Cirque du Soleil Clown Interview

Thanks to our new Tumblr account we stumbled upon this interview with Cirque du Soleil clown/character John Gilkey from A Fool’s Idea.

The interview covers a lot of ground, focusing around John’s history and thoughts on Clown and his career.

If you’re not familiar with Gilkey’s work you can see one of his numbers below.

John Gilkey

Circus Hackathon

NOLA Hackathon 2011
NOLA Hackathon 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading a bit about new ways technology is allowing people to collaborate, things like Google Drive, GitHub etc. It seems as usual circus has a bit of catching up to do!

In Wired a while ago I read an article about Hackathons and thought it would be great to see/take part/organise a circus equivalent. Hackathons are a chance for coders to meet up, work like crazy in small teams and produce a sketch version for a new service or product.

Earlier this year when I was in Montreal I spotted Impro Cirque, something quite close to my idea. Unfortunately I left before it took place but from video it looks pretty fun…

I’d love to see a more informal version done in the UK, perhaps no ‘public’ audience. No one gets paid- All it would need is some interested circus artists and some space (perhaps some pizza and beers at the end of it). Perhaps two days manic work and a fun showing at the end of it? Best team performance judged by a panel wins a years supply of Apple products (or not)?!

Just a thought….

Public Fan Letters | Penn & Teller

I’m currently reading ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon which ties in to my interest in what seems to be a changing consensus on the origin and process of creativity, art and copyright law. One chapter mentions writing a public fan letter. Here’s one of mine…

I love Penn & Teller, they are not only my favourite magicians but also my favourite artists. I love their open and honest opinions on life and their approach to work. I love their backstory, how they went from street performing carnies to Las Vegas headliners. I enjoy their outspoken (well Penn’s out spoken) views on religion, politics and rational thinking. I try and watch as much of their work as I can, I’ve managed to see them perform live a few times and each time they have something new to offer.

A couple of years ago I performed at a magic convention in Vegas and was lucky enough to see and hear Teller deliver a presentation on Penn & Teller‘s artistic and technical approach to creating a new piece. It was one of the most interesting and inspiring things I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s a nice segment from Teller from a different piece he sometimes gives…

Each week I listen to Penns podcast and when the chance arises I read his books which bring me to tears of laughter. I love listening to Penn argue his point of view which is always phrased in such an informally precise way that it takes you by surprise.

Their careers have decades of success to them, with such a wide variety of material and outlets, from an appearance on the West Wing arguing the right of flag burning to creating a TV series about (and entitled) Bullshit. From directing Shakespeare plays to producing their own films. They seem to have a talent of producing well thought out opinion and conveying it in an original and thought provoking manner.

They are a massive inspiration to me and I can’t wait to see what’s next from them, you know it will be ace.

One of my favourite Penn & Teller pieces…

Luke Wilson – My Jedi Master

You may have noticed that this blog has been updated a little sparsely over the last few months, namely because over the summer most circus artists are (hopefully) manic with work and lack a little of the time and energy needed to concentrate on a blog. Unfortunately this is not the sole reason.

Luke Wilson, known online as Cubecheat (referring to his love of the Rubik’s Cube and cheating/magic) was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus at the start of the summer. Throughout the summer he underwent treatment but ultimately lost his battle with cancer and past away today.

Luke was a close friend and I have many fond memories of time spent with him but I think I’ll save them for another place and time. In this post I’d like to remember his amazing teaching.

In 2003 at the British Juggling Convention in Brighton I watched a workshop on modern club juggling. There were many great jugglers sitting and watching a skinny, charismatic, excited man explain juggling detail and variation in his already slightly odd british-german accent. He explained ideas and processes in such a brilliantly logical way that it was both beautiful and clear. I asked Guy Heathcote who the man was and he informed me it was a gentleman by the name of Luke Wilson.

Years later, when on the degree at Circus Space I was lucky enough to experience Luke’s teaching first hand. Everything about his approach to teaching and learning was perfect. He had lessons planned down to the minute, almost second. He would literally give you a task for 6 minutes and 45 seconds and then onto the next with 1 minute and 35 of thinking time. Always in a tight fitting t-shirt, watch around the right front belt loop of his jeans (he claimed it was because he didn’t like to juggle with a watch on his wrist but I suspect it was because his wrists were to thin to keep a watch on! Always in jeans because he found them best for kickups, an area of juggling which Luke excelled at. You can view a tutorial we made together on the triplex kickup here, it gives a great insight into the effort and detail Luke went to in anything he did).

Luke had tried and tested methods and tasks but also experimented with new ideas and exercises in class. His classes had a brilliant combination of building up confidence in technique, as well as pushing creativity using defined parameters and matrixes. Overall pushing your understanding of what juggling is and could be.

I’ll never forget having to do 3 ball penguins whilst being asked what the capital of capital of Chile is, what’s six times seven and being poked in the back all at the same time. Or the sequence 1,12,123,23,3,31,312,12,2,23,231,31,1

Lukes thoughts on juggling, circus and art in general massively influenced the way I think and approach work, when I shared a flat with him for 3 months we would often stay up till early morning discussing and debating our views on circus and juggling. He had very clear thoughts on what circus and juggling are and how to define them. Not believing in the relevance of the ‘contemporary vs traditional’ debate which seemed to be so important to some in the 80s and 90s and even today. Luke viewed and defined work as good or bad, original or ripoff, ethical or not.

His views on progressive steps forward for the art form were clear, using the internet to share work and ideas (which included some magnificent posts on this very blog), constantly creating new aesthetics, drama, performance and ultimately tricks.

Constantly pushing himself, seeking out new inspiration and ideas, Luke taught at juggling conventions and circus school all over the world, inspiring 1000s of jugglers. Competing in international circus competitions, performing in sold-out theaters, sharing his art with the world. Living the dream.

Despite Luke coming from Portsmouth and myself coming from Southampton, we always had a great rapport which turned into a close friendship over the years, we shared many of the same interests and passions. When I was in school we would often joke that I was his Padawan learner. I suppose it would only be fitting to include…

There’s so much more I could say about his teaching, never mind his performing or his friendship but it can wait.

For now I need to be still and sad, a friend is gone forever.

Luke Wilson Memorial Donations

What Sideshow Is Not . . .

sideshow

Sideshow is not:

1. “Jackass” in any way shape or form.  Just because you are a fan of the show or the movies does not make you an expert in the centuries old arts of Circus Sideshow, the Bally Stage, the Old Ten in One, or simply stapling your ball sack to the side of your leg (reference on the last one, see: “Jackass”)

2. Magic.  Magic is trickery, sleight of hand or “gaffing”.  Sideshow is real, real nails, real glass, real fire, real danger.  In the words of a great Sideshow artist, George the Giant, “Magic tries to make you believe that it’s real; Sideshow makes you wish to hell that it wasn’t.”

3. A Party Trick.  It is a “Stunt;” because of the fact that Sideshow is real it takes a lot of training and discipline combined with proper technique and skill level to not get hurt.  Half of what we do during any given performance can quite possibly kill us several different ways if we do not perform the stunt properly.

4. For Children.  Due to the fact that Circus Sideshow is real, dangerous and life-threatening, it may not be the kind of entertainment you would want to bring your child to.  Though that being said we have performed to the delight and extreme delicious horror for older children in the past.  Some kids are just built for it I guess and we will probably be seeing them on stage in the future – who knows?

5. For Women.  Women are far to delicate for this sort of thing and really we don’t want to mar their pretty faces.  I’m sure they would jus faint and pass out at just the idea of the stunts let alone performing them, and . . . and . . .  ——- I’m sorry I just can’t say this with a straight face and without laughing.  Who are we kidding?  I work with the most rockin’ group of Ladies that do things that make the burliest me squeele.  Lol! (www.sideshowsirens.com)

Allie Cooper’s Vertical Rope

Given the backgrounds of most of us Circus Geeks – at least the more prolific of us writers – I sometimes feel we overlook some of the other circus skills that are out there. Today’s lesser talked about circus skill: Corde Lisse.

This is Allie Cooper. She’s a rope artist based in California whom I met at a circus party some time last year. She’s very lovely and put together one of the most enjoyable promo videos for her rope act that I’ve seen. In some ways it reminds me of Danny MacAskill’s Way Back Home.

You can also follow Allie on twitter.

Have you seen other promo videos that are striking, unique or different? Let us know in the comments below.

Oh, This Old Thing?

I am amazed, in awe, truly dumbfounded that anything we do could possibly become old hat; but sometimes to us it does. I have to wonder if my fellow acrobats go through this as well? Let me explain.

Sideshow by definition is based on the different, the oogie, and the thing that gets a visceral reaction out of people. A common pitfall in performing these stunts is that we become used to doing them, compare it to a long run of a theatre production if you like but on a longer scale. We get so used to the stunt we start to become numb to that which makes it special. What may be even tinged with a little sadness is we forget what it was like the first time we did the stunt, all those emotions rolled up into a tight little ball inside us. I dare say we may even become just a tiny bit jaded in this amnesia.

I recently had the luxury of watching my troupe’s latest round of trainees, whome I’ve termed our ‘Debutants’, train in fire eating – my specialty. Now I would hope I have not become jaded in the least with my love, but you never know. I just so happened to catch them on the night, after all the nights of lecturing and safety rules and prep, that they were going to put fire to torch and do their first eat. I was giddy.

I was amazed and in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes of off them, it was rivetted. It was as if I was seeing fire eating again for the first time, so raw. They were fighting with themselves. Well, actually to be more precise they were fighting with the human ingrained fear of fire hard-wired into the amegdala – it resides at the center of the brain and is the oldest and one of the first parts of our brains to evolve. It’s like stepping in the ring with Ali him-own-self. Believe me the first time you eat fire that torch looks for all the world like a flaming meteor coming towards your face. Every fiber in your being is screaming at you, “DO NOT DO THIS.” But we have a great coach, our Yoda, and we trust him enough to think for us in this moment – if need be – as our own thinking might be overwrought by the all too human fear of fire. These Debutants fought with themselves, which is a unique sight to see. A one-handed fight, torch in hand the other hand on hip; bicep, trice and carpi all in dynamic tension not knowing if it’s coming or going. She is trying to lower the flaming torch into her mouth and her amegdala is trying to save her from herself. Some balk and don’t finish the eat without shame. It is a difficult struggle undoing milliniai of genetic programming; but those who do succeed are forever changed. Those who conquer their ingrained fear of fire and finish an eat, even if they never eat another torch in their life, come away from the experience a different person. For at the very least, whether they know it or not, if they can do that they can do anything.

My eyes are wide, and my jaw is dropped, there’s a chance I might be drooling I’ve been frozen in this position for so long. But that is how drawn in I am by what my girls are going through. Their experience is captivating, so literal. I remember my first eat, the nervousness, the sweat, my flinch, the elation after the eat. I was Wonder Woman and I felt so free.

I don’t ever want to forget what that feels like, the fear, the fight and the triumph. Teaching and watching the lessons is a wonderful way to remember and keep the old feelings fresh. Even something as simple as remembering what the stunt looks like to the lay man helps. In glass walking I kid about “make the noise, we live for the noise” from the audience. But it’s also about the noise of each pop and crack of the glass that is singular and unique to the audience like their gasps are to us. So if they aren’t making the noise we’ll pick and pop through the glass until they do, and then we smile 🙂

Grotesque Like Me

Elly del Sarto; from a c. 1910 postcard.
Image via Wikipedia

I was well over two years into sideshow before it even occurred to me that a woman performing circus sideshow stunts might be viewed as “grotesque.” I don’t think of these things, the weird, the freaky, the odd. I see something I’d like to do and I do it. Not until much later does it enter my mind that any of it might veer a little to the left of the norm. But then I guess that’s what sideshow specifically chooses for, doesn’t it?

My troupe is made up of a lot of very beautiful women, most of whom you would never think did this sort of thing, the oddity, the absurd. We even have one Lady who would pass for a Disney princess. Really, I swear! And we all have had this talk a bunch of times that we’ve never felt quite a part of normal society. Oh sure, we can pass with the best of them; Beverly Hill events, high intellect societies, professional businesses and the like, the whole kit and kaboodal. But none of us ever really felt like we fit — I’d like to think of it as a really long run of junior high. And then the clouds parted and the universe gave us SIDESHOW! and we found a home and a family with each other. Strange, no? In reality not so much. In truth, I would think this story is much more familiar to everyone than we all would think. It’s just that in those who are a little “left of center” it is more apparent. If we listen to each other we begin to understand that not only did we probably have that outside time when we were younger, but we still have something now that may make us feel like we are not a part of the collective. Sometimes it can be so much so that we might very well feel like we have a glowing incandescent sign with a big red arrow pointing at us screaming “one of these things is not like the others, one of these things is just not the same!” Or is it just me?

My Ladies and I get up on stage with our Yoda each night we perform our mind bending stunts of outrageous human feats revelling in this strangeness. We long to hear those noises of gasps and eeks and inhales – Make the noise, we live for the noise. In the process of being the freak working acts we have concered our most primitive fears of fire, creepy crawlies and pain, and we offer it up to you. At the same time we stand virtually naked in front of our audience in all of our grotesque and freakish glory and unarm you of your own insecurities – if only for a moment – without you even knowing it. And we ask you to be “one of us.”

Bob Bramson

A third gernaration circus artists and legendary juggler, highly respected all over the world by audiences, agents and jugglers. Bramson’s act is a classic, full of charm and packed with signature tricks and touches that made him successful on stage for over half a century.
 
If you’ve had the misfotune to never have come across his work before read this and this.
 
I started this blog with the aim to engage with circus performers, to share experiences and thoughts with others. So when heard Bob Bramson’s memoirs were coming I knew it would be a must read for me.

When my signed copy of ‘An Artists’s Luggage and Other Baggage | A Memory Kaleidoscope’ came through the letter box it was with more than a little excitement that I began to read.

My signed copy (showing off!)

The book is easy to consume, written in both German and English (Circus Geeks own Luke Wilson did the translation) and broken down into short paragraphs and chapters that flow nicely from one to the next. In the middle of the hardback are some historical photos and circus posters featuring Bramson and his family.

There are many anecdotes and incedents that standout; black market dealings, facing down tigers, running into the queen and techniques to quieten a crying baby. Bramson lived through the second world war and under Stasi enforcement, he took his art to new levels and had a varied and exciting career working with some of the biggest stars in the best venues – it makes a great read.

I’d recommend this book to anyone but particularly to any current or aspiring performing artists. And of course it’s a must read for anyone interested in circus.

The book is available on Amazon.

Staying healthy on tour

Traveling to a different venue each day can be exciting, fun and refreshing. But it can also be gruelling, hard on the body and mind. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way…

Photo by Sura Nualpradid

Don’t be afraid to get away from the group. A common mistake to make when working/living in close proximity to your fellow artists is not taking time for yourself. Of course you want to be a team player but it’s important to have some alone time, space to think. Don’t be afraid to miss out on a nights socialising to keep your sanity!

Watch a film, read a book, surf the net – anything that gets you some personal time and not thinking about the show or tour.

Exercises. This can be a tough one, particularly if you’re doing get in/build up, performing and traveling all in the same day but it’s important to do if your used to training hard and will make you feel better. Get up 30 mins early and go for a run. In every show run I’m in I try and find a point in the show where I’m not needed and do some simple conditioning, that way I don’t need to ‘remember’ to do it, it’s as much of a habit as putting my costume on.

Eat healthy. I’ve always found this one tough but when on tour it’s even harder. Eating out can really start to lose it’s appeal when you have to do it all the time. Take any opportunity you have to cook something for yourself. Smoothies also help!

What are your tips for surviving a tour? Please leave your suggestions below!

The Lost Circus Sideshow

From midgets, wolfboys and human pin-cushions to Siamese twins, snake charmers and sword swallowers, the circus sideshow isn’t often seen alongside the main attraction any more.

But while the Sideshow element of circuses, carnivals and fairs may have dwindled, the Circus Sideshow, the Freakshow, and the Circus Freaks and Geeks themselves (see my previous post) are aliving and kicking. Continue reading “The Lost Circus Sideshow”

Ten jugglers

Recently I got asked to list ten jugglers that have inspired me. These ten mean a lot to me for a number of reasons.

BUBA – When I saw this guy first time I was amazed. Clever and funny.
Aleksandr Koblikov – This young artist is just amazing. I love the footcatches in the video.
Gregory Popovich – He was one of the first jugglers I ever saw. The video was from a circus, can´t remember which one. There was also an interview where he spoke about the importance of conditioning. Great side summersaults in his devilstickact. (like most russian artists) He inspired me to go for runs, practice acrobatics and to kick from six balls to seven.
Kris Kremo – I was never interested in juggling with hats, cigar boxes or handbags but what he is doing with the balls is simply amazing in my opinion. And I also find him a great entertainer.
Mark and Benji – This number rocked my world a bit when I saw a video a friend of mine filmed at a German youthcircusfestival a year or tow before their big hit in Paris. Loved the odd ideas, the music and of course the juggling. I suppose it inspired me and Rod Laver for the act that we used to do as well. Its also one of the only juggling acts that makes my girlfriend Fofo happy.
Michael Menes – I wanted to be him in the beginning of my career. Not anymore though. But I still like Three round objects.
W.C Fields – Inventor of stuff.
Bobby May – He is probably the most inspiring performer on this list. All the stuff he came up with and the little films he made… Really, really great.
Bernard Kudlak – Formed Cirque Plume and did a fantastic ballbouncingact in one of their early shows.
Anthony Gatto – I remember when he did 7 clubs for a minute in the gym at the convention in York 2000.

It would be great to hear your coments on this one. Also, it would be great to hear about performers that have inspired you.

//Dav