An old pair of comfy #circus slippers

One of my favourite performers Donald Grant, once remarked to me how performing his act felt ‘like putting on an old pair of comfy slippers’.

Old Slippers

I’m starting to get to a similar point with my act. I know that despite external conditions I’m still capable of shipping my art and delivering the goods (although I’m still capable of screwing them up as well!). No stairs to get on stage? No Worries. Wrong music comes on? On with the show.

Once you’ve done your act several 100 times it starts to become a little less stressful, you start to trust your work a little more. You can refine detail and perhaps enjoy yourself a little more.

In a podcast Penn Jillette reminded me that acts that have worked for 20 years have a quality, maturity and refinement that can’t be taught and is rare to see these days. You can really see this with performers such as George Carl.

These ‘mature acts’ obviously made and make incremental changes over time and I enjoy following acts and watching how they subtly evolve. A new line here, an extra trick there – it’s a circus spot the difference.

However the danger is stagnation, it’s probably not as artistically rewarding for most performers to do the same material year in year out. And times have changed, there isn’t the market demand for such refinement yet lack of flexibility. Modern circus artists need slightly different skills, the ability to constantly create new work, collaborate (often cross discipline) and push the art form in new directions.

It’s not something that I’m not particularly suited for or good at. Yet I’m pushing myself onwards. I like having my comfy slippers but I know at some point I’ll need some brogues, trainers and even a pair of Crocs. After all, slippers do wear out – eventually.

Enough of the shoe analogies, I'm off to the cobblers.

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.

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.

Too Complicated

Nearly back home after an incredible, exciting, inspiring and stressful 2 weeks of performing at the Moisture Festival in Seattle, USA. 3 ‘planes behind me, now an hour more on the train and a taxi to follow…

iPad plus iPhone internet tethering plus PlainText plus WordPress equals awesome.

I am often surprised by odd compliments. Especially those coming from fellow artists, and especially those that have a form that allow me to simply say “thank you very much”, whilst actually wanting to ask “what does that mean?”. Like “it was nice to see some art”, or “he’s a juggler’s juggler”.

Something that am always ready to reply to with “what does that mean?” however is when jugglers tell me that a particular trick, or sequence, is “too complicated for an audience to understand”. WTF does that mean? It compares to the equally enigmatic yet ridiculous soundbite “they can’t tell the difference if you are juggling 5 or 7”.

Who are these “they” of whom they speak? And why is “their” possible failure to understand an aspect of our performance a reflection on their stupidity, rather than a reflection on our own failure or inability to make ourselves understood?

There are three elements to any play. The play, the actors, and the audience. And the responsibility for success lies with them all. Does that mean we should patronise our audience to the point of stupefaction, reduce them to unknowing vessels, undeserving of our attention and edification? As long as my audience has given me the respect to come and sit in a theatre and watch me perform, then I shall give them respect and, hopefully, provide them with entertainment that also has the possibility to challenge and evoke them.

I shall hold their hands when they need it, but I shall assume them to be smart enough to follow me, and also to lead me to new places within my work.

http://twitter.com/#!/CircusGeeks/status/58125021608030208