Don't Panic Exclusive: Gerry Cottle — The Secrets of the Circus


Written by Flo Layer
10 Friday 10th January 2014

Gerry Cottle began life running away with the circus at 15, before ending up running the most famous circuses in the world. We caught up with him after his Creative Common take over in Bristol last month. 

How did you get involved with the circus?

“I saw my first circus when I was eight years old, my mum and dad took me to a big Christmas production in London and from then on, I wanted to be the circus boss.”

You have made a name for yourself in the circus but what’s the secret to becoming a success?

“I think its two things really, just passion and hard work. I never really changed, I always wanted to do it, and so I kept at it and created shows to suit the moving tastes in circus. I have tried to give it all up a few times and ended up going back to it. I think you are made the way you are – I still go and see all the circuses – in the UK and abroad and I still enjoy them."

What makes a great circus act in your mind?

"A great circus act is a polished performer that just wows you. It has to have something different and you need to feel in the audience like they understand exactly what they are doing. They must remember they are there to entertain, it’s not about being self indulgent – the act needs to keep their focus on the audience. They have to be talented."

Can you tell us a bit about how you can train to be part of a circus these days?

"Our kids are very different as they have all moved through the Wookey Hole Circus School. Most of them have been there for the last four, five, six years so they have trained most days of the week and then performed shows each weekend through school holidays. This amount of practice is what sets a performer apart as a professional. If you go to stage school all too often you end up just performing at the end of the term and that isn’t enough – you need practice to make you relate to an audience and that is very important. Like most industries apprenticeships are a great way to really get a career in circus, if you really want to be a circus performer you should join a small circus, start from the bottom and learn from experience."

What have been your highs of a life with the circus, or in fact lows?

"My biggest highs have been when we have taken the circus abroad. When we took the circus to Hong Kong where we were greeted as special and different – that’s a feeling you get in some towns, like you are special and the audiences love you. Edinburgh Festival is always great fun as there are so many performers around and the whole city is so 'showbizzy', but going abroad and being the first British show in a place is a special experience. My lows are the expense – it’s very expensive to run something this big and so that’s always a risk you run, the local authorities also don’t like to make decisions which is very frustrating – people just don’t ring you back like you used to."

What should people expect from a ‘Turbo’ circus performance?

"The Turbo Circus is a very young show, made up of graduates from the Wookey Hole Circus School in Somerset. The show features 30 performers that do all kinds of things right from acrobatics to trick cycling, juggling to trapeze. They tackle literally every circus skill ant a tremendous speed. They are all very young, have lots and lots of energy and are brilliant performers so it makes for a TURBO charged show."

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