My Top 10 Hack Circus live moments

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We are going to print with HC #12 this month, and the project (as we know it) is drawing to a close. I have occasionally felt a bit down about Hack Circus – an awful lot of people worked an awful lot of hours on the magazine and podcast to make them high quality, original and often free, but, often I couldn’t even give them away. I’m mentioning this because it’s important not to lie about it. It’s important people realise that ‘build it they will come’ is bollocks – there are many more factors involved. My advice now would be, for god’s sake, don’t bother to build anything too nice, expecting people to come and join in. One day you’ll wake up and find you’re on your own up there, like Elsa in her ice palace. Let it go!

One thing that has been consistently fun and successful, though, were the live shows we had to accompany the launch of a number of the issues. I promised to do a list of my favourite Hack Circus live moments of the last 3 years, so here it is.

  1. The Starship Hack Circus Science Briefing Video
    Rocket scientist David McKeown and artist Sinead McDonald made a really wonderful, high quality, hilarious ‘Live from Earth’ fake Skype video, which we played as we took off in the Starship Hack Circus. It made the event much more immersive instantly, and set the tone for the whole afternoon. SO MUCH work went into it, and purely in pursuit of the common vision. Which sums up HC, for me.
  2. Writing a musical with LJ Rich
    I’ll always be grateful to LJ – for many things – but in this context: for making a long-term dream come true. Writing with LJ in the lead-up to our big night was intense and exciting. Ideas, jokes and snippets of lyrics and music zipped backwards and forwards constantly for months. I still miss getting texts from her first thing in the morning saying things like, “It’s a waltz! The volcano song is a waltz!” and secretly hunting out rehearsal rooms with pianos to brainstorm. It was the silliest thing I’ve ever done, and perhaps the best. And it almost did us in. I love that we made a bloody musical (and it sold out! And it was on the radio! And in the newspaper!)
  3. Selling out all the space at Lighthouse Arts
    We were properly worried about the Access All Areas show, for a while. The entire office at Lighthouse was deployed to try to sell tickets, seemed like we were never going to make back the outgoings. But then, at the last minute – literally – crowds of people showed up on the door. It got to the point where extra seating had to be brought in; and topping out at 80+ punters, we were told our audience were ‘the most people that had ever been in that room’.
  4. Sinead’s talk at Time Travel Live
    I didn’t even know Sinead very well at this point, I’d just spotted her doing wonderful things at the Dublin Maker event, and knew I had to have her for this. Sinead’s gone on to produce some of the most outstanding and Hack Circussy stuff over the years, but her talk at our very first event was what got it all going. It also set us off on a track of misdirection which I’ve been playing with and thinking about ever since. Watch her talk, about recovering and repairing a mysterious device, here.
  5. Nadia Kamil’s interpretation of ‘flight attendant’ on our space ship
    I asked comedian, actress and writer Nadia to come along and be our flight crew for the journey into space, and she was terrific: another hugely-appreciated favour from a talented pal. I almost got her into trouble, though. I’d instructed her to offer ‘sweets for take-off’ to the audience, going up and down the centre aisle and giving everyone sweets from a basket. There were about 100 plain mints, and just 10 ferrerro rochers, for First Class (front row), which I’d told her to leave in there, and tell off anyone who reached them with a stern “First Class only!” One poor lady near the back wasn’t too impressed when she had her hand slapped away.
  6. Tania’s talk at Time Travel Live
    I feel a bit weird singling out individual talks, but I loved that we were doing an event in the ‘geek space’ which had a barefoot speaker leading a meditation in the middle of it. I’ve always felt Hack Circus defies categorisation, and is about magical and important experiences, and this summed that up beautifully for me. Tania Ahsan led an amazing ‘time travel meditation’ which genuinely affected the audience… all of whom obediently closed their eyes during the show. You can watch Tania’s talk and join in the meditation yourself, here.
  7. The audiences
    The crowds were always a delight. They brought torches along to the Underworlds musical. They contributed to all the interactive stuff: putting notes in for Voyager to take to aliens; playing on Seb’s Lunar Lander drawing machine game; singing along with songsheets when required; getting their brainwaves scanned and 3D printed live during the shows… they said nice stuff on social media, they went along with all the things we told them were ‘actually happening’, and some of them even came to all the events, regardless of where we did them!
  8. Jan’s ‘Amigurumi Conception Kits’ for the Home For Christmas show
    Regular contributor Jan created the most adorable crochet egg and sperm kits, packaged like an iPhone, which we sold on the Hack Circus site for a while (till they sold out!) She had them on display at our ‘Home for Christmas’ market/fair event, along with ASHLI, the sentient face projection. Scroll to the bottom here to see them with your own eyes.
  9. Compering my own shows
    I always love this bit! You can feel nervous in front of 10 strangers in one context, but far more relaxed, somehow, in front of 100, when it’s your own thing. I’ve written talks for these, including a really silly one about time (including Atmosfear and ‘bin time’) which I’ve never repeated for anyone else. And I often wrote quizzes and had loads of fun chatting to the ‘acts’ and the audience. It’s given me a right taste for it.
  10. The Wild Cards
    There was at least one performer or speaker at every event who I had never met or worked with before, and it was always exciting to see what they’d be like. We had Alan Penny from SETI at the Starship event, for example, and Steve White talking about sharks at Underworlds. The element of surprise and mind-and-network broadening is part of what I loved about doing those shows.

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