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.

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!)