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 her 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 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.
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.
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.
Gwen is 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 touring production of Hetty Feather (dir. Sally Cookson), which was nominated for an Olivier Award in 2015. This show is happily returning for winter 2017/18. 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 is being reworked again (with director Michael Fentiman) for a tour in 2021/22.
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 project continues into 2021 and beyond.
Gwen directed the Farmyard Circus‘s full-length outdoor show in 2021, and this show will hopefully tour fully in 2022.
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.
More recently, this mentoring role has become formalised and Gwen has worked 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.
Gwen also now takes on private performance coaching and project mentoring for circus and street theatre performers and performance-makers. More info here: Mentoring