Nell Gifford – Authenticity


Nell Gifford has died.

Nell Gifford

I briefly met Nell years ago at an event at Circus Space but unfortunately never got to know her personally. I did however know Nell’s work, her shows, books and art.

It strikes me that Nell understood the brilliance of traditional circus, what unique offerings the art form possess and perhaps, what some of the shortcomings built into the art form are.

Nell deeply understood authenticity and based on this philosophy built up a cult following for her circus, which must surely be the UK’s most treasured traveling circus.

I urge those who have not read Nell’s writing to take a look and to see Giffords Circus.

My condolences go to Nell’s family and friends. Nell Gifford will be sorely missed.


Luke and his stories…

This is pretty much what I showed the manager at the casino when I began my croupier-training, just before the frenzied phone calls to the security office in South Africa and the promised addition of my name to the “not allowed to work in a UK casino” database. Oh well, probably all for the best!


Clown down – Rob Torres

Sad to report the death of Rob Torres, who was a remarkable and talented clown and throughly decent human.

I first saw Rob perform in 2010 and was lucky enough to work with him a couple of times in a traditional circus in Italy not long after.

Every show he tried something new and ran over time. It wasn’t his fault. The audience fell in love with him each night and we didn’t want him to leave.

Tragically he’s left us now but for those of us lucky enough to have seen Rob performing he will stay in our memories, almost certainly still over running.

He did clown right.

Remarkable List 4

This post is not particularly relevant to circus, skip to here if you want circus reading material.

Every 12 months I make a list of remarkable stuff I think worth sharing. There’s no affiliate links on this, it’s just for my pleasure.

This year I moved to Glasgow so a couple of the categories are centered around my new neighbourhood.

Here’s my list from 2017…

Things worth watching;


Stuff worth owning;


Things worth listening to;


Places worth eating/ drinking at in Glasgow;


Places worth eating/ drinking at in Stockholm;


Places worth visiting;





Tactile by Luke Wilson


Tactile is a a book by the late Luke Wilson.

That’s all the information you should need.


Luke Wilson is a Juggler

Juggling and other touchy subjects. A collection of essays, blogs and rants.

Some of these pieces are new, and some of them have been rewritten or reworked. But many of the original words first appeared in the pages of Kaskade or Juggling Magazine, or on the screens of the blog or eZine.

Gandini Press are delighted to publish “Tactile” by Luke Wilson, with layout and design by Pola Brändle and introduction by Jay Gilligan. Some of the most thoughtful and considered writings on juggling and the subjects surrounding it.

Limited Hardback only, 100 pages
ISBN: 978-0-9955024-2-0


How were they?

I’ve opened my fair share of novelty-act shows over the years, after my short performance I’ve gone back stage and been quizzed about the audience by performers who were yet to go on. I remember one partular act whould ask me the same question every show, day after day, week after week and I’d answer the same everytime, it became a slightly odd ritual.

We are subjective judges on how an audience reacts to our work. Circus is a particularly difficult art form to do this real time data collection, we physically cannot give the audience all of our attention, all of the time. We cannot impartially survey our audiences reactions while on stage.

Trying to judge if a group of strangers (who are often in the dark and mostly invisible to the performer) are enjoying our work by the noises they make (often covered my music) is probably not an effective data set worthy of any meaningful analysis.

On top of this, the person doing the data crunching is often the person who has just been collecting the data and is doing this post-show digestion after or during an adrenaline rush. Far from an impartial investigation on how one did and what the audience thought of us/our work.

I find the same when I’ve got off stage after group performances I’ve been in. Often performers who have been in the same piece, onstage at the same time have very different interpretations of how an audience was/enjoyed/understood the show. These opinions seem to have a lose correlation with their own success in the show, if ‘performer X’ had a good show (in terms of executing technique) then the audience was positive, if ‘performer Y’ had a bad show then the audience was negative.

If it’s impossible to get an impartial analysis from being on stage we probably shouldn’t give post show feelings based on our own experience too much attention. But where else can we turn to if we want to learn from our mistakes?  We are forced into a feedback loop which we know is flawed but is the best we can rely on given the budget, time and context which the average circus performer typically finds themselves in.

And this is to say nothing about the artistic quandaries about playing to the gallery.

“Every night, after every Penn & Teller show we’ve ever done, Teller and I go out and meet the audience…

Doing this for forty years has made us different from other entertainers. The only feedback other performers get is onstage, so if a crowd is quiet, other entertainers are bummed. But we go out and talk to people, and often the quietest crowds contain the people who are the most enthusiastic and kind when we meet them after the show, when it’s one on one. When I’m seeing a show, the better it is, the quieter I am. I can barely bring myself to applaud when I’m watching (Bob) Dylan. I’m afraid to lose my concentration, to break the spell. After forty years, Teller and I have grown to trust and enjoy the quiet audiences.

You could point out that this is a self-selected sample— that the people who come up to us and wait to meet us are the few people who liked the show, while the rest of the quiet crowd really hated us. You could say that, and you might be right, but you’d be a prick.

Jillette, Penn. Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales (Kindle Locations 2004-2014). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition. “



The years are flying by and yet there still remains much to be done. Luke’s teachings are still echoing in my ears and his friendship still strong in my memory.


“You remember that time when we were in the desert doing that thing, and those crazy guys turned up all talking crazy about the end of worlds, and then that little Mexican kid took our photo and sold it to us for a broken pocketwatch?”

Luke Wilson

Recordings of performances that need to be uploaded, a book to be published and lessons still left to be learned. Through our actions we keep Luke alive.

Circus student reading list

12 years ago when I went to study circus at university there was a reading week but no reading list, either required or recommended. I don’t know if there’s one now but I thought it would be an interesting challenge to come up with my own list.


The following consist of things I wish I’d been more aware of before taking my degree. My list would have given me things I lacked in 2005 (and perhaps still do).

Some entries provide a wider understanding of circus and related activities such as side-show and magic. I have not included books on the history of theatre or dance as they were included in the course syllabus. For some inextricable reason, the history of circus was not covered on the course. Others entries on the list are featured as an attempt to deepen the students’ knowledge of the creative process and the real world application of such a process.

The UK circus student reading list

If I’d consumed all this stuff I would be in a better position to take a degree in circus.

After sharing this article a couple of people suggested some additions…

Harm van der Laan recommended “The ordinary acrobat”

Charlie Holland, author of one of the books on my list suggested the following…
“I normally did a couple of film lectures (at The Circus Space) and recommended ‘The Golden Age of the Circus‘ by Howard Loxton, as an accessible introduction, and ‘The New American Circus’, by Ernest Albrecht.
The UK circus timeline you link to was iirc derived in part and with my permission from my fuller version (with a couple of small errors I’ve never quite been arsed to correct!) at

For those interested in the development of circus acrobatics, I cannot over-recommend Strehly’s ‘L’Acrobatie et les Acrobates’ – a book that really should be translated into English by someone, one day.”



I aspire to be a skeptical person, but try to step back from brink of cynicism. I struggle to make my mind up on how I feel about the concept of quotations. When I see a vague statement written in fake handwriting on a wall like, “Love is the string to my bow” I can’t help but feel disgusted. Can one really distill the complexities of life into a glib sentence?

Yet, when I come across an idea that has resonance with me I try and find a sentence that concisely sums it up and add it to a quotation note on my phone. Hoping that at some point I’ll read it back and find it useful. A shortcut to the memory of an idea.

At the front of my physical notebook I write a few quotes from my collection. I’ve just started a new notebook and have four quotes from Luke Wilson on the inside cover. I’m only now beginning to work out how I can use them to guide my work.

Perhaps the whole subject of quotations for me boils down to, “I like quotations but only when I’ve curated them.”?

“The technique should be a necessity of the performance.”

“The technique is the major tool that we have to communicate our intent.”

“Innovation is creating the right trick for the right moment.”

“Be aware of what you aim to do.”

Luke Wilson.