Rooted in nomadic community, there is more than just a thing or two that circus can teach us about the way we live and work. Yes, my experiences with circus may have been with an award-winning contemporary circus company, but behind the veil of cutting edge aesthetics and performance, exists a parallel universe imbedded with the cultures of traditional circus. A world that operates on a completely different set of rules.
On hierarchy and getting your hands dirty
No man is better than another. It doesn’t matter if you are a Montreal-trained, internationally-recognised swinging trapeze artist, you will muck in alongside the Geordie truck driver banging in stakes and cleaning toilets. I have yet to find a level playing field quite like this anywhere else in the world. The circus will reduce you to what you are, a human being, just like the one standing next to you. You don’t have much choice about it either – the frankly colossal task of moving and raising a 500 person capacity tent by hand demands the blood, sweat and tears from every single member of the company. There is an underlying knowledge held by everyone that they are equally fundamental to the bigger picture in their own unique way. When you see the International Bookings Manager with her gloves on shifting steel, and the performers in the kitchen preparing food for everyone to eat, it distils resentment. It distils entitlement, and nurtures a collective pride, rather than an individual one.
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things
Behind the sequin curtains and the bright lights of the dressing room, the awe-inspiring performers that you see throwing themselves effortlessly across the air into the hands of another, are actually, believe it or not, just ordinary people. Like you and me. Really. The game has changed – these days you do not have to be born in to a circus family in Mexcio to be a circus artist. One of the performers who used to stun me to tears night after night used to be an IT consultant. Another grew up in a small village in Lincolnshire. Something happened in these people’s lives that inspired them to dedicate every ounce of everything they had to this incredible art form. And so they went and bloody did it. They are living evidence, and the most tangible inspiration I can find, that we are all capable of achieving the extraordinary.
How to trust
Four of your colleagues climb 20 feet in the air and clip in the aluminium truss that you will throw yourself from on a bungee cord in 30 seconds time when the guitar riff hits. There is no time to check on their work. There is no space for doubt. All you have is absolute faith in your team. This is not heedlessly taking risks for the sake of quick thrill. This is cold-blooded trust that develops as the backbone of a community that learns how to put their lives in each others hands day in day out. You can feel it, a force field that enables incredible things to happen. It’s also a force field that sets tensions ablaze like gasoline. Here you cannot hide from your doubts of each other, you have no choice but look them directly in the eye and find the solution, together.
A new way of looking at sustainable living
Even with 30 tonnes of trailer truck burning through diesel as it carts a big top tent across the country every fortnight, and a 150kVA generator powering epic show lighting and sound every night, as a community we still have a ludicrously smaller carbon footprint than if we were all sat in our respective homes watching telly and putting the kettle on. The very nature of community living is that it is more sustainable. Not only do we share supplies and resources, but we share experiences. We share meals, a bathroom, a water source. We share pots of coffee, a hoover, a power drill and a packet of hot cross buns. We share the sell-out highs, and the tough times. In an isolated world, there is so much to gain by recognising our power of togetherness, the possibilities of shared resources, and joy to be found in belonging to something bigger than what we could create alone.
Most of all, we can learn to stop and look twice. That there is magic in the madness. That the unusual will always be more interesting than the normal. We can learn that this life is full of bizarre and beautiful imperfections that go unnoticed, if only we have the courage to take that small step sideways and open our minds to the wonderful world of never ending possibilities.