Our Big Top

Circus Oz has a long history of working in tents. Its first tent was designed by Tim Coldwell and sewn together by the company in a Carlton basement in 1978. Working to a budget of $7500 and seating 600 people it was used for years to tour Australia, but when it's capacity became no longer viable Circus Oz were forced to either hire tents or move in to theatres.

In Sydney 2002, Circus Oz, christened their state-of-the-art 1356 seat Big Top. Built at a cost of $1 million, of which $700,000 was contributed by the Federal Government through the Australia Council, as a result of the Nugent Inquiry into the Major Performing Arts, Circus Oz clown Tim Coldwell oversaw the design for the new tent. "It's a modern tent design with external pick-up points to get rid of most of the internal poles, to make the spectator's view as good as possible" said Tim. "The other unusual thing is the rake of the seats, which is steeper than I've seen in any other circus tent, once again to improve the view for audiences."

It's a modern tent design with external pick-up points to get rid of most of the internal poles, to make the spectator's view as good as possible

The Big Top requires 1.5 km of steel wire rope, 182 steel poles and 402 tent-pegs to stand it up and stop it blowing away. 35 metres tall and 44 metres wide, it is made of 4200 square metres of Ferrari double-sided PVC fabric with a woven layer for extra strength and a blackout layer to keep the light out. In a strong wind, the load placed on the ground by each king-pole is 20 tonnes.

The seating system for the new Big Top was built on the Gold Coast and the stage-flooring constructed in Preston, Victoria, while the tent itself was built in the small town of Bassano del Grappa in Northern Italy. While it was being built, in late 2001, Circus Oz performed a season in nearby Vienna. "A carload of us drove down there over the Alps one weekend to visit the factory" says Artistic Director Mike Finch. "It was on the outskirts of this beautiful town, with a medieval wooden bridge and about 100 different types of grappa for sale. The tent-builders are a family company called A Tre Alban. Their ancestors had sewn saddlery and coach fittings for carriages, and the business had gradually evolved into this incredibly high-tech operation. We could see our tent laid out across a huge floor, seemingly hundreds of acres of fabric being welded together."

Mike Finch says the company is excited by the creative opportunities the tent provides. "It's great to be in the same venue because we can put all our energy into meeting the audience on the night rather than thinking about how to squeeze our weird rigging into all different size venues. We can welcome people into our own somewhat strange and eccentric house."