"You need patience and mindfulness - light is everything."
Cathie Sprague is a former Trapeze Artist, Dramatherapist, Writer and extremely creative woman. It’s a fresh morning and I’m in sunny Saltburn-by the-Sea to meet Cathie at her seaside apartment.
You’re a busy lady, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on transcribing my experiences of trapeze into visual language. When I performed, and now teach, trapeze, there is something about that experience, about being embodied, completely embodied, owning and inhabiting my body that I find totally fascinating. Particularly for women, this can be a really empowering experience and I want to translate it.
How did you become interested in trapeze?
At eighteen, I worked for an organisation called Playspace in Bradford. This was a children’s charity which delivered play opportunities for children all over the city. We prioritized creating relevant play opportunities in the best way that we could and in the most deprived areas. I ran a print room and a darkroom, made puppets and created shows. A friend and I attended the only circus school in this country at the time. A group called Archaos came over from France and caused a massive splash and then an International company called Ra Ra Zoo ran a workshop in London and that’s where I met the trapeze.
Was it love at first sight?
In a way, yes, but it wasn’t necessarily sight, it was about being; can I get my body to do this? Can I hold my own weight with my hands? It was a physical challenge which put me right back into my body. Born in Canada, moving to the Midlands at the age of one and then living on a farm, I was an embodied child who, together with my three brothers, was used to the wild freedom of the land. But I was socialised as a girl into not doing anything particularly physical until, once again, it felt incredible to push at the boundary of what can be achieved working, practising and co-operating creatively with trapeze.
Did you know at the time that you would always work with trapeze?
I knew that I loved it and I knew that I wanted more. I toured with Snapdragon Circus, which was my first experience in a travelling show. Then I designed a trapeze rig. Growing up on a farm, I was used to handling equipment so my doubles partner and I constructed a set and formed a company, ‘Skinning the Cat.’ We toured widely, in Europe and beyond. Our first show challenged the use of wild animals in circus: we used the concept of animalistic physicality in our performance, becoming the animals breaking free. I performed web rope, doubles trapeze, solo trapeze and dance trapeze. Doubles trapeze is the complete embodiment of trust, dangling your own life off somebody else, and I was the flyer. It was addictive! My body was being stretched to its limit. I’m better in the air in terms of movement: as a dancer and performer, I always feel I can express more on the trapeze bar than on the ground. The combination of aerial and physical theatre was perfect for me and I naturally progressed into this area forming ‘Chimaera,trapeze and fire theatre’ with a colleague.
I teach trapeze and I love teaching it. It’s there in everything I do. I know freedom begins with physical movement, I watch people move through and on with their bodies in artistic and therapeutic practice every day.
How has your passion for circus informed your art?
I completely enjoy the physicality of painting murals onto walls: it’s big and expressive and I’m using my body. This is key. I love to create work and then place it in a performative context, where the body can express story. After discovering circus this became integrated, creating backdrops, costumes, props, sets etc and used in the performance itself. I have explored many visual art forms, losing myself in printmaking, particularly etching for a while, then textiles creating banners for a trapeze rig, puppetry, masks, bead weaving, anything that can be used in performance or its publicity. Recently, my art is becoming sculptural. I adore Hannah Hanson’s work: it's a great example of integration.
Which artistic medium do you prefer to work in?
My Dramatherapy practice has enabled me to see that it’s ok to be cross art-form, as an artist. Framing my creative interests through theatre and performance has helped contain a kind of freedom where all skills and mediums can be valued. I am fascinated by patterns and Op-art. I am drawn to work in black and white using ink, fabrics, acrylics and oils, although I like to experiment with any materials and textures. Monochrome defines a boundary in all my work in therapeutic and psychological ways. I try to find ways to include and explore movement in my art: I like the paradox of a static picture having movement, and am interested in what happens in between a pattern to create it. If I decide to, I tend to introduce colour in blocks. I love to work collaboratively with other artists. I have a great love of nature and Saltburn Woods inspire me, earth, trees and water, particularly streams. I am a creature of nature and feel the need to express this at the core of my work.
This is an exciting time in your life. How will your art progress in the future?
I want to explore visual work that can capture physical and psychological aspects of movement in trapeze performance, examining how body and mind can be in harmony. I aim to create large artworks which are sculptural and transcribe this experience, encapsulating presence. I’d love to exhibit my work more in community spaces. I’m interested in constructing rigs to hang artwork, pop-up galleries incorporating puppetry and kinaesthetic art; that fine line of static into movement, the moment of owning the body, Meyerhold’s ‘stance, refusal, action.’ I am excited by paradox.
Cathie Sprague is a Saltburn based artist practising in the disciplines of Performance, Dramatherapy and Fine Art. cathiespraguecreativeartist.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.orgFacebook High Seas Trapeze