Minty Fresh Receives Pillow Lab Residency

September 17, 2023—Minty Fresh Circus, the U.S.-based circus show performed by an all-Black cast, has been chosen for a 2023-2024 residency at the incubator, Jacobs Pillow Lab, which supports dance artists during the crucial development, research, and technical stages of choreography-driven projects.

Readers of Arts & Culture Connections may recall an interview I conducted with Monique Martin, who conceived of, co-directs, and produces Minty Fresh Circus. For more than a decade, Monique has been pushing to open doors for artists of color in the circus arts, attending festivals around the world. She drew new inspiration from the open letter, “We See You White American Theater,” and began conversations with other circus artists about how to respond to the lack of equity in opportunities, and demand changes with a clear, multi-year plan.

One of the contributors to the disparity is economic, Monique told me during the interview. Circus school costs more than $40 thousand for a two-year program. At the same time, the African-American community has a long and complex history with the circus arts; a history that includes the kidnapping of Albino children to be part of a sideshow. At the same time, the first all-African-American circus was established in Wisconsin in the 1880s, and the circus arts are a prominent cultural tradition in several African countries.

Minty Fresh Circus is part of the contemporary circus genre, which incorporates physical theater, dance, closing, manipulation, aerial, and acrobatics. The contemporary circus also is known to be narrative-based; it begins with a premise or provocation. There are no animals.

Utilizing spectacular circus and dance skills, Minty Fresh Circus celebrates the healing power of Black music and movement, infused with the joy and resilience of those who survived the Transatlantic slave trade. The central question of the troupe’s work is: What does freedom feel and sound like if your only access to it is through your imagination?

I have been a long-time admirer of Monique’s creativity and ingenuity. Minty Fresh Circus is another example of her work that examines the world through the lens of equity and promotes diversity, inclusion, and access.

Pillow Lab provides artists with the time and space to research and develop new work with varying levels of technical aspects and research components, including access to the Pillow’s Archives. Residences also include free housing, a stipend, filmed archival video footage, and the potential for an informal, in-person work-in-progress performance. To date, Minty Fresh Circus has been supported by several other artistic development residencies, including Lake Placid Center for the Arts; the Samuels Foundation; the Apollo Theater; Factory International, UK, and La Grainerie, Toulouse, France.

Minty Fresh Circus will preview its work at the Apollo Theater in New York in Fall 2024, and it will have its world premiere in Spring 2025. In the interim, you can see a sample of the work of Minty Fresh Circus at this link.

As always, I would like to know what you think. I invite you to share your comments below.

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