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Will Chamberlain

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Will Chamberlain moved to Belfast in 1996, taking up the position of Development Officer for the Belfast Community Circus School. He became Director of the Circus School in 2000. In 2017, Will sadly passed away.

As the founder of Festival of Fools, Will’s hard work has brought joy to literally thousands of people on the streets of Belfast each year – through the largest festival of its kind on the island of Ireland. In 2004, Will had the inspired idea of putting on an annual circus and street theatre festival in Belfast to bring the divided city together. "We wanted to make it a place of celebration after so many years when the city centre was unsafe territory, and to declare that normality was here," he recalled. The Festival of Fools brought in top street acts from across Europe and beyond. "You had crowds of people across all age ranges, all social class backgrounds, every religious viewpoint, different ethnic minorities – not just one slice of arts-goers or one section of society, it was everybody. And literally, the streets did echo to the sounds of people’s laughter." That’s no small thing in a divided city.

Will’s commitment to Social Circus and the role he played in developing the international network, CARAVAN helped to lift BCCS onto a new level both locally and internationally. His skill, passion and preparedness to fight for what he believed in were second to none and his legacy lives on through the home he found for the school in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast - then, Ireland’s only dedicated circus training and performance venue. He went onto organise the world’s first full-time teacher training programme for community circus teachers. Will’s early work is central to our growing outreach programme our continued involvement in CARAVAN.

Serving as a board member of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland from 2003 to 2005, Will influenced more than just circus and street theatre. Roisin McDonough, Chief Executive of the Arts Council, paid tribute, saying: “Will was an influential figure in the Belfast arts scene. Thanks to his determined championing of circus and street theatre, these art forms are practically unrecognizable from what they were when he first arrived here some twenty years ago…Will leaves behind an important legacy, of having influenced the shape and raised the profile and recognition of circus arts across the island of Ireland, the UK and Europe.”

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