15 – 12

15 – 12 = 3

I had to do the maths.

Another year on and this time it’s particularly poignant to me. I’m currently working in the marvellous Krystallpalast Variete which was like a second home to Luke at times. I had the pleasure/challenge to work and live along side Luke and other friends in a show for 3 months over the winter of 2009.

Whilst in Leipzig I’ve taken the opportunity to reread all the articles Luke wrote about circus. He really was an articluate and thoughtful man. We need more minds to step up and fill the void of knowledge, thoughtfulness and excitment that Luke brought to our immature, underdeveloped and ultimatly young art form.

Contained in Luke’s writing are a couple of paragraphs that stand out. Still holding the same value and truth as they did on the day of publication. If anything they apply now more than ever to my own work and thinking.

I’ve pulled out a few of my favourite paragraphs and linked up the articles, I would strongly urge any circus artists to read and reread Luke’s words of wisdom….


“There was a major disconnect between the technique and the theatrical setting. It was to me a clear example of the wrong way to make modern circus. It was “I do this technique set, what theatrical story can I drop on top of that to make it more interesting?” Rather than making some kind of statement using circus technique, here was someone using the circus technique purely as punctuation. It was something in parentheses, something which was referred to rather than being the main event.”

Creative Technique 


“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.”

Too Complicated


“If we are using the circus arts (circus techniques, as in skills and tricks) to express ourselves, then we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to show them some respect and to create and show work where that technique set is needed. Needed means not added on as a bonus but rather integral to, and defining of, the work. The technique should be a necessity of the performance (and perhaps also the other way round, but that is perhaps a topic for another time).”

  • Technique is the major tool that we have to communicate our intent.
  • “Innovate your technique: create the right trick for the right moment.
  • Trust in your tools: and let an audience share that trust.
  • And always remember: the technique IS the character.

The Technique IS the Character

Warming up

Just like athletes or actors, circus performers warm up before a performance. While a warm up may not prevent injury as many think, it can be helpful to refresh the skill set and frame of mind before one steps out on stage.

Having said that, is it a good idea to run your routine in full before your show, should you touch base with the skills or should you do something completely different?

When on a 4 month contract (all the performances were in the same venue), I charted the number of technical mistakes (drops, being behind on cues etc.). For two weeks I did my act on stage before the show, for 2 weeks I did some of the skills in the act before hand, for 2 weeks I warmed up with something completely different and for 2 weeks I did no warm up.

I found despite the warm up method there was negligible difference on my technical performance on stage. It’s hard to be objective as to how well the act was performed but I do feel that the two weeks where I did no warm up were a little harder for me in terms of performing and connecting with the audience. Therefore personally speaking there is little difference in the out come of warming method but it is preferable to do some kind of warm up.

From a phycological point of view I prefer to warm up with a little of the skills I use on stage and then move onto something completely different. For instance in my act I don’t juggle balls so I like warming up with a few short runs of 5 balls, maybe 30-60 seconds. This is enough to relax me, make me think about my posture and enjoy the pattern. I don’t do anything hard as I want to keep drops out of my head and keep my confidence levels up.

I know some artists who like to run their routine in full, others like to run their routine in revers while some like doing each trick 10 times clean. For me this is too much but if it works for you then great. One thing to consider when devising your own warm up methods is where are you going to do this warm up at your gig? I can do mine in a dressing room or in a corridor, anywhere really. It’s worth coming up with a warm up that can fit into a stairwell or other relatively small places that you find backstage as few venues have good warm up facilities.

One specific thing I would recommend is balancing an object on your face, doesn’t mater if you’re a juggler, acrobat, aerialists, actor, dancer or snake charmer. Once learnt, it takes up no room and is very reliable. With in 15 seconds you become still, focused, increased spacial awareness and reminded of your posture.

I would recommend coming up with your warm up plan and then test it out a few times. Get up early, go into your warm up and then do your full routine. If it worked out then great, if not, you either need to change your warm up or make your routine easier.

This is all fairly personal but through planing and testing you can come up with a warm up that will give you the best chances of nailing your perfect show.

Good luck!

The Technique IS the Character

I was talking recently with someone who is working on creating a new juggling act, and they mentioned that they wanted said new act to contain more “character”, and that they wanted to include more stops and pauses: for the purpose of showing that “character”.

Almost as recently, upon introducing myself to a fellow circus performer they asked me what “theme” my juggling act had. My reply of “juggling” left them nonplussed.

Having had to pick my jaw up from the floor on each of these occasions, I realised I could perhaps usefully try (for myself if no-one else) to form my thoughts into some kind of clarity on this matter.

The year is 2011. It was over 30 years ago that nouveau cirque made a clear and, surely at that time, necessary statement about the break they were making from non-nouveau cirque. But I sincerely hope that we are far enough now with the circus arts and their development to understand that we don’t have to justify our time on stage by claiming it to be circus “with theatre”, or “with dance”, or “without horses”. Or “with value added character”. Circus is circus, and it’s practitioners are circus artists.

If we are using the circus arts (circus techniques, as in skills and tricks) to express ourselves, then we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to show them some respect and to create and show work where that technique set is needed. Needed means not added on as a bonus but rather integral to, and defining of, the work. The technique should be a necessity of the performance (and perhaps also the other way round, but that is perhaps a topic for another time).

If technique is integral (which to me is a backbone of circus performance), then technique has a lot of responsibility. It is the major means we have to communicate our intent. I shall repeat that more clearly (and to really stress it, I shall do so by manually re-typing it, rather than using copy and paste): technique is the major tool that we have to communicate our intent.

That doesn’t mean that it should subsume the intent, but that it serves the intent.

If our intention includes the need to create a particular “character” (be that character one of pop-star, ninja, sailor or, dare we even say it, JUGGLER), then I hope it is clear that, although costuming and make-up, or staging and light, are important and valuable factors in our constructs, it is TECHNIQUE that must take the lead. We should innovate in our technique, believe in it, and shouldn’t be scared to trust it to tell an audience more about our intentions and emotional content then any other factor.

After all, love of technique is what drove us in the first place to learn this craft, and I hope that that same love is a factor in keeping us in this crazy, impossible, beautiful, painful, ghastly, inspiring, incredible life that we may call our job.

Innovate your technique: create the right trick for the right moment.

Trust in your tools: and let an audience share that trust.

And always remember: the technique IS the character.