Alumni News

From the Olympics to helping survivors of trafficking

Robyn Simpson

Bachelor of Business (Marketing)
Co-Director and Co-Founder of Circus Kathmandu
Circus Kathmandu

Robyn Simpson has had a fascinating career involving acrobatics, choreography, performance flying, and dance. From travelling across the globe, to co-founding a circus for survivors of trafficking and having a pivotal role in the ceremonies for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Robyn shows no signs of slowing down.

In 2010, Robyn and a small team of co-founders set up Circus Kathmandu, Nepal’s first and only circus. All artists in the circus are survivors of trafficking or vulnerable situations, and strive to raise awareness about modern day slavery.

“The anti-trafficking work they do now is vital because trafficking is increasing in Nepal and Circus Kathmandu has a unique way of getting people’s attention and engaging a community with the issues,” says Robyn.

“Through circus, the young artists are fostering a love of learning and demonstrating gender equality and the power of the creative economy.”

"It’s potent because they’re living examples of what they’re teaching, and they’re defenders of human rights and children’s rights because of what they’ve experienced."

In the seven short years since Circus Kathmandu’s foundation, the group have profoundly turned their lives around, fast becoming a national export. The group have put on workshops in a number of different areas such as earthquake displacement camps, spinal injury hospitals and with street children. As well as this, the group has performed at some big name venues like Glastonbury Festival, and for people such as the Ex-Prime Minister of Nepal.

Circus Kathmandu

“They’re versatile, talented, and inspiring. Culture, creativity, and tourism are assets that can be further developed to economically benefit Nepal, help reduce poverty, and as tools against social injustice. Circus Kathmandu is proof that it is possible – it began with people from the lowest socioeconomic stratum with minimal options for the future. With assistance, Circus Kathmandu has tools to help rid Nepal of trafficking, and to protect and promote the rights of women and children.”

More recently, Circus Kathmandu has been involved in a new documentary, Even When I Fall. Tracing the lives of two members of the circus, the film follows their journey over six years as they confront and accept being survivors of child trafficking and corrupt Indian circuses, taking control of their lives and looking towards the future.

Circus Kathmandu

“My secret goal is that the film creates a global storm and that the problems resulting in human trafficking are resoundingly defeated – that the film creates pressure in the right places to make real systematic change to poverty, gender inequality, lack of education and corruption.”

Long before her involvement with the circus and the Olympic Games, Robyn was studying a Bachelor of Management in Marketing, when she decided to pack up her things and move to the bustling city of Mumbai. During her time there, she taught dance and PE at the American School Bombay, studied yoga, danced in Bollywood music videos, and continued studying by correspondence.

Robyn then won a dance scholarship to Vienna, and moved to London from there. She danced with the English National Opera and did daily classes with the Richard Alston Dance Company. It was not until a colleague convinced her to audition for the Millennium Dome Show – a multimedia show akin to Cirque du Soleil – that her career path would take a rapid hook turn, launching her into the world of acrobatics.

7000 people auditioned for the Dome Show, with Robyn recalling the process being as tough as an army boot camp.

“The first day involved doing sit ups, squats and other strength exercises and then getting up onto a trapeze bar. People were cut after each round of exercises. Over the next audition days we did dance, acting, team work, and then finally a height test, and I was accepted onto a full-time circus training course in preparation for the Dome Show.

“The course was an incredible and rapid entry into the world of traditional circus – trapeze, corde lisse, circeau – and contemporary circus where I did bungee trapeze, abseiling, sway pole, and flying.”

Even while she was effortlessly gliding through the air on a trapeze and balancing up a 100 foot sway pole, Robyn still continued to study, gaining her Marketing degree during this period.

Over the course of her career, Robyn has worked on many large scale events in sport, fashion, music, and film.

“Working on London 2012 was the culmination of a ten-year goal and is a definite career highlight.”

“Being part of the Opening Ceremony as the ‘Hero Mary Poppins’ that defeated Voldemort to rescue the children was a magic moment. As Aerial Captain, I improvised and tested equipment, and helped 30 aerialists with their flying.

“Touring with Muse and having 200,000 people simultaneously roar as I jumped out of a flying UFO still makes my heart race a little when I think about it.

“Doing movement direction, or devising on films like Les Misérables is great because what you create lasts - they’re not ethereal like live performances.”

Although Circus Kathmandu has already come a long way since its inception, Robyn is adamant that there is a lot more to do to cement the sustainability of the organisation, and a large part is creating a high-profile show for tourists, allowing the business to grow.

“Ultimately, we’d also like our own training space and performing arts and circus school to continue training circus and social circus practitioners, as well as generating a love of creative learning in future generations.”

Robyn is returning to live in Australia this summer with her young family and is looking forward to the opportunities available here to pursue her interests in dance, choreography and circus.

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