Founded in 1978, Circus Oz began as an amalgamation of the Australian Performing Group's Soapbox Circus and the Adelaide-based New Ensemble Circus. The company established a reputation for its knockabout physicality, overt treatment of political issues and boisterous comic style. Today the company can boast an unrivalled and ongoing commitment to national and international touring and to the promotion of diversity and gender equality.

The company’s own archives are extensive. Their collection includes over 1000 videos, documenting a performance history stretching back to 1978. The original videos are stored on a range of media reflecting the technology of the day, from U-matic tapes to external hard drives. The company has invested significantly in safeguarding these assets, and the entire collection has now been digitised, with preservation copies placed into a research repository.

The Circus Oz Living Archive is a digital “living” archive that was developed between 2010 and 2014 by an RMIT-led team with the assistance of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Industry Linkage grant. Its aim was to develop an innovative online archive to facilitate access to these digitised assets. The site provided a shared space for current and former Circus Oz members, fans, researchers and the general public to connect and collaborate on the organisation and description of Circus Oz videos.

In 2021, The Circus Oz Living Archive was moved offline. The University of Melbourne’s Theatre and Dance Platform has undertaken to host the site’s video assets and to continue to make them publicly accessible. Our collection currently encompasses the original 77 videos that were published on The Circus Oz Living Archive. This selection includes performance and rehearsal videos, television commercials, documentaries and interviews. We are currently working on making more of the collection available in the future.

In presenting these videos, we have attempted to preserve some of the distinctive features of the Living Archive site. Each video in the Living Archive is divided into “clips” that represent individual acts within the represented performance. We have preserved some of this information in a time-coded table of contents for each video. This can be viewed by clicking through the “Show full item record” for each asset. We also tried to retain as much of the data as possible relating to the individual acts and performers associated with each performance.

We have retained the comments and descriptions posted on individual “clips”, including them as part of the metadata for each video. This important feature of the Living Archive enabled users – typically Circus Oz members – to pose questions, exchange memories and share stories. The site allowed two classes of comment: I was there, and ... ; I wasn’t there, but … . The comments that accumulated during the period when the website was online represent a unique community resource and an integral part of the Living Archive legacy.

The Theatre and Dance Platform has also incorporated data sourced directly from the Circus Oz company archives. This collection not only makes these important video documents available to researchers but also reflects on the achievement of the Living Archive experiment in creating a shared sense of community through the digital animation of these important archives.

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