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

Dr. Seuss ‘If I ran the circus’

I love circus books. I love Dr. Seuss. So when I was given ‘If I ran the circus‘ by Dr. Seuss I was excited!

Unlike a lot of books aimed to be read by children Dr. Seuss books are fun to read! The plots aren’t mind numbingly predictable and the vocabulary is nicely varied. But the thing that always made them stand out to me was the superb illustration. The amazing colours, characters and even the lettering made Dr. Seuss books a joy to read.

‘If I ran the circus’ is no different, as you might imagine it’s a brilliantly surreal take on traditional circus (I’d guess mostly heavily influenced by Barnum & Baileys). Elephants on stilts, a walrus who can stand on one whisker, a juggling dot “Who can juggle some stuff, You might think he could not” and many more amazing attractions feature in ‘Circus McGurkus’ which the book centres around.

It’s a fun book, perfect for any youngsters learning to read or possibly any circus performers looking for some inspiration! 

World Circus Culture Movie needs funding

This film has been in the making for a while and now it’s near completion.

World Circus Culture, follows five circus acts from different countries as they rehearse and compete at the “Academy Awards” of circus competitions, the Monte Carlo Circus Festival. Through these personal stories, the film will open peoples’ eyes to the true culture, art, business, and history of circus on an international scale as never seen before.

They’re are looking for a bit more support, have a look here for more info on how you can help.

http://worldcircusculturemovie.com/

Allie Cooper’s Vertical Rope

Given the backgrounds of most of us Circus Geeks – at least the more prolific of us writers – I sometimes feel we overlook some of the other circus skills that are out there. Today’s lesser talked about circus skill: Corde Lisse.

This is Allie Cooper. She’s a rope artist based in California whom I met at a circus party some time last year. She’s very lovely and put together one of the most enjoyable promo videos for her rope act that I’ve seen. In some ways it reminds me of Danny MacAskill’s Way Back Home.

You can also follow Allie on twitter.

Have you seen other promo videos that are striking, unique or different? Let us know in the comments below.

Circus Sideshow “Geek”

GEEK: \’gēk\, noun
From the low German geck, meaning “fool” (1914).
1: A carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off of a live chicken or snake.
2: A person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.
3: An enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity (computer geek).
— geek•dome, noun
— geek•i•ness, noun
— geeky, adjective
— geek, verb

Merriam Webster On-Line

I am actually considered a geek because I eat, or geek, fire. Any time we eat random items nowadays (lightbulbs, bugs, etc.) it is considered geeking. Though originally this term was reserved for biting (geeking) the heads off of chickens with great show, usually dressed is white.

Grotesque Like Me

Elly del Sarto; from a c. 1910 postcard.
Image via Wikipedia

I was well over two years into sideshow before it even occurred to me that a woman performing circus sideshow stunts might be viewed as “grotesque.” I don’t think of these things, the weird, the freaky, the odd. I see something I’d like to do and I do it. Not until much later does it enter my mind that any of it might veer a little to the left of the norm. But then I guess that’s what sideshow specifically chooses for, doesn’t it?

My troupe is made up of a lot of very beautiful women, most of whom you would never think did this sort of thing, the oddity, the absurd. We even have one Lady who would pass for a Disney princess. Really, I swear! And we all have had this talk a bunch of times that we’ve never felt quite a part of normal society. Oh sure, we can pass with the best of them; Beverly Hill events, high intellect societies, professional businesses and the like, the whole kit and kaboodal. But none of us ever really felt like we fit — I’d like to think of it as a really long run of junior high. And then the clouds parted and the universe gave us SIDESHOW! and we found a home and a family with each other. Strange, no? In reality not so much. In truth, I would think this story is much more familiar to everyone than we all would think. It’s just that in those who are a little “left of center” it is more apparent. If we listen to each other we begin to understand that not only did we probably have that outside time when we were younger, but we still have something now that may make us feel like we are not a part of the collective. Sometimes it can be so much so that we might very well feel like we have a glowing incandescent sign with a big red arrow pointing at us screaming “one of these things is not like the others, one of these things is just not the same!” Or is it just me?

My Ladies and I get up on stage with our Yoda each night we perform our mind bending stunts of outrageous human feats revelling in this strangeness. We long to hear those noises of gasps and eeks and inhales – Make the noise, we live for the noise. In the process of being the freak working acts we have concered our most primitive fears of fire, creepy crawlies and pain, and we offer it up to you. At the same time we stand virtually naked in front of our audience in all of our grotesque and freakish glory and unarm you of your own insecurities – if only for a moment – without you even knowing it. And we ask you to be “one of us.”