Finding a ring of truth to circus antics
I have some questions about circus life.
Firstly, who does the cooking and cleaning? Do they have designated catering staff, or does the strongman also make the stroganoff? Is there a roster system? Are the performers responsible for washing their own outfits, or do they contract out to a local laundering service, giving specific instructions about sequin management?
Secondly, what is the pay scale? Is it based on the number of minutes on stage, or the skill level involved? Is it tied into the volume of applause, or a quota of accumulated oohs and aahs? Is anyone paid danger money? (If not, that human cannonball needs to talk to his union.)
Thirdly, how many different roles do people have within the show itself? Did a costume change transform the juggler’s assistant into the soaring mistress of aerial silks? Did the clown later don a motorcycle helmet to test his mortality in the Globe of Death? Was that really the acrobat I saw selling minidonuts at intermission?
The touring Weber Bros Circus set up at Saxton Field about three weeks ago. I wasn’t going to bother attending, on the basis that my nerves can’t really handle any sort of suspense any more.
Also, I was a little haughty about the fact that they cancelled their Motueka shows, although after encountering the equipment first-hand, I can see the sense in avoiding the colossal task of packing up and starting again.
Last weekend, with only a week of performances to go, a friend offered to organise tickets, and so we set off to Richmond with our oldest kids in tow. What a beautiful spectacle it was.
The showmanship was wonderful – every movement was with elegant flourish and pointed toes. There is nothing that can draw attention to your own lack of physicality like watching someone lift their own body weight horizontal to the ground with the same amount of effort that it is taking you to raise your arm and shovel buttered popcorn into your mouth.
One of my favourite acts was an incredible juggler, whose hands were a blur as he guided a relentless stream of balls to the ground as if he was calmly flicking water from his fingertips.
I was delighted to see safety harnesses and crash pads underneath the aerial acts, because it meant that I could just sit back and enjoy the skill and sheer beauty of the performances, rather than feverishly fret that at any minute someone was going to fall to their death. The finale involved two, and then three, and then four motorbikes looping at full-speed inside a metal globe that was about the size of my rather modest living room, and this was the only act that had me hiding my face in the nape of my captivated fouryear-old’s neck.
As we left the arena, I dissected the performances with my friend. We thought about consulting Google to try and unravel some of the event’s secrets, but decided against it – after all, it’ll be more fun to just be amazed all over again the next time the circus comes to town.
The Weber Bros Circus is performing at Saxton Field until Sunday May 13.
The showmanship of the circus didn’t fail to disappoint.