101 Lessons


101 Things I Learned in Film School ®‘ by Neil Landau & Matthew Frederick is a beautifully concise book which caught my eye when browsing the Tate Modern gift shop. I thought it would be nice exercise to go through the book and apply some of the lessons to circus. I’ve picked and adapted 39 lessons which I think could easily be applied to circus performance.

1) Start strong

Prompt intrigue

Suggest the central theme

Revel back story

2) Start late

Cut the first 30 seconds of a piece.

3) Show, don’t tell

4) Three stages of show making

Pre-production – meetings, fundraising, planning etc

Production – rehearsing

Post-production – selling the show etc

5) Audiences want to be as close to the action as possible.

6) Conceal the action.

Creates curiosity and intrigue

7) Story telling -> Beginning – Middle – End

  • Act 1 – Establish the problem
  • Act 2 – Complicate the problem
  • Act 3 – Solve the problem

Establish • Complicate • Solve

8) Practice the perfect pitch.

High concepts can be explained in one sentence.

9) A good title says what the show is.

10) Create memorable entrances.

11) Create a show on different scales.

12) Every scene must revel something new.

13) What can the human eye process?

14) Set rules early, clearly and simply.

15) If it can be acted why do it with circus?

16) Make the setting a character.

17) Define the relationship to the 4th wall.

18) Beware working with children & animals.

19) Have a plan but enjoy the detours.

20) Signs of novice circus.

It’s a dream, all black costumes, sequins, bare feet, m

Amely sound track,

21) Leave breathing room.

Both theatrically and practically.

22) Place figures in uncomfortable proximity.

23) Ensure everyone is making the same show.

24) Have some show stoppers.

Big tricks, tear jerkers, hilarious jokes etc.

25) Every show is drama, conflict and suspense.

26) Dig deeper.

Do fewer things better.

27) Good writing is good rewriting.


28) When you receive a no write back thanks.

29) Different spaces, venues, audiences might be better for a different kind of show.

30) Rhythm / Tempo

Larger pace created by the show / pace of scene or act

31) Don’t cast by looks.

32) Actions speak louder than words.

33) If you want to make circus, see circus.

34) Work in the trenches.

Take less than ideal gigs, learn around your subject / ultimate goal.

35) Let it go already.

Make->assess->move on->repeat

36) Play well with others.

37) Make it shorter.

38) Don’t over use cliches or coincidences.

39) “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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?!

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.

Video of the week – Penn

Penn & Teller are my favourite magic act, their art is thought provoking, accessible and entertaining. I recently read Jillette‘s book ‘God No‘ which I really enjoyed and would recommend to anyone who is not overly offended by swearing.

Here is a nice interview with half of arguably the greatest double act of all time: