This summer, running away with the circus took me back to my childhood home.
I’ve dreamed of running away with the circus since the very first time a circus came to my little village in the South of France. I remember talking to one of the performers with sparkly eyes after the show and asking her a hundred and one questions about what it is like to be part of the circus.
Living just an hour from there, my parents took me to Avignon Festival every year from a very young age, and it always amazed me how this quaint little city, just for one month a year, turn into this buzzing hive of creativity. All these incredible posters taking over everything in the city centre, the parades, the overwhelming number of choices in shows for all ages and tastes… It certainly played an important role in my decision to join youth circus at the age of 13, taking circus classes wherever I moved to since and being back in Avignon, 10 years later, with the same sparkly eyes and excitement, this time volunteering with Circus Village.
When I received the callout email, I decided pretty quickly that this was too good an opportunity to miss. I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I have spent quite a lot of time around circus people and in circus classes, but I’d never really been involved in something like this. I knew it was going to be a lot of fun, but I was a little apprehensive about living in a field in a tent for several weeks in the heat of the South of France I know only too well. I didn’t really know what I would be asked to do on a day to day basis and how it was going to be organised, but it’s not really an adventure if you know everything that’s going to happen in advance, is it?
And the adventure began only a few hours after setting foot in Avignon. That night at midnight the advertisement ban on the city was going to be lifted, so at 11:30 pm, a small Circus Village team set off for a late-night promo mission in town. At 11:45 we were all gathered on the main square and after a quick brief, 7 little groups set off to cover their designated area with our posters and ensure we got to the best spots before anyone else did. That night I got back to my tent exhausted but happy and very hopeful about what the next couple of weeks had in store.
After the first few days of getting used to the site, helping with the last bits of set up, starting to get to know the other volunteers, the coordinators, the performers, the day of our big opening arrived. From then on, everything started falling into place nicely. Our rotas were written especially every day, always making sure to consider our preferences and requests and ensuring that everyone was happy with their tasks and generally making the most of the experience.
Being fluent in French and English, I worked in the box office most days, generally for about 4-5 hours in the evening, but I also got to take part in site duties, promo, kitchen and bar work. I was apprehensive at first about working in the box office by fear of making mistakes, particularly as this was the very first impression the audience would get of Circus Village when arriving on site. I was, however, very quick to realise that there was really nothing to be worried about, as within a couple of days we had an excellent team working with the box office manager Rebecca and my colleague Meghane, who were both extremely supportive and super fun to work with.
During my free time and the quieter moments of my shifts, I enjoyed taking time to chat with the members of the audience to get their impressions and feedback on the site and the shows. What particularly struck me is the number of people coming to Circus Village because they remembered the amazing experience they had had 4 or even 8 years ago, seeing NoFit State’s shows Bianco and Tabu. There is something incredibly uplifting about being part of a company that people are making the effort to come back to because of the fond memories they have from years and years ago.
The idea of Circus Village emerged from the desire to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the invention of modern circus by Philip Astley in Newcastle-upon-Lyme. The five circus companies Tumble Circus, Nikki & JD, Ockham’s Razor, NoFit State and Pirates of the Carabina coming together in Avignon for one month from all over in the UK was an excellent way of honouring this event. Each company has its distinct style, and each show has its own way of fascinating and captivating its audience. It was very inspiring to chat to the different performers, but also to hear from the different audiences before and after the shows.
On top of that, as volunteers we were lucky to be able to take part in some workshops with incredibly talented people, who, despite the crazy heat, took time to share their knowledge and skills with us. I took part in my first ever counter-weighting workshop with Barnz, Shaena and Jade from Pirates of the Carabina and some of my best days started with learning some more aerial rope and doubles trapeze skills on their outdoor rig with Tina from Tumble Circus.
Now I am back home in Cardiff and still buzzing from the experience, I can say I could not have anticipated meeting so many inspiring, friendly and supportive people. It seems obvious in hindsight, but when you spend so much time working and living in such close quarters with a bunch of people, friendships form much quicker than in what most people would call the normal day to day life and it doesn’t take long before you feel at ease enough to completely be yourself around them.
This does, however, mean that the hardest part for me was to know when to step back and take some time for myself. There is a constant buzz, there are always people around to chat, laugh and have a beer with, but sometimes it is also important to look after oneself and have an early night.
My last day and evening in Avignon probably sum up my time at Circus Village the best. I felt very ill that day, together with the frustration of not being able to do my last day justice and not being able to fully enjoy the company of the people around me. During the entire time I was feeling this way, every single person crossing my path was extremely supportive and had new ideas of how to take my mind of the bad time I was having - my favourite still being the little birthday queen Mole dancing the “feel better dance” around me and eating a slice of her birthday cake with cream and berries for me because my stomach could not take it. I may have felt awful that day, but at the same time, there was no better place to be because I was surrounded by a great family of wonderful people.
Therefore, even if it is challenging and can be difficult at times, I would recommend to anyone who may be tempted by an opportunity like this one to give it a try. Being out of your comfort zone and the normal everyday life or even escaping an office job for just a couple of weeks is extremely valuable experience and will inevitably teach you a lot about yourself.
To sum up, what I have learned from this adventure, I’ll share the words that Dave the bar manager told me when I came to say goodbye: “Whatever you do in life, don’t forget to have fun!”