19 June 2018
Equity has designated 2018 as the Year of the Circus.
This is in recognition of Circus 250, the national celebration of the art form’s 250th anniversary.
It is said that the foundation of circus was laid by Philip Astley, when he set up a ring for an equestrian show in London’s Waterloo area in 1768.
Soon all sorts of acts were presented within his circle, including jugglers, acrobats, clowns, strong men and bareback riders.
Equity’s Variety, Circus and Entertainers Committee will be receiving Circus 250’s key organisers at their first 2018 meeting, and Equity’s Circus Network and Equity branches will be involved in events throughout the year. These will be concentrated around the six designated cities of London, Bristol, Blackpool, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Belfast and Derry.
To mark the occasion, the union spoke with four of its members — from the founder of the touring Gifford’s Circus, to an independent performer who works in cabaret, clubs and corporate settings — about what they do, what drew them to the circus, and what circus means to them in 2018.
What drew you to the circus?
I originally started hooping to learn a new skill, to keep myself peaceful and to just gain confidence in myself. This was when I was just finishing up high school. I was very uncertain about what I was going to do next – I came across it, was completely mesmerised. Everything fell into place because within that first year I auditioned to be part of a hoop troupe, Marawa’s Majorettes.
Can you tell me about your world record?
That was with the Marawa’s Majorettes in 2013. All ten of us had a stack of 20 hoops and we had to go for 20 seconds. If one person dropped a hoop we had to restart, and we had three chances. I think we got it on the third one.
That was really epic.
Could you describe some of your acts?
I have a convict character: I come out and with hoops and I use them like guns, to the sounds of the gun in the audio. I lip-synch to a recording of myself; I’m just sort of yelling. The inspiration for that was the bank robbery scene from the movie They Live, where he comes in and says “I’m all out of gum.” This is an act I do in cabaret settings, such as Duckie, not in more corporate settings, because it’s quite aggressive and tense.
I also have a roller-skating act I created with a director. I’m lip synching to this song called Bilingual, where this woman is talking about her lover. The inspiration for the act is taking back the word “slut” and showing it in the light of empowerment rather than the negative light that it’s usually used in.
Could you describe the evolution of your personal style?
I started in Marawa’s Majorettes Troupe, and that was very much circus-style hooping: multiples, very much about being straight arms, body, using multiples on the body and what I’ve realised is I’m not a super- technical circus hooper. I’ve always known I love dancing, so integrating those two together feels like I’m being me.
I didn’t go to dance school, but I’ve been to lots of dance classes and workshops, and I teach myself at home. When I saw voguing, I self-taught and I went to some voguing balls. I fell in love with that world, and realised that was just another aspect I wanted to involve in my performing.
What does circus mean in 2018?
I think pure creativity, fun, entertainment, expressiveness.
Why is it important for circus performers to be unionised?
It is so distressing to think that there are issues that in a ‘normal’ job you would not have to deal with, but in circus you have to be a little bit stricter because people do not get that this is your job. To have the protection and support from Equity is just such a relief. I feel the fact that Equity is there is a statement to the world saying circus is not just play, people genuinely do this on a day-to-day basis, to keep themselves, to pay their rent. It’s a real job.
Photography by Phil Adams