Cirque du Soleil Clown Interview

John Gilkey

Thanks to our new Tumblr account we stumbled upon this interview with Cirque du Soleil clown/character John Gilkey from A Fool’s Idea.

The interview covers a lot of ground, focusing around John’s history and thoughts on Clown and his career.

If you’re not familiar with Gilkey’s work you can see one of his numbers below.

John Gilkey

Video of the Week – Fingers

I’ve been interested in finger dexterity for a while, it directly relates to my job. So I enjoyed this new finger dance video that’s doing the rounds. The idea is not new- finger dances have been around for a while but it’s nice to see things moving in different directions. Also worth a look is Greg Irwin’s finger ballet/fitness (video below).

101 Lessons

101_film_school

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.

Write->leave->revisit->rewrite->repeate

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

Circus Hackathon

NOLA Hackathon 2011
NOLA Hackathon 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading a bit about new ways technology is allowing people to collaborate, things like Google Drive, GitHub etc. It seems as usual circus has a bit of catching up to do!

In Wired a while ago I read an article about Hackathons and thought it would be great to see/take part/organise a circus equivalent. Hackathons are a chance for coders to meet up, work like crazy in small teams and produce a sketch version for a new service or product.

Earlier this year when I was in Montreal I spotted Impro Cirque, something quite close to my idea. Unfortunately I left before it took place but from video it looks pretty fun…

I’d love to see a more informal version done in the UK, perhaps no ‘public’ audience. No one gets paid- All it would need is some interested circus artists and some space (perhaps some pizza and beers at the end of it). Perhaps two days manic work and a fun showing at the end of it? Best team performance judged by a panel wins a years supply of Apple products (or not)?!

Just a thought….

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.

Bella Kinetica funding

It has long been an ambition of mine make my own mark on the ‘circus theatre’ scene – to put together a full length circus show with a strong narrative and theatrical drive. And to make life more interesting I wanted it to be entirely on roller skates. And in the air...
We are aiming to start R and D for the project this autumn and have the support of awesome arts venues Jacksons Lane and Circomedia, as well as a brilliant cast lined up, all we need now is the cash to make it happen!
The campaign is being run through a crowd-funding website called Indiegogo, which works by lots of people donating small amounts to reach a final target – in our case $7,000 (roughly £4,500). We need this money to fund our show, and in return we can offer lots of unusual rewards.
It would be much appreciated if you could contribute to the campaign. Any small amount will help us greatly and a bigger contribution would really help the show take off the ground (literally!).
I am so lucky to know so many awesome, creative and generous circus geeks, and I will be forever grateful for any contributions!
Even if you can’t contribute, it would still be very helpful if you could share the campaign so that we reach as many people as possible. Facebook, twitter, email, word of mouth, links on website – it’s all good!
Please help support new circus!

Touring Video

Over the last couple of months I’ve been touring with Gandini Juggling. I decided to document my travels a little, to give a feel for what it’s been like. The videos not so juggling focused but might be interesting for any circus artists, even if your not a massive juggling fan

Photos and video all filmed on a iPhone 4S and edited in iMovie for iPad. I like Apples.

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!)

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.”