In 1988, Becky Truman launched Skinning the Cat – Circus of the Sky, the UK’s first outdoor aerial company, producing groundbreaking narrative and character-based shows.
The company toured internationally until 2012, establishing a unique style, which brought together Becky’s skills as a performer, costumier, rig designer and artistic director. Company members designed, constructed and performed on a variety of outdoor rigs, including a silver tree rig, a mobile rig, a triple-arched rig, and a Gaudi-style rig. In addition, the company appeared in cabaret, circus, variety, pantomime and corporate entertainments. It was an important part of the company’s identity that it was an all-woman organisation – this included all the heavy work, such as rigging and technical support.
In recent years, Becky Truman has specialised in special effects costumes and design for circus projects. Using the mediums of costume, mask, sculpture, life-casting and film, both individually and collectively- ‘I select projects that originate from character, emotion and movement. I strive to create the ultimate 3-dimensional portrait, using one or all of these disciplines to express an individual’s personal experience’
Skinning the Cat (which takes its name from a traditional trapeze move) is, by its inclusion in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s permanent collection and in the National Circus Archive at the University of Sheffield, recognised as a forerunner of the contemporary circus movement.
After many years of campaign pressure, ‘Circus’ was finally recognised by the Arts Council of England as an Art form – and Skinning the Cat produced RUBICON, its first Arts Council funded show, in 2002.
It was the initial support of Bradford Festival and the Manningham Circus Workshop that encouraged the company to develop. In an era when circus was undervalued in the UK, Skinning the Cat had the good fortune to be based in Bradford, where the council had the vision to support the company, providing a variety of venues for aerial rehearsal and performance – such as the Turkish baths, the historic Wool Exchange and regular use of the Manningham Sports Centre. And, from the beginning, people and organisations in Bradford were generous with their help and constant support.
Tours were chiefly in the U.K and mainland Europe, including regular appearances at Glastonbury festival, the opening of the Channel Tunnel and residency at the Millenium Dome, the London International Mime Festival, Circus of the Streets, Manchester’s Commonwealth Games. Covent Garden Piazza, Leeds City Varieties. The company also performed at Stockholm Water Festival, the launch of the Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart, Aurillac Showcase Festival(France), Tarrega Showcase Festival (Spain), Moscow state circus, (st. Petersburg) The Rheinhalle Köln (Germany), launch of the Tall Ships Race in both Edinburgh and Amsterdam, launch of the BMW car (Portugal), Sabena Airlines. Skinning the Cat also worked collaboratively with companies Emergency Exit Arts, Raise the Roof and Urban Strawberry Lunch. Sometimes, the company created site- specific work at amongst other places, Arundel Castle and Newark Castle.
Teaching and helping others to develop their performances has been an important part of Skinning the Cat’s work. This has included workshops with schools, such as Temple Bank for the visually impaired, experience days for ‘Spice’ (the adventure group), and various community projects. Professional teaching for individuals has led to the support and creation of new aerial companies, such as Exponential and Arabesque.
Over the years, Becky and Skinning the Cat won awards and accolades. Becky was featured in ‘The Best of British Women’, a book by Martin Miller published in 1993. She received the Prince’s Youth Business Trust ‘Young Achiever of the Year ’ award from Jasper Conran. More recently. Becky Truman was included in Bradford’s 175 Heroes, at the Dye House Gallery. Skinning the Cat won some prestigious commissions, including Newark’s ‘The Year of the Artist 2000 and the 2002 Commonwealth Games Opening and Closing ceremonies for the Sponsor’s Village.
The company survived some major accidents and disasters, the most memorable being the night in 1998 when arsonists destroyed the entire Enchantress show, including equipment, rig and the company’s accommodation. Through an extraordinary collective feat of single-mindedness and resourcefulness, only one month of shows had to be cancelled: the summer’s tour continued as planned.
‘My inspiration is eclectic and multi-faceted. My mind constantly collects images, creating a library of colour schemes: patterns and shapes, characters, textures, the way things move or catch the light, the way one object is placed in relation to another, emotions, words, anything. My inspiration for our first show was the traditional fairground, but it quickly developed into the weird reptilian, bird-like, non-human shapes with brilliant colours and sparkling light. There is an oriental influence, Chinese and Balinese, in both costumes and makeup, with Peking Opera as a major source. The music is an eclectic mix of carousel, modern beats, jungle sound effects, storm sounds and organ music, pop and classical. You name it. The vivid and sparkling colours with which the Asian population enliven the grey streets, shops and public places of Bradford have been a pervading creative influence.
In 2007 I was awarded a NESTA fellowship (National Endowment for Science, ground-based Technology and the Arts). This was vital to my development from trapeze ground-based artist, which I explored in ‘Ground Bound’ – an exhibition based on my experience of the emotional and physical change that took place as my work moved from the trapeze to the ground, exploring the journey of practising physical performers as they reach the stage in their lives where age and injury require them to reinvent themselves. My written autobiographical work extends to the media of sculpture, film and performance
I have an active interest in international relationships, which has led to worldwide collaborations and membership of international networks such as IETM (Informal European Theatre Meeting). I have a lifelong passion for the circus and was involved at the start of the Circus Arts Forum, set up to raise the profile of circus. My experience was recognised in 2000 by the Arts Council when I was invited to join their ‘Circus Advisory Group’. The link between traditional circus and the contemporary circus is important to me so that we continue to develop skills and a modern performance style while not losing our cultural roots.’