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 four hour circus commute

Another drizzly Tuesday morning and yet again I am making the four hour door-to-door commute from London to Bristol to pack in a couple of days training with my circus partner, Lisa. By now I know the coach drivers speech by heart (along with the well rehearsed ‘jokes’), and have perfected the art of getting a doubles seat to myself (eat a banana, take off layers of clothing and spread them across the seats etc.)

Lisa and I take this journey on alternative weeks to each others cities to battle to keep our doubles trapeze skills up to scratch, while at the same time developing a new roller skating routine. Despite our marathon training sessions we never seem to fit quite enough in as it seems like every new job we get we have to change some element of what we do – the height, the character, the costume, the music…. People are so demanding!

However despite the schlep to the West Country, training in a different space does also mean training in a different headspace, which can be great. Knowing what an effort you’ve made to get there means we both work harder to make the most of our two days, and the slight desire to ‘show off’ to people who you don’t normally train alongside, pushes us both that bit further.

Our roller skating table arrives next week – scary! Suddenly we’re going to have to relearn our act within a tiny circle, and a few feet off the floor. A few feet may not sound like much, but when you are spinning fast by your neck off someone else’s neck and are quite disorientated it makes all the difference! But however scary the skating may look, nothing compares it to my least favorite 5 minutes of every week – jumping to feet. This is move where Lisa is sitting on the trapeze and I am hanging from it. I then have to swing my legs and let go and catch her feet. It is a move I have done safely for well over a year, and I have only ever fallen from it twice in practice, both times for very clear reasons, and yet it still has the power to terrify me. This mental block has been going on for about 6 months now and we still practice it every week, and every week it still scares me – sometimes your brain can be very irrational!

Another element of my regular visits to Bristol is a chance to see another side to circus life – one very different to London. The training spaces are dependent on volunteers and community support, with regular users all pitching in to run the training spaces and many of the shows.  Whether it means cleaning the hall, or calling out a locksmith when he lock is broken, or organizing a fund raising cabaret, it’s all a job for the circus community. And for the most part it runs very smoothly. I was first initiated into this when I moved to Bristol briefly a few years ago to volunteer at a circus school in exchange for training – my warm up one morning was doing the ‘shake and vac’ and hovering the huge training space room! Which actually, did warm me up pretty well!

Back on the bus again, this time headed back towards the big smoke, and straight back to watch the circus space graduate show, hopping from one circus community to another.

Tired, bruised and ready for a drink, but overall feeling like I’ve done a proper days work.