Circus performer

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Paul, 33

What does a circus performer do?

Over the past eight years, Paul has travelled the world with an Australian street-performance theatre company that uses 4m-high flexible sway poles (in industry-speak: "apparatus"). He's also part of a physical theatre duo that uses acrobalance and characterisation; and has taken his solo clown show to Ibiza, Tokyo, Melbourne and Mexico City.

Paul calls himself a performer of "new circus". "It's performance with apparatus. It's physical theatre. And it's spectacle theatre, which is theatre that doesn't rely solely on narrative. It draws from disciplines like dance, mime and the work of an actor because you take on different characters." New circus strays slightly from the traditional circus-tent, but the performers in Paul's show still use heavy face paint, exaggerated gestures and "mime attitudes" with their bodies.

How did you become a circus performer?

Paul gained career experience in a variety of ways. "I started acrobatic classes with Circus Oz and studied ballet at night for a while. Then I just started performing on the street in a physical theatre duo and practising acrobatic sequences." But it all came together when he completed a year of physical theatre at the John Bolton Theatre School. "It all just clicked, and I was able to combine everything I'd learnt so far. I had heaps more confidence and started going for auditions", which is how he hooked up with a theatre company.

What does a typical working day involve?

Paul's working day is anything but typical, but pre-tour there is some routine. "I'll attend rehearsals for four to six weeks leading up to a tour," he says. Rehearsal spaces take the form of high-ceilinged dusty warehouses, or maybe restored town halls. A rehearsal day begins with a group warm-up that concentrates on building core strength, fitness and flexibility. The troupe then works with a choreographer, and develops characters and the technical aspects of the upcoming show.

Tours last anywhere from one week to four months, with performances once or twice a day. Accommodation varies from makeshift cabins to luxury five-star hotels. "The touring schedule is physically and mentally gruelling because there's no stability and your life is fragmented. People tend to crack up towards the end of a long tour," Paul laughs, "The only consistent contact you have are with people in the same show, so it's pretty intense."

What are the people you work with like?

Paul's workmates are acrobats, physical trainers, choreographers, directors and dancers. "Circus performers are often expressive and excitable people with great physical skills. They can be fearless and they know how to have a good time," he laughs, "They're kind of unpredictable and a bit crazy," he shakes his head and laughs some more. "You have to be open and flexible. To 'be real' and express yourself clearly because you're working so closely with other people."

What are some of the pros and cons of the job?

The pluses of Paul's job are travel to exotic locations, the excitement of performing to audiences from different ethnic backgrounds, and making friends all over the world. "In past years I've been to Korea, Europe, Mexico, Japan, USA, Canada, South America, Hong Kong and Singapore," Paul rattles off the destinations, "And performed to big audiences, once as many as 10,000 people. It's a total rush." Negatives are the low and sporadic pay and uncertainty of knowing when you'll have work.

Are there any tips for getting a job as a circus performer?

Currently, Paul is studying a diploma in Animateuring at the Victorian College of the Arts, a course specialising in multi-modal performance techniques. Paul says that the best way to break into circus performing is to be a self-starter. "Make things happen, find people who you can work with and find out what you like doing. It can be hard, but you have to be creative in the approach to your career."

Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).