This circus clowns around for social change

This circus clowns around for social change

Performers at Addis-based Fekat Circus use their art to empower local youths and more


Show time: performers at Fekat Circus show what they can do

Hiwot Abebe

Hiwot is an Addis Ababa-based writer, focusing on visual and performance art. Her work has appeared in The Reporter, TSA Art Magazine and Art Africa.

A colourful hand-painted gate and the peak of a large white tent greets visitors to a leafy corner of Piassa, Addis Ababa’s atmospheric old town. Inside, acrobats and dancers are tumbling on mats, while children raptly follow their movements. This performance of the Fekat Circus, though, is about more than entertainment.

Founded by Dereje Dagne and Georgia Giunta in 2004, Fekat offers free daily circus classes to 30 local schoolkids. “Our compound serves as a centre,” says Eyob Teshome, the circus school coordinator and cyr wheel expert at Fekat. “People meet here, they can learn and enjoy themselves – and they can showcase the artistic expression inside of them.”

The circus is engaged in several social causes, including recruiting performers who have disabilities, working with orphanages and refugee camps to create playful educational experiences for youngsters, and visiting a local paediatric ward, where doctor-clowns paint and sing with hospitalised children.

“We believe in introducing art and play into our social engagement. It’s our responsibility to give back to the community,” says Eyob. “We hire students who learned with us, and they have gone on to create their own troupes.”

Fekat also collaborates with international circuses by exchanging culture and knowledge. A project that began in April 2019 has seen Fekat members working with circus artists from Finland to create a new performance piece. “The quiet period caused by the pandemic has actually been a good opportunity for our troupe to focus on artistic creation,” says Dereje Dange, artistic director of Fekat.

They are about to launch a new performance called ‘Shagala Bagala’, co-directed by Ethiopian and Finnish circus directors, with five Ethioopian performers. “We wanted to create something that’s never been seen before.”

If you want to watch a performance from Fekat Circus, head to Kuriftu water park in Debrezeit every Saturday and Sunday, where the group has built the first big top in the Horn of Africa.