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.

TheCircusBook

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 http://palaceofvariety.co.uk/page24.htm

For those interested in the development of circus acrobatics, I cannot over-recommend Strehly’s ‘L’Acrobatie et les Acrobates’ http://gallica.bnf.fr/m/ark:/12148/bpt6k882577q/f17.image – a book that really should be translated into English by someone, one day.”

 

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.

Practice Systems for Juggling: Completing Halves

Practice System 3: Completing Halves

Explanation

Completing Halves is a system that, like Five Lives, is also set as a game. Similar to Five Lives, it is designed to work on solidifying one pattern. The advantage to this system is that it can last as long as you want it to last. If you only have 5 minutes, it can last five minutes. Likewise, if you want to train your one trick for an hour, then this could also work for you. This system is rough and ready to go: simple and effective.

Example

Below is an example of Completing Halves using 5 ring pancakes:

1. Make and attempt at your longest run with 5 ring pancakes. Let’s say you get 25 catches when you drop.
2. Half the amount to get 12.5, which is rounded up to 13.
3. You know have three attempts to get 13 catches clean.
4. If you achieve this within your three attempts, then return to step 1, constantly trying to beat your personal best. If you do not manage to get your 13 catches clean within three attempts, then half it again to get 6.5, rounded up to 7, and repeat the process again.

This is a very simple system, yet I feel it is very effective. I personally enjoy the fact that it is so simple, and isn’t time dependant.

I hope you enjoy it, and I would very much appreciate any thoughts, feedback and questions that you may have on the subject. Have fun!

Practice Systems for Juggling: Five Lives

Practice System 2: Five Lives

Explanation

Five Lives is a system that I came up with which is specifically designed for solidifying patterns. Unlike the pyramid system, the amount of throws and catches can change, depending on your skill level that day. An advantage about this system over the pyramid system, is that you cannot fail. Another advantage about this system is that it is quick to complete. I personally find this very useful as I sometimes have to train in limited space facilities. This means that I could just have 20 or 30 minutes spare before I have to move space. This system is perfect for just that situation.

Example

As this is set as a short game, you start with fives lives. Every time a level is not achieved, you go back to the previous level and loos a life. Below is an example of a standard game of Five Lives with 7 balls.

First you set your levels.

7 throws (a flash) = level 1

10 throws = level 2

20 throws = level 3

30 throws = level 4

40 throws = level 5

50 throws = level 6

Etc etc.

Now, you start on level 1. As it is level 1, you have 1 attempt to get your target. If you fail, you loose a life. If you succeed, move onto level 2. Now you are on level 2, you have 2 attempts to achieve your target. If you fail, go back one level to level 1 and loose a life. If you succeed, move onto level 3. This sequence continues until you eventually run out of lives. Take note of your highest level and see if you can beat it next time.

This system can also work hand in hand with the Pyramid System (for explanation of Pyramid System, please see previous article). Once you have died (in the game), remember your highest achievement of that round. Make this the top of your Pyramid System for that day and create your pyramid from the top working down.

Example

My highest achievement in Five Lives today was 30 catches of 7 balls. My pyramid for today could look like this:

30 catches x 1

20 catches x 2

15 catches x 3

10 catches x 4

7 catches x 5

I hope that you have as much fun with this system as I have. If you have any questions or comments then please do leave them below. Thank-you.

Practice Systems for Juggling: Pyramid System

In the ever growing world of juggling, people are improving, at different rates, all over the world. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. The thing that surprises me is that a lot of jugglers are happy to spend hours practicing their hobby, but do not train in a structured and organised manner. I am constantly surprised at people who arrive at the training space, completely unaware of what they intend to practice and how to do it. I am however impressed at the increase of skill made by people with good practice discipline as opposed to those with no or bad practice structure.

As juggling is a huge part of my life, I have spent time trying to find the most efficient way to practice. I understand that not everyone likes to practice in the same way, and that some systems will suit some people more than others, but I have seen some people slog away at a trick for years with no progress, and I am shocked that they haven’t tried to find the reason why. I firmly believe that if you find a practice system that is good for you, then you shouldn’t strictly only stick to that chosen system. I feel it is important to mix things up, try other practice structures and challenge yourself.

I am not the creator of these systems. Some of the systems I have fused with others to develop them in ways that I feel make them stronger. I have also, taken inspiration from some systems, to develop others in ways that are more suitable for me. I’m not claiming that all of these systems are going to work for you.

These methods are starting points for you to test for yourself and see if:

  1. You enjoy them.
  2. See any improvements in your juggling.

I’d be interested to hear about your opinions, experiences and own training methods and how they compare to mine so please leave any comments or feedback below.

Practice system 1: Pyramid system

Explanation
The Pyramid system is a common and efficient juggling system. Though at times it can be tedious to execute, if you are dedicated to it, you WILL get results. This system is suited mostly to patterns as opposed to tricks. The main goal of this system is to solidify patterns to a consistent level.

Example: 5 clubs

  • 5 catches (a flash) x 10
  • 10 catches x 7
  • 15 catches x 5
  • 20 catches x 3
  • 25 catches x 1

Above is a pretty classic example of a Pyramid system. Obviously the Pyramid will be altered depending on one’s level. You must complete the first layer, in this case the flash x 10, before you proceed to the next level, and so on.

Creating your Pyramid
In order to begin this splendid exercise, you first need to create your perfect Pyramid. I am sure there are many ways to do this, but here is the method that I would use if I was creating a Pyramid for 7 balls.

  1. Find the amount of catches that you know you can achieve. For me, I know I have achieved 100 catches a few times. So this is going to be the top of my pyramid, because if I get this, I will be very happy.
  2. Next, I would work my way down to the second layer, to just over half way. For me I will have 30 catches. This I will have to achieve three times. I go just over half way because I feel that if I waste my energy doing 35 catches, then 40, then 45, that I do not have enough energy to concentrate on the full 100 catches. But that’s just me.
  3. Next I will go down to the third layer which is 20 catches. I will have to achieve this 5 times.
  4. The second to last layer I use is 10 catches this I want to get 7 times. This is the amount I would ideally like to perform.
  5. Finally I get to just a flash. This I try to make as perfect as possible and do this 10 times. As one should always start from the bottom of the Pyramid, the first exercise should be easy, and should act as a warm up for what is to come.

Now that that is my Pyramid designed, I would now have to execute it. Starting at the bottom and working my way up to the top. In doing this I would take regular short breaks (maximum 1 minute) every 5 minutes. If I do not achieve my Pyramid that day, then that is ok. It’s either too hard for me, or I’m just having a bad day. Give yourself a time limit. If your Pyramid isn’t complete in say 30 minutes, then admit defeat and try again tomorrow.

I hope that this practice method helps in someway. If there are any questions then please email me at jon.udry@gmail.com

Have fun!

I Want To Learn Circus – Part 2: Circus in the UK

Many people these days want to learn circus, whether it’s just for fun or fitness, or professionally because they want to be a performer.

Regardless of why you want to learn circus, the circus arts are a fantastic set of skills to have and to learn. Training in circus skills is great for strength, flexibility, stamina, dexterity and coordination, and is also incredibly social. Circus skills are used to develop physical, mental and social skills in young children are used around the world as a tool for social change with disadvantaged youth.

Depending on your age, experience and your intention (do you want to be a professional performer or do you just want to do it for fun/fitness?) there are many skills you can learn and lots of places you can learn them.

Through this short series of posts I’ll direct you to a variety of places where you can learn them. Rather than trying to list every place or circus company in the world that offers circus skills training (which I’m pretty sure would be close to impossible) I’m going to try to point you in the right direction. If you can’t find anything on your doorstep, get in touch with something in your region and they can probably tell you about more local groups.

Following on from Learning Circus – Part 1: London, I thought you’d probably be interested in some places to train circus skills outside London, around the UK. So if you’re not in London and want to learn circus skills either professionally or for fun and fitness read on… Continue reading “I Want To Learn Circus – Part 2: Circus in the UK”

Video of the Week – Taschen Book

After my rant from this post I thought I’d post something a little more helpful on the subject of circus history.  Released by world famous publishers Taschen, ‘The Circus 1870-1950’ book should be on the (reinforced!) shelves of anyone remotely interested in circus history.

Read more about the book here and buy it for cheap on Amazon.

Or if you like supporting local shops do that, go out of the house into daylight (more likely rain) and have a lovley conversation with an actual human (although my experience of local book shops is a little more like this).

*Note in the video above the clips of Lottie and Francis Brunn, cool eh?!

Learning Circus – Part 1: London

Many people these days want to learn circus, whether it’s just for fun or fitness, or professionally because they want to be a performer.

Regardless of why you want to learn circus, the circus arts are a fantastic set of skills to have and to learn. Training in circus skills is great for strength, flexibility, stamina, dexterity and coordination, and is also incredibly social. Circus skills are used to develop physical, mental and social skills in young children are used around the world as a tool for social change with disadvantaged youth.

Depending on your age, experience and your intention (do you want to be a professional performer or do you just want to do it for fun/fitness?) there are many skills you can learn and lots of places you can learn them.

Through a short series of posts I’ll direct you to a variety of places where you can learn them. Rather than trying to list every place or circus company in the world that offers circus skills training (which I’m pretty sure would be close to impossible) I’m going to try to point you in the right direction.

Being a Londoner, I thought I’d start with circus training in London. So if you’re in London and want to learn circus skills either professionally or for fun and fitness read on…

Continue reading “Learning Circus – Part 1: London”

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!

Poor Lighting

Being able to deal with less than idea conditions has been massively helpful to me over the years, particularly in the past few weeks on tour where there is little time to spend worry about lights after the get in and prop setting has been done.

Poor lighting affects almost all circus disciplines but none more so than juggling.

Here are a few training methods (some more useful than others) to help you train for poor lighting:

Practice in sunglasses
Practice directly under a bright light
Set up a bright lamp to shine in your eyes
Practice in low level lighting
Practice outdoors on a sunny day
Run your routine with someone switching on and off the lights
Practice with one eye shut (I’ve had to do a routine immediately after being accidentally poked in the eye!).
Practice with both eyes shut (are there tricks you can do blind, if so can you take advantage of this on stage?!)

Any suggestions? I’d love to hear how you train for poor lighting, leave a comment!

Pole Dance Dictionary

Anyone interested in the documenting of ‘circus’ tricks or wanting to learn chinese pole should have a look at Pole Dance Dictionary for inspiration.

A very slick looking site, it’s just a shame they didn’t use YouTube so you could easily share videos. Also nice to see a familiar face on the site!

Pole Dance Dictionary on Facebook.