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How to join the circus and still keep your day job


Liam Sharpe speaking into a microphone on a dimly lit stage

by Liam Sharpe

When most people think of the circus, they picture a big top in a muddy field filled with exotic animals, clumsy clowns, and elegant aerialists. But hidden in a small warehouse complex tucked in between the NZ school of dance and the gymnastics gymnasium sits The Circus Hub, a school for aspiring circus performers. This is where I spend a lot of my waking hours when not working my desk job as a front-end developer at Catalyst IT. My name is Liam Sharpe and I’m a circus performer.

I’ve been training for almost 5 years now, originally starting on the aerial silks and trapeze before finding my home on corde-lisse (or aerial rope). What’s great about the Circus Hub is they often run shows called RAW which are chances for their students to show off what they’ve learned and get the chance to perform to a paying audience. After performing in a number of these shows, I felt I needed more, so one winter day back in August 2021, I approached the manager of the hub to ask if I could direct the next one. I kind of expected to be told no, or that at the very least I could maybe shadow the organizer as an intern kind of deal. But to my utter disbelief and pleasure I was told “yep, here’s the date for the next one, let me know if you need help, good luck.”

Liam Sharpe performing aerial rope with dramatic lighting

Photo by Big Mark & Co

So what did I learn in the process of putting together a show filled with over an hour of circus acts and at least 15 different acrobats at one point. Well number one: that organizing a public event in the post-Covid age sucks. The show was postponed three times due to Covid alert-level changes and a lockdown.

To create the show I needed a few things:

  • A date
  • Location
  • Theme
  • Performers
  • And a budget

The date and location were already set by the Circus Hub, and the budget was non-existent so that only left me with 2 more challenges. First the theme. This was surprisingly easy. After joking around with some friends we were talking about doing a Disney themed group act except where the guys were the princesses and it was up to the girls to save us. Spoiler alert: this act never made it into the show. We loved the idea but I wanted to open it up a bit more and make it slightly more vague so it turned into “Fairy tales.” My idea was to have an “Author” on stage who was dictating the show as it was happening - where the acts were the stories that she was writing about.

Finally, I needed to round up a group of kick-ass performers. That wouldn’t be hard at a literal school for circus. What is hard though is keeping track of everyone and their progress especially when the constantly changing dates due to that pesky pandemic meant some performers couldn't make the date any more but also freed up others to join in. By the time the show eventually went ahead, we had 9 acts, 2 stagehands, an emcee and me.

A group of circus performers standing and sitting together, smiling at the camera

That's me, second from the right with my crew. Photo by Big Mark & Co

At this point you may be wondering why you’re reading a blog post about some random circus show on a website usually filled with tech articles. Well number one I was asked to and who am I to question the higher ups, but more importantly, and probably more relevant: I learnt a lot from directing a show that directly impacts the way I work now.

I learnt that keeping everything in my head was a bad idea. Granted this is something I probably should have learnt during my university years but somehow I managed to get through it anyway. But with a constantly changing cast and various show ideas being thrown around I had to quickly learn to keep note of everything. In the same vein I also learnt to plan everything out and have lots of little milestones along the way. I ended up using a checklist with due dates ranging from 2 months before the show all the way down to the night before. This included items such as when the lights needed to be booked by and when the Facebook event page needed to be created. I learned there's a lot of paperwork behind a show.

I think the most important thing I learned was how important communication is. It was invaluable to be able to communicate with my cast, to let them know when rehearsals were and to figure out what their tech requirements are. It was important to stay calm and collected during the dress rehearsal and the show. It’s stressful performing, especially if it’s your first time so I had to make sure everyone was comfortable and ready.

Directing is a fun and rewarding job and I learnt so much from doing so. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do so and it’s definitely something I’d like to do more of in the future.

A circus poster for RAW: A Fairy Tale, Saturday 2 July at 7pm at the CIrcus Hub in Newtown, entry by donation