Monday, 26 September 2011

What not to do..




We have just started with a touring circus called "Eden Bros Good Time Circus"
They tour all over Queensland in a traditional old tent, and still supports old fashioned circus acts with animals. I have never worked on a tent with animals before, so this has been a whole new experience.. Luke and the monkey have made friends.. and by friends I mean, the monkey cheekily tries to undo all the ratchets holding the tent together as fast as Luke hooks them up - it has also been known to take a swipe at him out of fun!
Me? I get to play with llamas - actually, I fib, they are alpacas but they get introduced as llamas for some unknown reason.. I have also had a few interesting moments with the goats..

For today, I have two tips of what not to do on your first week with a circus in hot northern QLD..

#1 : In the pre-show haste of hunger, spill the honey jar all over the self and the costume.. then stand backstage in a massive ant nest..

#2: Turn your back on a goat while in a conversation with someone - especially not when wearing a long tasty skirt!

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Last Stand - Ashburton

The tour had felt long, and yet all of a sudden it was almost over. The spirit of the circus had been lifted as all of the Ring Master's family had come down to join the circus over the school holidays. Our cast instantly doubled in size with our youngest performer being only 8 years old. The rain had cleared up and the sun was shining, and we had time to relax a little as Ashburton was a two week stand.

Luke and I were leaving a couple of weeks early as we had commitments over in Australia. The rest of the crew would be carrying on to Christchurch for their last stand.
It is a tradition in circus to make the last show as entertaining, and as difficult as possible for your cast mates - and most were already planning the cast pranks for the final show.. Apparently, it was decided that Luke and I truly deserved to get some last show prank action, even though we were not going to be there for the final show..

Just before the show, everyone was acting suspicious - I twigged that we were likely to be 'last showed' but had no idea what the cheeky scoundrels were up to. I was waylaid on my stilts out the front of the tent - just long enough it seems for the rigger to change the height of my trapeze by raising it 30cm - just high enough to make the routine hard!

I walked into the ring, and glanced over at the sound desk - the entire cast were standing there, giggling as I reached out to my uncomfortably high trapeze.
After my act, I watched as everyone raced back out to watch Luke.. the guys had taken his music and sped it up by about 20% so his juggling routine was in fast forward! It was hilarious to watch, and amazingly he carried the routine out to the end, scoring a round of applause from the cast and audience alike when he returned backstage.

All through the show they had set little glitches for us to 'enjoy', and as if that wasn't enough, when we returned to the car to drive away it seemed that they had hidden hundreds of grape drinks through ALL of our luggage, doubling it's weight and leaving us with the lovely experience of discovering grape drinks for days to come!

..little did they know, that they were not the only ones hiding grape drinks that day.. :-p

Saturday, 17 September 2011

And a Grape day was had by all

I snuggled down into my comfortable circus bed.. It seemed unusually difficult to get my head  to rest on my pillow.. in fact, my pillow seemed a little solid. I poked it, slightly confused..it was hard, very hard, positively lumpy in fact. I traced the lump with my hand and in a moment worked out what it was.. some cheeky cast member had filled my pillow with grape drinks!

Instantly, I suspected Nick - he had been lurking around suspiciously - yup, it must be him.
I removed the grape drinks and snuck over to his bed, carefully placing them in his blankets and one in his gumboot for good measure. I smiled and returned to sleeping.

I was woken in the morning by an exclamation of confusion from Nick's side of the bus "What the?!" He had rolled over on to the plastic bottle.. "Briar! I am going to get her" he muttered, and quickly rolled out of bed, slipping on his gumboots "GAH! - Oh, that was a good one" he smiled and rolled on out the door.

When I came outside, he was over by the chuck wagon. Briar was at her caravan, throwing grape drinks at Nick out the window - He was dodging them, cracking up in fits of laughter.

I chose this as a good time to point out that it hadn't been Briar placing drinks in his bed. "YOU!?" he asked, astounded - "I blamed Briar!"
At this moment, Briar and Luke emerged from their various sleeping quarters and we stood around giggling. Briar had placed the drinks in what she thought was Luke's pillow after he had covered a grape drink in candy floss and given it to her as a joke.. She had filled my pillow by accident - I blamed Nick, Nick blamed Briar.. Sigh, what a grape day.

Hoop play




Timaru



The Timaru stand was parked up inside the Caroline Bay loop road. It was a great location, and very visible from the road. It was extra nice being able to drive around the whole loop road and circle the tent from above - at night with all the festoon lights up it looked like a little bit of magic.

We were nice and close to town, and having befriended some of the girls in the local cafe, we were being well supplied with nice coffees.

Luke and I were on duties - and we were on duties when we had a whole lot of extra people staying with the circus… I will never forget the look on Luke's face when he walked behind the chuck wagon to discover the mountain of roast dishes that lay before him - it was really something. Neither of us had ever experienced a stack of pots, pans, plates and cutlery quite like this one. Horrifying just wouldn't cover it - and to make matters worse, the rain had just started. We stood there cleaning for nearly 2 and a half hours.

We were exhausted. We'd sold tickets, ushered, worked at the concessions stand, performed two shows and then spent our night time cleaning. Two cold, wet, grumpy circus performers trundled back to the bus. It was leaking, and the lights weren't working. All of the woe was ours.


The three photos here are of Luke on his ladder, David mid rola-bola act, and the tent as seen from our rainy bus window just before the show.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Smiles in Waimate

It was a warm afternoon - the tent was up and everyone was sitting around for a lunch break before getting the last of the seating in and the walls on the big top. Muesli bars were passed around and cold cordial to quench the thirst of tired crew. A school bell sounded across the road and a moment later, a small parade of kindergarden aged children, being herded like lost sheep wandered onto the lot.

The kids were all instantly shy as they approached handing us gifts of class-cooked muffins. The all sat down outside the chuck wagon and gawked wide-eyed at our mismatched cast of gypsies. The teachers announced that the whole class would be coming to the show, and that not only had they baked us muffins.. but they had prepared a musical performance for us..

We politely agreed to see their piece and sat as they arranged themselves for a song..

A cheer of delight erupted from our cast a moment later, when instead of being greeted with twinkle twinkle.. were given an amazing rendition of 'Ring of Fire', by Johnny Cash! These kids get the circus stamp of approval - gold stars all round.

Here is a bit of you tube fun - the song that was stuck in our heads for the rest of the stand!


Blogging the Bogging - Soggy everything in Dunedin continues


The last show in Dunedin was the hardest show I have ever done. The backstage area, after two weeks of rain, was one huge knee high puddle of mud. We had long before put down sheets of wood in an effort to keep props dry, but by then, they had sunk so deep into the puddles that they might as well not be there at all. Everyone was in high gum boots back stage, changing into dance slippers only a moment before going into the ring. At every step on the stilts, the poles would plunge deep into the ground, and emerge with mud almost up to the foot plate. It was near on impossible to stay up on them.

The ring mat was wet, my trapeze was wet, and my costume was totally saturated to dripping point. Damian announced my act and a danced out onto the slippery mat of doom.
Somehow I managed to stay up on the stilts and I slithered in a semi-controlled fashion through my routine.

Off stage, five minutes later, however, I was in tears as the sheer exhaustion and the discomfort of our performance conditions hit an all time low. I took my stilts off, put my boots on and plunged into the mud. Backstage was a dreary sight indeed.. and after this show we would be pulling the big top down, I had all of the woe.

Tent down was pretty awful, so much mud, so much rain, and my patience and appreciation of tour life had dwindled and become nothing more than a loathed experience. That night held nothing for me but more tears, discomfort and a complete inability to even remember what it was like to be dry and clean. To make things worse, we didn't manage to get all of the tent down at once, so instead of having a day off the following day, we were ordered up before 7 to finish the job.. No time off this week, I thought.

Bogged down in Dunedin

Dunedin was cold. In fact, more than that, it was icey. Rain poured down on the bus, turning everything to mud around us. The trucks sank deep into the grass, our boots squelched and filled with water within three steps of being outside and the wind whipped past our ears with a deafening chill.

I wrapped my jacket around me and bolted to the edge of the orange fence, handing over the quickly saturating posters to Hana. I collected the next set and hurriedly clambered over the fence, running for the open door of the little red car. We were heading out marketing as the rest of our sodden teammates set up the big top.

As we drove away, I glanced back, just in time to see Luke crawling through the mud to get under the canvas. I felt so sorry for him.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The tent goes up in Invercargill!

The bus shook and rattled as an over zelous crew member rapped on the windows and doors of our sleeping quarters. it was ten to nine and our alarm had failed to wake us, the circus lot was already a flurry of activity, a buzz with little balls of warm wooly coats filled with humans readying themselves for the day. Luke managed to drag himself out of bed with relative ease, while I lay there for a moment with the morning sun on my face still in a sleepy daze of dream state. The next thing I recall was waking again with Luke standing over me smiling quietly and holding a coffee, time to start the day.

I exited the bus and wandered over to the collection of performers by the chuck wagon, people were finishing breakfast and coffees and they all seemed to have one thing in common.. They were all far more awake than I. A moment later Damo walked away from the group, stopped by the side of the tent and belted out the fist instruction for the team, being a man of few words this instruction was simple "WINCHES!" Luke bounded up followed by the other winch handlers and within a tenth of a second, Les and I were the only two left by the food caravan. Lucky for me, today was a marketing day, so I have a few more minutes to wake my brain up.

There is something magic about watching the tent get lifted, even in my half asleep state I got a sparkle of excitement from seeing it go up, one minute there is a large stripey canvas lying in the grass, and the next it looks like the circus is in town. Every stand is so different, let's see what Invercargill audiences are like.

Quaking in our circus boots


 Two photos of Cathedral square - the first during the spring festival, (where I was stilt walking in delightfully high winds!) The second is the cathedral after the quake hit on Feb 22nd.



It was March 2nd. We had landed in the far southern town of Invercargill, NZ. High winds were slowing the tent up process but Damo was determined to at least get the king poles up, he was up at 7 in the morning pacing the lot and scowling at the sky.

It had been a wee while since my last entry. The previous stand was a solemn one. On the Tuesday an epic earthquake hit Christchurch city at a depth of 5 km, it was over a six on the Richter scale and had flattened the city. 155 people were confirmed to have died and even the old circo houses were under water from liquefaction. The circus had taken on a couple of Circo refugees as there was now no school and people were homeless. From what I understood things there were going to get busy as we were due to take on more and more visitors.

The shows were quiet. It was eerie. The audience just sat and stared at us through the show. We all wore black arm bands for the performances to honour the victims, and mourn the loss of the city. Everyone had connections to Christchurch, we all went to uni there, we had all lived there, and some have family there. I still had two friends that I could not make contact with, and I had no idea if they were even still alive.

A car full of our performers headed off as soon as the tent was up to go and find family. I remained behind, but all of our hearts were in the shaky city that day.

Briar and I went ahead to our next stop to go marketing, we were heading back through gore, our last stop, to Dunedin. I hadn't been to Dunedin for nearly 2 years, it was to be a big day.





Friday, 9 September 2011

Links to all our TV and Newspaper interviews..

Can the pot call the kettle black?

Town: Gore, NZ
As twilight falls, a thick mist engulfs the big top. The lights from our food caravan twinkle in the foggy moonlight. For a moment I am taken by the true and intense beauty of circus life. Then I look down at my hands.. elbow deep in the dish water, soaked in chicken lard and constantly finding floating lumps of indistinguishable unknown food leftovers. I cringe as my vegan hands rub past something that was slightly slimy. Sigh. Reality, it happens.

Everyone at the circus is on the roster - except for the bosses. We have a rotation -first meal you clean out the food kitchen, second you are on dishes, and the third, on the drying and putting away. It is often a fairly merry task - the three performers on duties each joking around and attempting to avoid the horror.. the nightmare.. the dreaded task of washing the.. *insert a loud scary drum roll*.. the 'black pot of death.'

The black death was a large iron cauldron like pot, heavy, charred and black with age. It had this amazing ability to turn everything it touches black. It is so feared by the cast, that everyone would cover the tables in newspaper, and wear gloves, just to move it into the dining area. Once touched by the black.. it was there forever, a lesson learned by many of my favourite items of clothing.

Luke was on chuck, he gave me an apologetic look as he delivered this doom pot to my side. "I think that is everything" he reassured
Nick was drying "Ah.. the black death.. Ha! Glad I'm not on dishes!" He teased. I flicked him with dishwater and looked down at the black filthy pot.
I nodded to myself. Gotta love the circus life.

The tiny town of Te Anau

On Wednesday we started tent up in Te Aneu. The king poles were up, large parcels of tent were lumped on the lot ready to be laid out, and a scattering of tired performers lay by the chuck wagon with cups of tea, eagerly awaiting dinner. Luke was up on his ladder practicing a new trick and Briar was no where to be seen, some times we all just needed to take space from the group.

The three day tent up progressed, marketing continued and in between jobs, we found time for extra moments of training. Luke continued to work on some new free standing ladder balances and I practiced new hoop material. We returned to living on the bus and were parked up on the far side of the tent.. so far, bookings were high and everything was about to launch into action as our opening show was about to start..

Saturday morning was the first show.. we stumbled out of bed and crawled into costume via coffee and a handful of jobs. 11am seemed to rush at us like a bull at a flag and in no time I was dancing on stage and spinning in a pretty tangle of trapeze and glitter. It was a full house. So full that we had to put out extra seating at the start of the show and had extra audience members sitting on spare ring boxes.

They were lively, cheerful and so energetic! 80% of our audience were screaming children who were fueled on candy floss and sugar - at half time we had to pluck them from the ring and the support poles of the tent and prevent them from literally bouncing off the walls. They were so much fun - but a little hard to grasp when you have had little sleep and are running on coffee!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Too many clowns in the chuck wagon!

The chuck wagon.. in some ways a focal point of the whole circus - we all try to cram in there to scrounge for breakfast, we all queue up in there for the chance to boil hot water at night time, and for some reason, no matter who is on clean up after dinner - on a saturday evening, the entire cast end up in there to make the clean-up process an all out nightmare!

I frantically tried to get benches cleaned as one by one the cast descended on the caravan kitchen. There was a loud chatter behind me as Briar and Nick who were in a playfully argumentative conversation, set up the stereo. After much station flicking and plug-swapping, it  was turned on- firmly establishing the chuck wagon as the party venue for the evening.

David charged in and wedged himself in the corner with bottle of beer shortly followed by Mary who waltzed through the door with a merry grin "TOO MANY CLOWNS IN THE CHUCK WAGON!" She hollered, raising her glass high.. This ignited a chorus of silly voices and echos from the rest of the cast.


I was not sure how many more people we could fit in this tiny carriage..But while at circus school, we got 12 stilt walkers in a phone box once.. so anything is possible..

Eventually Mary and David vacated the chuck and Nick wandered off behind the caravan. He too, was on duties. Briar looked at me and smiled - I hadn't talked to her much and she was the only member of the cast that I hadn't met previously. She stood there for a moment playing with the stereo and then looked up with a fit of horror.. "Is nick on Drying!! Then I must be on Dishes!" She stared up at the roster and then vanished in a flurry of ginger hair and tiger stripes.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Marketing mission!

The clock struck 8AM and the circus burst into a hive of activity! Fences were rolled out, Pegs were being thrown down in a huge circle, Mary was standing on the top of the pole wagon handing down the wind poles and side poles and Damo was yelling something that may or may not have been understood by whomever it was directed towards.

Paddy, Les and I were racing from one end of the lot to the other in a flurry of posters, fliers, clip boards and free-give away circus tickets. Les was training me up as one of the promotion girls so I was handed a new red and black Circus Aotearoa T-shirt, a pile of posters and we were thrown into a small volvo and handed a cup of coffee.. Off to Te Anau!

It was a long drive through some of the most amazing views I have seen of New Zealand so far. We were deep in "Lord of the Rings" territory and we had to stop to take it in. A huge gorge loomed by the side of the road, with a small drive in loop. We all just stood and stared in silence at the amazing site before us.

We got in to Te Anau just after lunch and stopped in a small cafe for some food and to sort out our posters. Les and I took armfuls each and headed out in opposite directions to ask every single shop in the town if they could display a poster. Paddy headed off to the library, police station and city council to deliver fliers and finalise the booking on the lot.

We trawled the town, people were excited about the show and most took posters. There were two older ladies that ran a small wool shop at the end of the main road, and they got so excited that they put up three posters and started announcing to any customers that walked through that they had just met a real trapeze artist and that now everyone had to come to the show! (I might have.. um ..snuck them free tickets.. they were just so excited, it seemed necessary!)

I was met at the edge end of the street by yet another amazing view - mountains and water and so much.. green! I heard a car horn, and there were Paddy and Les pulling up behind me, it was time to head home - perfect timing!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Cromwell

The tent was down on Sunday afternoon, and Monday was spent wandering through the tourist centre of Queenstown. Luke and I had a special meal out by the water. It was a treat to be out and about. We stopped into a little chocolate cafe on the waterfront where we were gifted with free coffees! The girl behind the counter recognised us from the show, and had loved the performance.

Luke and I sat at our outdoor table and watched the goings on of the normal world. A busker played a lively guitar on the corner and joggers periodically flew by, involved only in their own steps and the headphones in their ears. We placed our empty coffee mugs down on the rickety wooden table turned to make our way back to the circus.


Moving day came around again so quickly. This week, I was to be in the first round of people at the next lot. They always sent one person ahead to wait for everyone else, so that they could have the trucks watched while they do the second and third trips. David had kindly offered an accommodation swap for a few weeks so that Luke and I could have a caravan.. so we moved all our gear and away I went.

An hour later, surrounded by forested mountainous ranges and sparkling blue water we circled up to pitch our stand. Cromwell was the next stop, an odd little town by the river with a stubbornly quiet population. It is a little bit magic watching the circus roll into town. A convoy of red and yellow trucks and vans lumbering through the town centre. Children wave and cars toot their horns.. that's right folks! The Circus is in town!

Pretty new hoop routine

Does anyone know how to make the photos sit side by side??