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

Moving

I’m currently flat hunting, don’t worry I’m not going to turn the blog into an advertisement platform for my personal life (although I’m looking for a relaxed, quiet flat share in Hackney, if you know anywhere email me!). Viewing a couple of flats and then going through the process of explaining ‘what I do for a living’ to my would-be flatmates has made me think.

In the Dreaded Question I ranted about the boring conversation that is explaining to someone what I do. For the most part I stand by that post, sure it’s a self indulgent position to take but for the most part it’s true. Having the same egotistical conversation over and over agin gets a bit dull (at least for me).

So having to explain to potential flat mates what I do is not my idea of fun but unfortunately at the moment I have to go through it. The other day I must admit I did pause for thought when I was asked, “What did you do yesterday, on the weekend and one month ago?”.

I had to explain that, one month ago I was juggling giant apples in front of 80,000 spectators and millions of viewers around the globe watching the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. Last weekend I went to Portugal and spent most of my time running, eating and relaxing by the pool which was interjected by the occasional show in a beautiful theatre. Yesterday I eventually got up at 9:30 went for a run, had a leisurely breakfast, did some web work/reading, had coffee (it’s a new experience for me) and then went for a few hours juggling and workout. Finishing my days ‘work’ with a book and a quiet pint in my local.

It would be disingenuous to claim that the above answers were an average day but the fact that more than a few have been like that makes me think, I’m super lucky and it can’t last forever…. Best enjoy it while I can!

Being a circus artist can be the best, it’s good to remind yourself of that.

But it’s also wise to remind yourself of harsh reality, moving sucks.

A note to myself.

Making stuff is scary. Shipping stuff is scary. Performing new stuff is terrifying.

It’s easy to forget that the first time you stepped out on stage you didn’t know what was going to happen or what it was going to feel like.

Artists in other industries can at least hide behind their creation, the film they produced, the sculpture they created, the music score they wrote or even the tangible product they designed. It still takes balls to deliver but it’s not quite as personal and raw. In a live performance medium you are the product, the end result and your actions are the art. You can’t hind behind the art, you are the art.

In circus it’s common that the performer is also the director/choreographer/administrator/publicist so the pressure on getting everything right is huge and very personal. You have to trust to your vision and actions before you have any idea if it’s going to work or if it’s any good. Self belief is the most important attribute to any artist and yet too much misspent ego can be a curse.

Every artist at some point feels the guilt of relying on tested ideas, not pushing oneself to deliver new work that has been dreamt up, written down and developed behind closed doors. Don’t feel the guilt, act upon it.

There’s a comfort in thinking, “I could have done that better than them”. There’s no comfort in stepping out and doing it, just reward.

Get on with making and sharing.

Touring Video

Over the last couple of months I’ve been touring with Gandini Juggling. I decided to document my travels a little, to give a feel for what it’s been like. The videos not so juggling focused but might be interesting for any circus artists, even if your not a massive juggling fan

Photos and video all filmed on a iPhone 4S and edited in iMovie for iPad. I like Apples.

YukkiYoYo

It is with great sadness that I bring the news of Yukihiro Suzuki (known onstage as YukkiYoYo) passing away on the 27th June 2012. My heart goes out to his friends and family and I thought it might be fitting to share a few thoughts here…

20120702-163542.jpg

Around 2000 when internet videos were starting to really open my eyes to the wider yo-yo community I came across a few videos of a ridiculously talented boy doing things with two yo-yos that I didn’t know we’re possible. I’d watch them over and over hoping some of it might rub off.

In 2002 I watched Yukkis worlds freestyle, it floored me. It was the most raw freestyles I’d ever seen (and possibly will ever see). Such style and energy.

A few years later in France I had the pleasure to meet Yukki in person, I remember being genuinely nervous meeting someone who I had admired and watched for years. Yukki struck me as a humble, kind and generous person. I spoke to him about circus school and performing, at the time I was in a similar position to him, although I was just starting out at circus school.

I remember Yukki talking about originality, being true to yourself on stage and finding your personality in the technique. Sometimes a slightly abstract concept but with Yukki you could really see this ideal on stage.

Yukki had the rare insight and abilities to combine a supreme understanding of technique with a truly unique aesthetic, provoking emotion like any great piece of art. Yukki was a true Yo-Yo Artist.

The world is a worse off place without Yukki, so many audiences robbed of seeing such a talent, ideas the world will never see, such style…. Gone.

Quixotic Fusion: Dancing with light

I’ve been interested in the use of technology in circus for some time. The performance of Quixotic Fusion at TED merges dance and elements of aerial work to produce some interesting results.

To be honest the over all performance is not to my taste but it’s great to see companies succeeding in the tricky business of blending technology with live performance.

5 things that suck about Circus Artist’s websites

Here are 5 (of many) things that suck about the average circus artist website…

  • Flash. It’s amazing that in 2012 there are still people posting links to new websites that have Flash embedded. Flash doesn’t work on any iOS devices (iPhone, iPad), is buggy and is unnecessary. If you really want spinning animations or even some tasteful crossfading photos then HTML-5 is where you need to head. Leave the Flash in the 90s!
  • Splash pages. No one wants to land on a page that is just a photo of you with ‘click here to enter’ (BOOM,BOOM!) written underneath. It’s pointless and ups the chances of someone giving up on you before they get to see what you’re really about.
  • Homepages. Circus is a visual, live medium. Obvious I know but clearly some of you need reminding of this because you don’t have a video on your homepage. Why not?! Having great images on your site is important but not as important as showing what you actually do! Embeding a YouTube or Vimeo video is super simple, if you don’t want their logos involved they pay for a Vimeo Pro or VideoPress account (personally I think it’s fine, people trust YouTube and therefore more likely to click play). Don’t make a potential booker have to search for your video, it should be one of the first things they come across.
  • Use of lingo. Your site is probably not aimed at people who understand circus lingo so avoid specialised words and phrases.
  • Ego (I’m learning this one the hard way). You don’t want ego on a site that is about you. Sounds odd but it’s true. Your design, layout, copy, video, blog and social media should be aimed at a particular type of customer. You need to address their worries and wants rather than use your site as a chance to show just how really great you are. That’s not to say you won’t show your strengths, it’s just you want to do it in a manner that connects and engages rather than shows off. It’s possibly the most important thing to learn in marketing and particularly important for artists who have to promote themselves. If your sites going to be effective at driving you business then you need to study this stuff and more!

iPad Q&As from Circus Artists

Recently a few people have asked me questions about iPads and Apps so I thought it might be useful to write something specifically for circus artists.

For the record I should state that (sadly) I’m not on the Apple payroll and that other (lesser) tablets are available… Yes ok this is basically an unpaid advert for Apple but hopefully someone will find it useful!

Why do I need an iPad?

You don’t. But do you need more than 1 pair of shoes? The iPad offers enough computing power and screen space to read, watch movies, create simple documents (like invoices) and answer e-mails. And yet it’s small, light and strong enough to alway have in your bag. Just watch some iPad adverts, I can’t sell as well as Apple can!

Will it replace a laptop?

It could. Last year I went on tour for 7 weeks and managed perfectly well without my laptop, thanks to my iPad. With the release of iPhoto and iMovie Apps along with iWork means you can probably do all your office work from an iPad. Having said that, if you’re into serious photoshopping or powerhouse video editing then you might want to hang onto your trusty laptop or desktop (remember them!?).

What Apps do I need?
  • Numbers – Get your spreadsheets done. Cashflow, practice grids and intelligent yet pointless looking graphs.
  • Pages – Like Word but better. Great for your invoices
  • iMovie – Edit simple videos. Add transitions and titles.
  • iPhoto – Crops and adjust your promo photos
  • Paper – The best (and free!) note book app. Beautiful and useful!
  • WordPress – Update your site/blog on the fly
  • Twitter – keep up to date with the Twittersphere.
  • Facebook – How else will your friends find out about how great your gig is going
  • Reminders – Don’t forget anything ever again (OK not true but it is useful)
  • Reeder – Catch up with all your favourite websites from one place
  • Zite – discover new content that your interested in
  • TED – Download some of the best talks in history in the comfort of your own home and save them for when there is no WiFi!
  • Dropbox – You know all about Dropbox already, this App just makes it nice on your iPad.
Which iPad model should I get?

Don’t get the iPad 1 as some of the more hardware intensive apps won’t run on it (iMovie). At the moment Apple are still selling the iPad2 and iPad3, ebay is also worth a look but is obviously more of a gamble. Don’t get the 16GB version, you will fill it up. 32GB would probably be enough but depends on how long you go away for and how many movies you want to take with you. The 3/4G models mean you can connect to the net almost anywhere but you will have to get a contract and pay if you use it abroad! A better option might be to add tethering to your current mobile contract (if you have a smart phone).

What extras do I need?

Case is a good idea, stylus optional.

Will an iPad make me better at one arm handstands?

Probably not, but then there are Apps that can teach you almost anything 😉

Morbid Fascination

A few days ago I performed with Gandini Juggling in Bergamo, home to some of the best pizza in the world, inventor of Stracciatella ice-cream and the resting place of one of the greatest and most influential jugglers of all time, Enrico Rastelli.

Arron at the grave of Enrico Rastelli
Arron at the grave of Enrico Rastelli

Even though it was only a short trip to Italy we managed to fit in a visit to Rastelli’s grave, a first for me and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

As an atheist it felt a little odd to wonder through a grave yard so heavily entrenched in religious symbols. But it was a fitting time and location to reflect on Rastelli’s achievements. While I don’t believe his spirit was looking down on us as we placed the flowers by his feet I’d like to think that if Rastelli were alive then he’d appreciate the gesture.

It was nice to know I was treading in the footsteps of other jugglers who had been to the grave before me. It also reminded me that I really must get round to visiting Cinquevalli‘s grave in South London.

Perhaps as jugglers we care more about pioneers of our art than other circus performers or perhaps we’re just more pompous. I’ve never heard of aerialists or acrobats visiting the grave of someone who pushed their particular discipline, but I could easily be ignorant of the facts. I hope so.

If you’ve ever visited the grave of a famous circus performer or proprietor I’d love to know more, leave a comment below.

Undermän

The full Undermän show (as part of CircusFest) was live streamed on the Guardian website here and you can still watch it!

I personally loved the show, so much so I gave a breif testimonial for the show. Obviously the video isn’t as good as seeing the show live but if you haven’t had a chance to catch the show yet have a gander!

Synthetic Video

Jugglers prepare for depression/inspiration (depending on your philosophical out look on life), Wes Peden has released his most recent pay for view video digital download, entitled ‘Synthetic’. And it’s epic.

I should probably write a little more on the contents but I’m not going to bother, you all know the deal. If Wes puts 18 months into a project you know it’s going be worth €15!

Buy ‘Synthetic’ here!

I guess if you really need to know more then have a read of this blurb by Wes…

Synthetic is a film displaying the new work of Wes Peden. The material was inspired, in a concrete way, by the strength of each prop and how to best take advantage of these qualities. The general aesthetic of the juggling was particularly influences by asymmetry, clarity, and trick shape.

The video is 45 minutes long and comes with an additional 25 minutes of bonus tricks and remixes. inside you will find 3 club slapping sequences, the coolest 5 ball pirouette Wes has ever done, 25 new ring patterns, a German 6 ball piece, 3 balls and a sweater, THE THROWING AWAY SECTION, the holy club/cuphead/ball part, site specific head rolls, flipping forehead balances, the 2012 five club routine, and so very much many more!

Circus and Celebrity

After reading ‘Who Was Philip Asteley?‘ by Nell Stroud (co-founder of Giffords Circus) I got thinking about the lack of modern day circus celebrities.

Why are there no circus celebrities?

I think it’s important to define what I mean by ‘circus celebrity’. I mean an individual widely known throughout society who becomes and stays famous because of their circus work.

Astley's Amphitheatre in London circa 1808.
Astley's Amphitheatre in London. Image via Wikipedia

In the past when circus was one of, if not the primary form of entertainment there were many minor circus celebrities and a few superstars such as Philip Astley and Jules Léotard.

Older members of the public might know the name of some past famous clowns but it’s unlikely they will know the names of any trapeze artists or acrobats. But artists from other circus disciplines have made it to the top of the bill and become household names in the past. It may surprise some of you to know that there have been few juggling celebrities equivalent to the David Beckhams of the world today. Both Enrico Rastelli and Paul Cinquevalli enjoyed fame and fortune, with sell out shows and even product endorsements.

As circus lost it’s status as the number one entertainment destination house hold circus names went in decline. Cinema and then TV created starts of their own that were better suited to their medium. The best way to become famous in the past was to appear on TV or in a film, if the guys in charge wen’t interested in you then your were out of luck.

But now we have the internet.

We all have access to our own publishing company and film studio. Society is diversifying. Individuals are forming their own tribes of like-minded people, no longer held back by geographic constraints.  Within these communities artists and experts appear and become ‘micro-celebrities’. These tribes are linked by individuals who belong to more than one tribe and share an aspect of one tribe to another. Often these connecting individuals will share their favorite artist or expert, turning a micro-celebrity into a ‘hyperlink star’.

I think it’s a matter of time till a circus performer/entrepreneur becomes famous, someone will be at the right place, at the right time, have the right attitude, image and work. And it could be good for all of us. Someone able to interest society at large in circus would mean more ticket sales and more competition, resulting in a better standard of work.

It’s what Philip Astley, P.T. Barnum and Guy Laliberté did. Only when they did it they could rely on interruption marketing. Shouting on a street corner and hoping people would stop. But now everyone is shouting. So you have to create your own tribe and rely on connectors sharing  your art on Facebook, Twitter and the rest. Build your fan base and let your fans build you. But people will only share your work if it is remarkable.

So make remarkable work that others can share, become famous and then share your success. Simple.

(Sorry if you were looking for an article about celebrity circus, fortunately you’ve missed reading about that for at least another click!)

Story telling

Occasionally I hear circus artists/directors/random people who feel their opinion is important talk about ‘how to make circus more than just an act’, about how we can use circus to ‘tell stories’. As Mr. Wilson has so eliquentley commented on this before I’m inclined not to comment as I would be just wasting keystrokes.

However if you must layer on a storyline do it well. This video could help you do that:

Circus Posters

I love old circus posters.

I love the colours, fonts and (obviously) the circus that go towards the make up of a great poster. I love the thickness, size and feel of them. I love the stories from old circus families of poster wars, where completing circuses would tear down or worse, cover the competitions posters with their own. I hope that in an age of Facebook adds and pay per click that the humble circus poster still has it’s place in the marketing budget.

I recently came across CircusMuseum.nl which has some great images and really easy to search database. Here are a couple of my favourites…

Make sure to have a read of the Taschen circus book, full of great circus posters.

If you have a favourite poster please share the image link below.

Patfield on beauty

Juggler, rope walker and friend of mine Chris Patfield recently wrote this article for the Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/19/beauty-of-highwire-walking

This bit reminded me of an older post I shared here

 It saddens me to see that this great discipline is increasingly rare in contemporary circus, which no longer invests as much in high-risk performances such as the highwire or trapeze.

Shifting Goals

Warning: This post is a bit of an ego boost, sorry! 

I don’t think I’ve ever subscribed to the “I’ve just flashed X number of objects” of approach to juggling. I’ve never set up a camera and spent 35mins trying one trick that’s probably too hard for me, I did today…

When I started juggling (10 or so years ago) juggling 7 clubs was a big deal. Very few could even blag it and even fewer performed it consistently on stage (this hasn’t changed yet). A well known juggling book* has this to say about The Seven Club Cascade, “…it is highly unlikely the more than one or two readers will ever have the actual experience of driving this pattern”. Funny how such statements date so quickly.

The love it or hate it the WJF should be partly credited to the rise of more 7 club jugglers.

And this makes you wonder what’s possible….

*Guess the juggling book