Deaf star in special circus

By Grace Bradshaw

Rehearsals for the Auckland Community Circus' upcoming show are a lot quieter and calmer than most.

There are children and adults on the stage doing a range of circus acts, with interpreters also in attendance to aid performers who are deaf.

They are practising for Circolina's Leap, a showcase of the skills they have been learning at community circus classes. The classes are held throughout Auckland.

Rachel Coppage from Sunnyvale attends weekly circus classes for the deaf. She will be the show's narrator for deaf audience members and performers.

"My role as a narrator is partly because when you have an interpreter they're often very separate from the stage.

"It's hard for deaf people to watch the performance at the same time as reading the interpreter ... which is why my role was developed," she says.

Instead, she will be part of the show, dressed in costume and shadowing the character of the circus director.

Rachel says she hated drama when she was younger, but her confidence is growing.

She says part of her reason for doing the show is to be a role model for deaf children.

"Deaf people don't have enough role models, so I'm trying to show that if they want to do something they can do it, that it is possible, and to inspire them," she says.

Rachel became involved in the community circus through the Deaf Arts Network, which is part of the Giant Leap Foundation. The foundation develops access to the arts for deaf and disabled people.

Her role was finding people to be involved in the community circus but she ended up getting involved herself.

Rachel says the first community circus deaf class was "absolutely packed".

"The community circus is a good way to improve confidence, and it's fun as well," she says.

"There's very much a family focus, which is nice, and different levels and ages."

Rachel's 11-year-old daughter Meghan, who attended Kelston Deaf Education Centre, is also performing in the show. Meghan is now at Glen Eden Intermediate School.

The show's lead role of Lina is played by Morgaina Mathias, who usually uses a wheelchair.

Auckland Community Circus creative director Thomas Hinz says the group has made good progress.

"The foundations are laid for a great show. I'm excited," he says.

Performers will take part in routines ranging from hula-hoops, juggling and ladder jumping to riding unicycles.

Circolina's Leap is being evaluated as part of a two-year research project set up last year by Thomas and his partner Frances Kelliher, who The Aucklander first met in January.

The project is called "Developing Community Circus in Aotearoa New Zealand". It aims to investigate and explore community circus and support its professional development.

Grace Bradshaw interviewed Rachel through an interpreter

WHAT: Circolina's Leap

WHERE: Pumphouse Theatre, Takapuna

WHEN: Friday May 18, 11 am; Saturday May 19, 3pm

HOW MUCH: Tickets $15 adults, $10 child/concession from


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- The Aucklander

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