Gwen Hales is a Bristol-based circus-theatre maker, director, choreographer, consultant and mentor.
In a previous life, she has worked as an aerialist, a street performer, a fire-eater and a clown. She stopped touring with circuses in 2003 to focus on building her freelance career in street performance and narrative circus-theatre. Gwen now collaborates with UK circus & theatre companies, specialising in creating performance work that crosses the boundaries between skills and narrative.
In addition to her freelance work, Gwen is the artistic director of two outdoor performance companies: Circii (family-friendly, comedic physical theatre for outdoor events) and Juggling Inferno (high-skill, choreographed fire performances).
In 2019, Gwen received funding through the Jerwood New Work Fund to research a cross-art form collaboration between circus, outdoor arts and technology. This project is ongoing.
Trusteeships / directorships:
Gwen is a longstanding volunteer manager/trustee of The Albany Centre, a unique training facility for circus professionals in Bristol, and is committed to promoting circus arts and street theatre in Bristol.
Gwen is a director of the Sexual Health Circus, a Community Interest Company that combines circus and theatre in an informative show engaging young people with Relationship and Sex Education.
For the past five years, Gwen has co-coordinated the Bath Fringe New Work Works Artist Development Scheme. Set up to support step-changes for street arts performers, she leads a team of expert mentors in running workshops and ‘show surgeries’ aimed at emerging and brave artists working in new ways in the outdoor realm
In the first Covid19 lockdown of 2020, Gwen invented, initiated & organised The Bristol Coddywomple. This was a city-wide, synchronised celebration of outdoor performance, with over 50 performers taking part in hyper-local events over 8 postcode zones.
Facilitating & Mentoring:
A big part of Gwen’s life is encouraging other performers to be the best they can be.
As a volunteer manager of the Albany Centre (an artist-run training space for circus practitioners in Bristol) since 2005, and through the two outdoor arts companies she runs, Gwen has been informally mentoring younger and less-experienced performers for many years.
This mentoring role has become formalised with work for Circus Futures and the Bath Fringe Festival Artist Development Scheme to encourage artists to take risks, solidify their practice, and plan for the future.
In addition to directing their 2021 show, Gwen worked with the Farmyard Circus collective on some company structuring and the development of their communication strategies.
Gwen also now takes on private performance coaching and project mentoring for circus and street theatre performers and performance-makers. More info here: Mentoring
Circus/Theatre work (you can find more details on some of these projects on the Things I’ve done/am doing page):
Gwen was a founder member of the infamous circus-theatre company Pirates of the Carabina. Their show FLOWN won the Total Theatre Award for Physical/Visual Theatre at Edinburgh in 2013.
In 2012 Gwen was part of the core devising team for the Olympic sailing opening ceremony in Weymouth, Battle for the Winds. This complicated co-production from Cirque Bijou and Desperate Men included an innovative mobile street show and a theatrical spectacle set on a bespoke structure suspended from a crane. There’s a short documentary about the project here.
Gwen was the Aerial Director on Bristol Old Vic‘s 2012 production of Peter Pan (dir. Sally Cookson) and this production was reworked for the National Theatre for Christmas 2016 and again in 2019 for the new ‘pop-up’ Troubadour theatre in White City. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/peter-pan
She was Aerial Director for the production of Hetty Feather (dir. Sally Cookson), which was nominated for an Olivier Award in 2015. This show toured for many years in the UK and USA. www.hettyfeatherlive.com
She also worked as Hammock Consultant(!) on the Tobacco Factory‘s 2014 Christmas production of Sinbad (dir. Craig Edwards), as Aerial Consultant on Life On Wheels, a 2015/16 show from circus company Bella Kinetica, and as Director on aerial duo CirqOn the Seam’s 2017 production, Betwixt & Between.
Gwen collaborated with Sally Cookson for a stage adaption of the classic Fellini film La Strada – a co-production from Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Kenny Wax Ltd, Cambridge Arts Theatre and Bristol Old Vic. www.lastradalive.com
She worked with the National Theatre again on their 2017 production of Angels in America (dir. Marianne Elliott). www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/angels-in-america
Gwen worked with Sally Cookson on an exciting in-the-round version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for Christmas 2017 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The show was adapted as a front-on performance for a season at the Bridge Theatre in London for 2019, and has been reworked again (with director Michael Fentiman) for touring in 2021 and a residency in London’s West End for 2022 at the Gillian Lynne Theatre.
Gwen began mentoring the Sexual Health Circus founder Jess Herman in 2017, with the project finally getting funding for a pilot project in 2019 and Gwen directing the final touring version of the show and accompanying videos in 2020-21.
In 2020 Gwen began working with The Gramophones Theatre Company on their new show Aidy The Awesome. This show successfully toured (mainly digitally) in 2021 and again in 2022 in actual theatres.
Gwen directed the Farmyard Circus‘s full-length outdoor show in 2021, and this show is touring in 2022.
Gwen was Assistant Director on Insane Root’s 2021 site specific Christmas show Hansel & Gretel at Arnos Vale cemetery.
The Wardrobe Theatre’s comedy production of Drac & Jill involved a small amount of counterweighted flying which Gwen worked on in 2019 and again in 2022.