits into each other. I was obviously destined to be a circus nerd of some sort…
You have a day off to do anything you like, take me through your ideal day, from morning through to night?
It’s quite rare that I get a whole day off. If I do I sleep in, because I’m not a morning person, I’ll go for a run along the Broadwater, do some chin-ups, because I choose to do chin-ups… Go and chill out in Burleigh. And then if there’s a space available, I like to go swing off something, and practice my hula-hoops.
Just have an entire day that’s just for me, putting energy into myself, and kind of recharging, not doing food shopping, not paying bills, because that’s what I end up doing on most days off, but when I have a day that I don’t have to, it’s just that and reading. Because I have academic guilt all the time about all the books I need to read. Theory books, I don’t have time to read fiction, it’s just all theory, which I love but you have to be in the right head space. I’m not very good at taking time off and actually resting, I never have been. My mother was the same so I think it’s just in my DNA I have to keep going.
What’s a good piece of advice you have been given and who gave it to you?
Dr Reg Bolton, has said and said to me and the Flipside kids one day when we were trying to put a show together “It always takes as long as you’ve got plus 5 minutes” I love that, because you can apply it in any sort of way, but I love that, as much time as you’ve got plus five minutes.
And the other advice was from my mum when I wanted to do a theatre degree. My dad because I was academic wanted me to do, marine biology, that was my other career option. And dad was saying, “Don’t do an arts degree you’re never going to get a job, and if you do, you should definitely do an education degree.” I certainly proved him wrong there! But my mum, came into my bedroom and said “Don’t listen to your father, he hates his job! And you should do something that you love, so do whatever you want, that’s all I’m going to say.” So I did and I always have since then, and it’s such a great piece of advice. That has allowed me to think about my life and career that way, I’ll do what I want not what’s easiest financially or what people expect of me, I’ll do what I want to do and that has served me well. Funnily enough, by the time I had graduated from uni and was becoming a circus artist my dad was my biggest advocate. So I’ve educated my dad along the way, which is good. I have broken down his conservative thinking a little bit.
Tell me something you have learnt this week, or this year and how it has changed your outlook on life?
That’s profound… I am learning all the time. I will have to take it from the work I do with children with autism. What I have learnt is that amazing capacity for people to trust each other I am always really humbled and proud when parents just hear a bit about me, and then they bring their kid and they just completely trust how I work with them, how they basically hand their child over to me and trust my… madness. Not everyone has a way of thinking outside of the box and I know parents with children with autism have to think openly about how to work with their kids, I have learnt that… because I had a lot of doors shut in my face with it, even after I finished my thesis and got first class honours for it, some peak bodies in QLD still don’t answer my emails or phone calls, and they have students of mine that go there. So I was thinking “I don’t know if people are going to take me seriously, but then as I’ve gone along this ability that people have to trust me, that is really cool. I’m taking risks in my career and in my life, in trying these new things and thinking outside the box, and because I’m doing that I am rewarded by parents taking a risk on me and giving me there kid. They don’t ask me is it dangerous? they just go, here is my child. So I’ve learnt about human kind in general. It has restored my faith in community and people, just accepting each other and going with new ideas, which I think the world needs a lot more of, challenging the system and what’s normal, because what we usually do doesn’t always work and that’s why we need to think differently, and that’s why circus works because it thinks differently about everything that it does, not just therapy but the way we make our art, the way we use our bodies.
What is your biggest challenge right now?
Time management! I’m doing a lot of amazing things, and I am really grateful but I have certainly bitten off more than I can chew in a lot of areas. I’ve been becoming better at saying no. That’s a challenge, saying no and managing my time. Because as my career goes on, I get offered more exciting things and I want to do all of them but I just can’t, I’m a one woman show! So like when I was talking to the council about a grant recently, they were saying I should expand my work with autism, but I have to say, yes I know that but I am doing PHD full time so I am growing it slowly because I cant manage rapid growth with it yet. That’s in my five-year plan not my right now plan. Also because there are other things that I want to do, and I am going to. Like my mum said “Do whatever you want!” I could just focus on one thing, but that’s not enough for me, I like to do many things. The perfect example is a project I worked on recently with the Spaghetti Circus Incubator. When I went to creative development with the idea of combining break-dance, capoeira and swinging lyra, in one routine, the director said, “That’s a lot of stuff!” but I like to do a lot of stuff, that routine is kind of a metaphor for me as a person.
And almost the opposite of that what is your happiest memory?
I am lucky enough to have had lots of happy moments in my life, and lots of sad ones to I guess. Everything always comes back to circus. It becomes an essence of your being it’s who you are and that’s a lot of what I am writing about in my PHD. How it creates identity, or enforces identity and supports it. I guess one of the happiest moments I had this year or at the end of last year was getting accepted into PHD with a full time scholarship. Because I knew, for one, being an artist where work is sporadic, I could breath financially. The scholarship plus my freelance work meant that I wasn’t stressing out financially to pay all my bills and also that it was going to create an amazing professional development opportunity it was the beginning of an exciting chapter. And it has been, this year already I’ve had so many amazing career highlights just in the last 9 months. So that for me has been a huge achievement because I’ve worked so hard to get this far in my career.
If you had to summarise your life philosophy in a few sentences, what would they be?
That’s written on my leg! ‘Damn everything but the circus.’ Circus as an art form has helped me as an individual not just as an artist. When I started uni, my mum was in intensive care after having a massive brain aneurism, my brother passed away a month after that. I almost never came to uni, but I did because my mum would have wanted me to and I am so glad I did because it totally saved me. I am a pretty sensible, switched on, resilient individual, I get that from my mum. She was sick for 10 years, she was in a nursing home for 10 years and I used to visit her every day and tell her stupid stories, and make her laugh. I am basically my mum’s carbon copy, we are exactly the same I’m just her with muscles and tattoos. I knew she wanted me to do it, I failed a few subjects in first year, because it was just struggle street, but people like Pat Wise who are still in my life, really supported me and circus just kept me positive. When my mum passed away in 2008, I was in the middle of a massive Flipside show, and all of the circus people, like Scott Maidment who is my artistic mentor, just all of the carnies were there for me, half of them came to my mums funeral even though they never knew her. The community side of it is amazing. And just that I can go into a circus space no matter what I’m worried about or going through that day and it just leaves me, I’m upside down, I’m fine. Nothing else matters for that time and I know I can suspend myself in that time. All the time, no matter what’s going on in my life, no one can take circus away from me; it’s always there. It hurts my body, more and more as I get older but I get more pleasure out of it then pain… most days. That incubator week was probably equal parts pain, pleasure, emotionally as well… It’s just a constant in my life and I know it always will be. I know that wont change, I’ll be doing it when I’m an old lady, I’ll be hanging off something or telling stories about how I did and I cant anymore. I want to be that crazy old circus lady for sure! I look forward to that time. It’s like a right of passage.
And lastly what characteristics make you a part of the Griffith Collective?
Griffith has been instrumental in my career. It has provided me with entryways and not even things that I would expect. I didn’t expect to become an aerialist it was not my plan. I was going to be an actor. I am so glad I didn’t become an actor I wouldn’t have liked it!
It’s a space where for example; I can come here and say I want to write a paper about circus and autism and someone goes YES lets make that happen! And when I present my work people are really excited about it and interested. There’s this open platform, I feel like Griffith is a big part of my life and part of shaping me as an individual, not just from a career level. I have spent a lot of time here, it gets bigger and changes, which is exciting, but also confusing when I come back and where there used to be grass there is a new building or when I came back in 2011 and went to the bottom of the library and I had to go and ask the front desk, “Where are the books?”
Interviewed by Mindy Davies | Instagram @mindyrose |