Bromance at the Edinburgh Festival

Barely Methodical Troupe's Beren D’Amico, Louis Gift and Charlie Wheeler talk to Spotlight about their production of Bromance.

 In this episode of The Spotlight Podcast, we talk to three friends who came together to create a unique circus-theatre experience. they explain how their love of physical theatre, acrobatics and dance helped them develop their piece, Bromance.

We discuss the central themes of male friendship and comedy, the challenges of taking a show to the Fringe plus a regime for staying at the top of your physical and mental game during the run of a very demanding show. And yes, it might involve a spa!

21 minute listen or read the full transcript below.

All episodes of the Spotlight Podcast.

Episode Transcript

Christina Carè: Hello and welcome to this special episode of The Spotlight Podcast. We're coming to you from the Edinburgh Fringe. I'm Christina Carè, I work at Spotlight, and today we're chatting to the boys behind Bromance. The boys are Beren D'Amico, Louis Gift, and Charlie Wheeler. We'll be chatting all things circus performing and the ways to keep up your momentum in a long run. I'll let the boys introduce themselves, but hope you enjoy the podcast.

Beren D'Amico: Hi, I'm Beren D'Amico. In Bromance, I'm a flyer/acrobat.

Louis Gift: Hi, I'm Louis Gift from Bromance. I'm a base/acrobat.

Charlie Wheeler: Hey, I'm Charlie Wheeler from Bromance and I spin in the Cyr wheel and do some acrobatics, and together we are Barely Methodical Troupe.

Christina Carè: Guys, thank you so much for joining us on The Spotlight Podcast. We've just seen your show, it was brilliant. Can you-

Charlie Wheeler: Thank you.

Beren D'Amico: Thank you.

Louis Gift: Thank you.

Christina Carè: Can you talk to me a little bit about how you came to circus? Because I've been reading that you all started off in very different sorts of skills, how did you discover circus?

Beren D'Amico: For me, circus was the first thing I ever saw. Because my parents toured with a company called Archaos. But they weren't circus acrobats. My dad was a musician who did music in the show.

Christina Carè: Oh nice.

Beren D'Amico: But from a very young age I saw circus. And I guess because of that, I just became super obsessed with everything physical. So I grew up doing TaeKwonDo and various other things and kind of taught myself how to do flips. So eventually, circus seemed like the necessary path to take. I found out that there was such a thing as circus school. Because I didn't know that existed until I was about 19 and I was like, that's me. That's what I'm doing. That's what I'm doing with my life.

Christina Carè: Nice.

Louis Gift: I started off doing parkour during A levels. I got really into that.

Christina Carè: Were you doing your A levels or were you just doing parkour?

Louis Gift: Probably a bit more parkour than I should have been doing maybe. But yeah, I was doing A levels, didn't really want to go to study anything academic. And then my dad actually told me about Circus Space, which is now called the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton. Because he had done classes there as well. He had gone to some acrobatics classes, and he was too embarrassed to tell me until I was in third year. So I was just like, yeah how did he even know about this place in the first place? I never even thought to ask him.

Christina Carè: That's how he knew.

Louis Gift: Yeah he was just like "I can do a cartwheel." But yeah, went to National Centre in 2010, met these boys and that's my pathway into circus.

Christina Carè: The rest is history. And you Charlie?

Charlie Wheeler: I was very into drama and dance as a kid. A bit of breakdance. And I was looking at UCAS, where to go for university, maybe drama school or dance school. And then randomly found out about circus school, which sounded pretty funny, pretty cool. Auditioned for that and I was in the same audition as Louis actually, and we both just say this very big, amazing place. We thought... Well, I don't know what Louis thought but I thought was going to be a tent or a church or something like that. We still have that preconception of what circus is in this country. And I enjoyed them being shattered absolutely there. Saw that it was a very exciting place with beautiful facilities and a really cool idea. So we had a lot of fun at the degree programme.

Christina Carè: And it went from there.

Charlie Wheeler: Yeah.

Christina Carè: How did you guys form a troupe? How does that come together? Did you just see each other across the... I don't know way and kind of go "Let's make some circus together." How did that come about?

Beren D'Amico: In first year, when we were all in first year, we all met each other, and we all had similar skillsets. Charlie doing break dancing, Louis doing parkour and I did tricking. And they're all kind of like married to each other.

Christina Carè: Similar.

Beren D'Amico: Yeah. So we got on from the get-go and it seemed like everyone else in our year already kind of knew what circus was and knew the terminology and the names for tricks. And they'd done all their research and we didn't know anything at all. The only thing was, it was cool and we wanted to do it and that's it.

So we kind of found ourselves in the acrobatic studio that has like a bouncy floor. We found ourselves in there just all the time, just putting on crazy loud music and just throwing tricks. And that's the way we're used to training-

Charlie Wheeler: Which isn't how gymnasts and others necessarily... Circus people generally train.

Beren D'Amico: We actually got told off because people were too intimidated to come into the acro studio when we were in there. But we weren't intimidating at all. It's just the way we trained, just like put on some really obnoxious music and just jump around. And then it kind of became a little role-play from the beginning of school to create a company. We gave ourselves a name and luckily for us it just kind of became true. The role-play just became reality.

Christina Carè: Where did the name come from by the way? Was that just a reflection of the crazy music days or?

Louis Gift: So far away from it. So basically, in first year there was a group of us that would always go and get lunch together. And we all did acrobatics together. There was a couple other guys, a guy called JD and Mike. And JD is actually in our second show now so we did end up working with him. But yeah, and the only lunch day that we had off, all together at the same time was a Thursday. And so we'd make our way from the National Centre to Subway.

Christina Carè: Excellent.

Louis Gift: Where the sub of the day was the Italian BMT.

Christina Carè: Oh my goodness. This is a really long bow to draw.

Beren D'Amico: I hope they don't hear this and sue us. And the Italian BMT is the three meats: the salami, the ham and the pepperoni.

Louis Gift: So that's the three of us.

Christina Carè: That's you guys, okay. I'm really glad I asked that question. That was really not the answer I was expecting at all.

Beren D'Amico: But the best thing is, we asked them what BMT stood for because it obviously is not BLT. So they said it stands for big meat tasty.

Christina Carè: Which actually doesn't really make sense either.

Beren D'Amico: But took our attention and we ran away with it. Yeah.

Christina Carè: Perfect. Really glad I asked that.

I want to ask you then about Bromance. You guys have performed it before. I want to know how the show developed. I was quite touched by the description of the show in particular, in your press release. Beren, you're quoted as saying "We had the opportunity to create a show. So we thought, what do we have together? We don't want to do a show about politics or come across as pretentious. So we made a show about male friendship because that's what we experience every day." That's lovely. How did you turn that concept into an actual show though? Like what was that development process like?

Louis Gift: I think what was a big help was our disciplines when it came to making the show. So me and Beren do hand-to-hand and Charlie does Cyr wheel. And hand-to-hand is very much two guys holding hands. And that seemed like a good starting point, looking at how that is read when we're doing a trick versus when we come down and if we're just walking, holding hands. We're doing kind of the same thing in a way, obviously, he's not doing a handstand when we're holding hands on the floor. But yeah, we're just looking at the symbolism of that.

And then Charlie's wheel was a very good physical manifestation if you will, of personal space. And so, how you can have your guard up or your guard down and you can let your friends come into your personal space and be comfortable with them or you can shun them away. So it felt like between those two disciplines, there was a lot of material to be drawn from and explored. But it was nice because it kept it simple as well. It wasn't a thousand different analogies whatever you want in it, it was quite-

Christina Carè: It still feels like it's quite nuanced though. Because yeah as you say, there's lots of opportunities for you to explore those things, even though it seems quite simple.

Was there much that changed between how the show was the first time you performed it and now? Like, have you added more details? How has that worked?

Beren D'Amico: Yeah, I think as a company, our shows in creation, they are created but the biggest development of them is whilst they're on tour. And we really enjoy upskilling them. And we'll just change little jokes here and there and listen to the audience quite a lot. We really share the show with the audience. And so if something's not working or if something accidentally happens, we always allow for accidents to happen as well because that's where the funnest stuff comes from. A lot of the really funny jokes that we enjoy in the show have come actually from accidents. And we'll go off stage after and say, "We need to do that again tomorrow."

Christina Carè: Just keep that, yeah.

Beren D'Amico: So that's been really fun for it to develop quite organically. And as we travelled to different parts of the world, different things get different reactions, from different cultures and that's super intriguing as well.

Christina Carè: Well, yeah that was something I noticed, is that it's circus, but there's so much comedy in it. Did you learn comedy or were you just like, "This stuff's funny to us. We're going to put it in the show." Like how did that come about?

Beren D'Amico: We're very lucky to have the director who we have for this show, who is Eddie Kay. And he's just the most hilarious man, he’s worked with DV8 Physical Teatre. But just his presence in the room, you're just constantly laughing. So just to have him on board to kind of stretch, we created half an hour of this show on our own. And then we brought him along and he turned it into a full show before we performed it 2014 in Edinburgh. And yeah, a lot of it's down to his energy and his hilarious ideas. And he's really good at drawing each of our own ways of being funny out of us individually. Which is nice because the idea of trying to be funny on stage is kind of scary, like, "Oh, I'm going to try and be funny, but I'm super scared that I might bomb." But he's really good at getting it out of you seamlessly in the rehearsal process. So big up Eddie Kay.

Christina Carè: I mean, it's definitely very funny.

I wanted to ask you in terms of just making circus, it seems like circus shows are getting really popular or there's a bit of a swell in the number of circus performances going on, particularly at the Fringe. There's just so much out there and it's all very different, different takes on different themes. I kind of want to know then, what were the challenges for you in terms of putting on the circus in such a crowded environment? Like how do you stand out from all of that? And do you have any advice to other people who might want to do a circus?

Louis Gift: It feels like what Underbelly's managed to do really well is create an area for circus. Because, I'm not necessarily sure if it was just them, but before that it was quite hard to find the circus amongst all the dance and physical theatre and stuff. But now they've got the circus hub down there that's kind of like, you know that if you go down to that place, it would guaranteed be circus. And they're obviously such a commercial company, they've got their thing on South Bank and you see them everywhere. And yeah, I think they've done really well actually drawing all the lost circus performers and-

Christina Carè: Putting them somewhere.

Louis Gift: Yeah. Putting them in a little pen on a meadow. That's what-

Christina Carè: Just penning them in a space. You can find them, they're there.

Louis Gift: Yeah exactly.

Christina Carè: But I wonder in terms of, because obviously it's just, there's so many people with such incredible talent who can physically do such insane things. I think what sets your show apart to me, is the that it's not just about the tricks. Obviously, you guys are incredible, but there's other stuff. There's characters and comedy etc. Was that like a conscious choice? Were you're just like, we're not going to outperform the rest necessarily. We want to add other things? Or did you make a conscious choice in that way? Or was it, I don't know, more natural kind of development?

Beren D'Amico: I think we had quite a lucky education at the circus school that we went to. We were really taught about theatre and dance and all this and critical theory and all this kind of stuff. And so that really fueled into, we know we can do cool little tricks here and there. And if we wanted to do that, we wouldn't be creating a show necessarily. So this, for us, was really a chance to put all that together and put our training together and say what we wanted to say. And in a really fun, our own way as well. We had never made circus shows before and we were very lucky to have the opportunity to make a circus show. And I think every circus show is different because there's not a structure that you can necessarily abide by.

And one really lovely thing about circus is, it's all about the unique. We're taught to, very much like break dance, we're taught to find your own flavour. And that was really great for us as we kind of graduated to have that confidence in ourselves, that what we do is exciting and is unique. And so therefore us pooling us three together really creates a little unique package that is interesting to people. And we don't have to then worry about what the competition is doing or what our friends are doing because nobody's doing what we're doing, in a very simplistic way. So that means that competition is really lovely in circus. Because your friend's success isn't detrimental to your success. Whereas a lot of other trades, it doesn't seem necessarily like that.

Christina Carè: Well, it's interesting that you guys mentioned that you were very similar, like in terms of when you started out and you were studying together, basically. You seem to have very similar skills because you differentiate yourselves really clearly on stage. Like you have very separate characters, you seem very different to each other. Like you represent a really different thing to each other.

I was wondering then, you mentioned when things go wrong, sometimes you add them to the show. But you're bodies are on the line, and you're trying to perform for however long. In this case, you're performing every day at the Fringe basically. If something does go wrong, what the heck is plan B? Like how do you protect yourselves? I don't know. It just seems like there's so much trust you've got to have with each other. Can you talk me through that a little bit?

Beren D'Amico: Well, sometimes when things go wrong in a show, it makes for great improv or spontaneous moments. Obviously not a trick, because if a trick goes wrong, it can be dangerous. But for instance, when we did Bromance here in 2015, during Charlie's act, he hit one of the chairs with his wheel and it completely shattered the chair. And then obviously the next scene, the next big moment is the whole chair bit when we're moving chairs around and sitting down on chairs and doing acrobatics on and off of chairs. And suddenly we were just like-

Christina Carè: A chair short.

Beren D'Amico: How do we even get through this piece? What do we do? But for some reason it became something else. It was like a new act that was just created on the spot. And we had to address the chair and the audience was so on our side with it, that it just became this amazing, four minute comedy, spoof version of that already existing act. So that was great. And sometimes them moments that go awry-

Christina Carè: Make it special.

Beren D'Amico: Are lovely. You know what I mean? Like the other day someone's phone started ringing and we're allowed to address it because we're looking at the audience the whole time. So we just told them to answer their phone. And it was just funny and there was a baby crying the other day. So we pretended to start crying along with the baby and stuff. And little things like that are really nice for us.

Christina Carè: So it's not really like going wrong. It kind of just becomes part of the show.

Beren D'Amico: Yeah, exactly.

Christina Carè: Okay. Well-

Charlie Wheeler: I think with the tricks-

Christina Carè: Yeah, that's what I was going to say.

Beren D'Amico: Maybe we make them look like they're close to going wrong sometimes, but yeah, we really can't mess up certain things.

Christina Carè: No, I still felt you were in control even though it was like... I trusted everything was under control.

I want to know then, in terms of actually performing for a long time and touring and things like that. Do you have a regime that you follow or is there such thing as overdoing it? How do you maintain your show physically?

Louis Gift: So this year we've taken the responsible move of joining a spa.

Christina Carè: Ooh.

Louis Gift: Yeah. Because I know that definitely the Fringe is a bit of a beast. So I think you can't really come out of it feeling great. If you can, I don't know what's wrong with you. I don't know how you've achieved that. But yeah, so other Fringe's we've definitely come out of it with little tight areas. Nothing too crazy, crazy. But yeah, you always come out of it feeling a bit worse for wear. So this time we have joined the spa, we've joined the spa for the month. It's got, I don't know man, steam room, sauna, dry sauna, wet sauna-

Christina Carè: And that's part of the regime, now you just go in there?

Louis Gift: Yeah exactly, as of this year that's on the rider. We need to be near a spa, at most five minutes from a spa.

Christina Carè: Fair enough. And how are you guys feeling now? It's halfway through.

Beren D'Amico: Feeling pretty good.

Charlie Wheeler: Pretty good.

Beren D'Amico: Pretty good yeah. We've got a nice daytime show, which is really lovely. Our show's on at three o'clock, which is the earliest we've had it at the Fringe and it works really nicely for us actually. So that's great.

Christina Carè: Do you have some advice for other people who maybe want to take a show? In terms of surviving that whole month? Maybe not doing as intense physical kind of performance as you, but do you have any advice that you'd give to other performers?

Louis Gift: Join a spa.

Christina Carè: Join a spa, okay.

Beren D'Amico: Yeah, join a spa. Sheraton. Pace yourself. And I think it's very easy to have FOMO at the Fringe, the fear of missing out. And I think everyone will always have that at the Fringe. So just don't feel that you're missing out because you'll be enjoying something somewhere.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure. I want to ask then, if someone is maybe contemplating starting a show or bringing a show, what are the reasons they should do it and what are the things they should watch out for? The pros and the cons, what do you think?

Louis Gift: Definitely one of the main pros is the amount of other work that you're exposed to. There's people from literally all over the world here. And there's so much art and there's so much opportunity because it's like, what 2000 shows a day?

Christina Carè: Yeah, something crazy.

Louis Gift: So there's no excuse to not be inspired. But at the same time, there is so much inspiration. So definitely go and make use of that. Which is a lot harder done than said. That's not even how you say that saying.

Christina Carè: We knew what you meant.

Louis Gift: Backwards and wrong.

Christina Carè: Any main cons? Things people should be aware of that are actually quite challenging about bringing a show to the Fringe?

Charlie Wheeler: You just have to have a really great team behind you. Because it's, especially that first week, getting your show in there, if you're not prepared for it, there's a lot of things that can... Not go wrong necessarily, but just happen. And you have to be quite flexible and relaxed about that and just, having a great team behind you that help the preparation mean that when you're performing, you can really focus on performing. Because performing and being behind the scenes, organising things at the Fringe is quite tricky, I think. Because it's so demanding.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure. For sure.

Last proper question. What would you guys like to explore next in terms of your own performance or circus art in general?

Beren D'Amico: Well, we're at the very early stages of thinking about a new piece and we want it to be a lot bigger with a lot more acrobats and that opens the doors to way crazier tricks and things. And things in the air and big spectacle.

Christina Carè: Oh, your eyes are lighting up so I'm excited. Thank you so much, guys.

Beren D'Amico: Thank you.

Charlie Wheeler: Thank you.

Louis Gift: Thank you very much.

Christina Carè: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Spotlight podcast. If you've got any questions for us or things you'd like us to cover in an upcoming podcast, send us an email at [email protected]. That's all for now from the home of casting.