Richard Ward (1945-1999) was the founder of Fool Time in Bristol, Britain’s first professional circus school in the UK and the first English language circus school in the world
A Quantity Surveyor leading a family life, in 1985 he attended the 8th European Juggling Convention organised by the newly-opened Belgian Circus School in Brussels; Richard was inspired!
As a spare time juggler and stiltwalker, Richard had long known the UK needed a circus school, but seeing a converted secondary school thriving as a training ground for circus artists in Belgium, strengthened his resolve to make it happen in the UK.
Inspired by the upswell of interest in what was then referred to as “new circus” with its vibrant human creativity and counter culture politics, Richard took a truly daring leap of faith investing in an old building in St Agnes Bristol to open up Fool Time, Centre for Circus Skills and Performing Arts.
Video features Niki McCretton arriving at Fool Time.
On 1st April 1986 Fool Time, the first professional circus school in the UK and the first English language circus school in the world, opened its doors. Supported by Audrey Michel who ran the building and raised the money, and by Franki Anderson who helped develop the courses, Fool Time was active from 1986 to 1993. It was succeeded by Circomedia (established 1994 on the same site by Helen Crocker and Bim Mason, two of Fool Time’s principle teachers). Fool Time attracted students from all over the world, making it possible to train as a circus or physical theatre artist without having to run away with the circus (unless you wanted to, that is!).
Fool Time was a trail-blazing venture at the forefront of the contemporary circus movement which was gathering momentum right across Britain and Europe in the 1980s. Its legacy can be seen across all fields of artistic endeavour.
Many of today’s leading UK circus practitioners began their journey in Bristol. Many have gone on to work in a wide range of artistic and educational settings taking the Fool Time vision all over the world.
Artistically, Fool Time combined the disciplines of theatre, dance, movement, mime and storytelling with human circus skills: acrobatics, trapeze, clowning, juggling, balancing and equilibristics.
Educationally, it developed the first curriculum from its first five-day course up to a one year course (launched 1988) laying the groundwork for today’s formal higher education qualifications.
Students paid fees (70%) which were subsidised by the school which fundraised for the other 30% needed to make the training as accessible, affordable and available as possible – a policy close to Richard’s heart. Fool Time was registered as an educational charity and was the first contemporary circus organisation to secure core funding from the Arts Council after three years’ persistent lobbying to persuade them that circus was an art-form.
Today, circus schools of all sizes are all over the world and the UK has two of the most renowned schools in the world and Bristol has developed into the UK’s Circus City, home to a bi-annual festival showcasing new talent and creative innovation.
The Richard Award honours the beginnings of the contemporary circus movement and pays tribute to the man who arguably started it all.
WHY AN AWARD
Today’s UK circus scene has numerous schools, university courses, outreach programmes, agencies specialising in providing circus acts, companies and individual artists who work nationally and internationally. Yet few have heard Richard Ward’s name or know of his seminal contribution to this vibrant creative sector in the UK.
The Award, created for an artist, or artists who have completed professional training in Bristol, is a vehicle for commemorating a visionary man and ensuring a legacy for Richard’s passionate commitment to support and encourage young talent in the circus and physical theatre arts.
It provides an additional platform within the city around which circus organisations can come together for mutual benefit and to promote Bristol’s circus credentials.
Lastly, it provides a valuable platform for young, emerging artists in the early stages of their professional career to showcase their skills and talents, gain performance experience, present themselves to an audience which includes talent scouts, promotors and agents and receive 6 months’ mentoring from an industry professional.
WHO WE ARE
The Richard Award was conceived by Audrey Michel and Helen Crocker in consultation with many of Fool Time’s past students, teachers and staff, notably Janine McCretton and Gavin Marshall. The team has worked tirelessly on a voluntary basis since 2016 (30 years since Fool Time opened) to make the award happen.
The Richard Award is a constituted Association with a Chair, Treasurer and Company Secretary.
Audrey was co-founder and co-Director of Fool Time from 1986 – 1993. She helped to shape the school and was responsible for administration, publicity and marketing, fundraising, outreach programmes and anything else that needed someone to do it! She was responsible for blazing the trail for circus funding – breaking down the barriers to have circus accepted as an art form and worthy of public funding, and to validate the educational importance of structured courses and workshops accessible to all. Audrey works as a freelance fundraising consultant with arts, health and social welfare organisations. She still has her 34 yr old juggling clubs and occasionally throws them in the air and catches them!
Helen trained as a gymnast and contemporary dancer back in the day. Seeing and working with two women from Circus Oz inspired her on a 25-year journey of contemporary circus development.
She was co-founder and co-Director of Circomedia for 16 years, instigating the first accredited Teacher Training & BTEC courses for circus in the UK, one of the midwives to the Aerial Dance movement and Project Manager for Circomedia’s award-winning Portland Square site.
Recently Helen was Producer and Artistic Director for GDance, an acclaimed production and training company with a specialism in inclusive dance practice. She now works as a freelance consultant.
Janine used to play circuses with her sister Niki when they were small. Dreams came true when both studied at Fool Time in the late 80’s. She went on to work with Archaos and Captain Bob’s in the 90’s as well as a day job making shoes on Christmas Steps.
As a stilt-walker Janine performed at many events before becoming a Stage Manager in Theatre & Circus at Glastonbury Festival, running a rural touring scheme in South Gloucestershire and joining Bristol City Council Arts and Events team. Putting Circus Baobab in a big top in Portland Square for the launch of Circomedia in 2005 was a highlight for her. She still works backstage at events and festivals.
A graduate of Fool Time’s first year-long course, Gavin’s work has taken him from aerialist with Ra Ra Zoo through choreographing and assistant-directing for the Royal Shakespeare Company to heading up the motion capture team on Spielberg’s Ready Player One. He is a core member of Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium, working on Animal Farm and Mowgli. Gavin choreographed circus scenes for Bollywood’s Dhoom 3 and starred alongside Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachan in Thugs of Hindostan. In 2019 he assisted on Elekron, a circus/ stunt show for Studio City in Macau and was circus director for Garden of Love, the Ambhani wedding spectacle in Mumbai.