Life is a circus performance

Photo: Bruce Barnard.

If you want to go to school and clown around, that’s absolutely fine with Rowan Ford Dawson.

Because he’s made a career out of it and now he’s part of a plan to introduce circus performing to the school curriculum.

“The plan is for me to head up a course with a school called the World United Sport Academy,” says Rowan, a circus school graduate, teacher and performer.

“The academy runs full-time secondary school courses in elite sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and volleyball ….and now circus.”

He says kids would do circus alongside traditional academic work. “Kids from 12 to 18 learning circus between 8am and 5pm – they need to be committed.” And by circus he means the aerial arts, acrobatics, tumbling and juggling, the tight wire – as well as schoolwork that complements circus.

There’s a lot to learn. “Makeup, costuming, stage presence, clowning, mime, video editing, website development, management skills.”

Rowan runs ‘Circus in a Flash’ – a circus entertainment business. It’s a passion which began in his early 20s when he went over the handlebars of a bicycle and broke his collarbone – next minute he’s on a unicycle at a Wellington juggling festival where he saw a whole range of circus skills. “I thought ‘that’s me’.”

Next minute he’s thrown in his job and doing a two-year diploma of circus arts at the Christchurch Polytech. “Now I run my own circus, but rather that setting up a tent for two weeks we go places to perform.”

In fact, only recently, did he perform in a circus tent for the first time. A clown was having some visa issues and so Cirque Grande called in Rowan for a four-week stint under canvas at Papamoa and Fraser Cove. “It was interesting, different.”

“I do tour though. A different show in a different town every day. It’s more intense, we just pack into a theatre, do a show, pack out and move on to the next town the next day.”

He performed for 10 hours in the streets of Katikati for the mural contest and arts festival recently. And when he talks to The Weekend Sun he’s just off a school holiday gig at Kumeu north-west of Auckland. Circus is popular at these programmes.

“The kids look at what’s on offer and see things like arts and crafts and then they see circus ….whoa that looks interesting! Next minute we had 40 kids juggling balls, juggling rings, spinning plates, unicycle, hula hoops, poi, Chinese yoyo, flower sticks and object balancing. Some them get very excited and want to do circus courses.”  And of course, the circus man with the full gamut of circus skills does that too – at the Arataki Community Centre on Tuesday nights.

With others, he directs to YouTube where they can learn to make their own juggling balls with a balloon and a handful of rice. “Something to carry on with so it’s not just a one-off circus experience.”

He does see a future for circus performers. “You can go into a circus and work for the man [ringmaster]. They want to be solo artists. But you need a lot of skills otherwise you will get missed.”

Because there’s not a constant demand for circus, you have to be versatile and use your circus skills to do other things. “I can act – circus is acting – and I can do marketing and promotions. I stilt walk in parades, I unicycle around and I do spruiking – an old fashioned advertising skill – a gentleman in a tidy suit outside a shop talking up products and specials.”

And when the show is over, the circus man goes home where he juggles a family.

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1 Comment

Awesome idea...

Posted on 13-10-2017 16:07 | By maildrop

...and when they graduate they can get a job with the Council or join the big one in Wellington.

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