Since 2021 “MOYA” (“Spirit” in the Xhosa language) has become one of the most bandied-about terms in circus media since three young circus performers out of Montreal created an award-winning film of the same name. On July 13-16, the film will be presented at Phantom Theater, with co-director, key videographer, co-choreographer, and film editor Brin Schoellkopf on board to host a discussion about the film on the evenings of July 15 and 16.
Warren native Schoellkopf, 25, started in gymnastics at age 7, and became a part of Circus Smirkus of Vermont when he was 11. When a junior in high school he auditioned, and was accepted into, the École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal, and after graduation, toured internationally with the contemporary circus company, The 7 Fingers a contemporary circus featuring incredible physical feats, as well as dance and performance art.
When the global pandemic hit in 2020, Schoellkopf and his fellow circus performers continued to train throughout the pandemic, working on more personal projects, but their ability to perform was completely lost. Sabine van Rensburg of Cape Town, South Africa, and Schoellkopf had become close friends in circus school. She expressed her concerns about the fate of her parents’ social circus school in Cape Town called ZipZap. The friends came up with the idea of creating a film of the professional corps of the school – MOYA -- comprised of eight African performers who have become a cultural phenomenon, mixing their roots with the circus arts. The film was to be Schoellkopf’s introduction to “social circus,” meaning platforms created to combine circus artistry with social issues, or ills, making audiences aware of the plight of many young people without the resources to achieve success out in the world. ZipZap co-founder, Brent van Rensburg, a former circus star, described it as “people using circuses to offset violence and poverty. It works!” he added.
Schoellkopf had incorporated filmmaking and photography into his studies when he was attending the National Circus School. Graduating students needed short videos to send to circus companies, and he stepped in to help some of them. “In time,” he said, “This expression of visual arts became more and more of a real interest to me. I loved finding ways to express and even exaggerate the physicality of the performers.” Schoellkopf and van Rensburg worked closely with each of the performers over the three months. “There is so much power in just taking the time to listen,” Schoellkopf said. “I was facilitating the narrative of the film, but it also wasn’t my story, nor my culture. I felt very sensitive to this, trying to ensure that my decisions were based on their culture, and the performers’ thoughts about the history of South Africa, an important element in the film.”
The film is breathtaking. Audiences watching the film are swept into the streets of Cape Town, and out onto rural roads, and into the hearts of the circus artists. In a particularly moving extract of the show, the history of gumboot dancing, a traditional South African dance that was born in the gold mines at the height of the migrant labor system during Apartheid, is showcased.
“Moya” will have a new soundtrack soon, created by a South African composer, Josh Hawks, after which the film will re-released. Schoellkopf traveled back to Cape Town last January to co-direct the live show of “Moya” with his friends Sabine and Nicholas Pulka, which premiered in February. ZipZap will begin touring the show internationally in 2023, their first-ever live touring group.
The “what’s next for Brin?” question came up, and he admitted to frequently asking himself the same question. “Recently, I have been dealing with an injury which forced me to take a break from performing,” he said. “I had been questioning if I wanted to continue as a circus artist, but through COVID and this injury, I know now that I still have a lot that I would like to say on stage. I want to make more films, but for now I want to heal my body and give it the time it needs to perform again.”
Schoellkopf was asked to respond to a quote, “To make good circus, you need to have a little rebellion in your soul.” He replied, “I would go even further and say that to be an artist in general you need a little rebellion in your soul.”
“MOYA” will be presented at Phantom Theater in Warren July 13-16 at 8 p.m. Brin Schoellkopf will be there to discuss the film on the 15 and 16. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.phantomtheater.org. Go to the website for directions and information.