My favourite discipline is the sort that’s gained out of respect rather than fear.
Years at Greentop:
20 so far and counting … 1995 – 2009, and 2014 – present. I have been involved with Greentop as a student, a manipulation/acrobalance/aerial tutor, a performer, a sound/lighting/stage technician, a builder, an electrician and a Trustee; sometimes simultaneously.
Where I am/what I am doing now:
Lockdown notwithstanding, other than being a Greentop Trustee I’m a circus entertainer and tutor, a stage technician and a general maker and mender. I am also a Director of Victoria Works, a not-for-profit artist studio/workshop and training space in Neepsend, with many links to Greentop.
Although jokes are rarely as good when you read them as when you hear them told… A skeleton walked into a bar and asked for a pint of beer and a mop…
Quote summarising the impact Greentop has had on your life:
Greentop has given me opportunity, camaraderie, income, pride, applause, frustration, despair, challenge, refuge, hope, sleepless nights and a wide variety of bruises, burns, abrasions, strains and other assorted circus injuries!
My circus story:
Those responsible for creating Greentop lured me into circus in 1991, several years before the BBC’s Challenge Anneka programme were persuaded to convert the disused St Thomas’ church building into the circus centre that is Greentop today. Up until that point I had been lecturing in computer studies at an FE college, and writing commercial software for the BBC microcomputer.
My experience of working on building sites during my student days and backstage at the Crucible Theatre in the 1980s and ‘90s meant I have found myself responsible for various repairs, additions and modifications to the fabric of Greentop over the years, the most significant of these being the building of the upstairs office and technical suite, and the installation of the sound and lighting systems.
There was a period in the 2000s when Greentop staged a number of circus cabarets. We were always looking for something memorable with which to impress our audience, and three of us decided that we should recreate the world-famous Indian Rope Trick. The infrastructure necessary to perform the illusion was fairly complex, and the preparation and rehearsals obviously had to be done in complete secret – which is why we cut the trapdoors in the stage floor late at night without asking or telling anyone!
Circus has taught me to embrace failure as a friend; it is an important part of the learning process and an inevitable step on the way to success. While almost anyone can be taught how to juggle within 30 seconds, turning that knowledge into a physical ability requires many hours of practice, involving continuous and repeated failure. The skill is not in learning how to throw a ball from one hand to the other; the skill is in learning how to relax, focus and work with the forces of nature rather than against them. Fortunately, once learned it is an entirely transferable skill.
Creative play, blue-sky thinking, daydreaming – call it what you will, is an important part of life and throughout history has often been a catalyst for both artistic endeavour and scientific discovery. That, in a nutshell, was the argument I used to my parents in my defence against school report comments such as “Richard is easily distracted” and “Richard could do more”. From celebrity weddings and corporate events to village fetes and school workshops, from Dubai shopping malls to the Glastonbury quagmire; circus has given me the privilege of spending most of my professional life playing, encouraging others to play or providing technical support for plays and shows. It’s probably not the life I imagined for myself as a schoolboy, but maybe that just reflects a suppressed imagination. Circus is serious play at its purest.