Big top tips for budding performers

Greentop Circus: Lia Baron
Greentop Circus: Lia Baron
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Office workers, a call centre operative, a waiter, a social worker, a sailor and a chainsaw sculptor (and several travellers, actors and performers) to took to the air in Grimesthorpe in the culmination of their collective aim to become trapeze artists, clowns, acrobats and professional jugglers.

“This year we’ve had a really nice blend of people aged from 16 to forty-plus, from beginners to existing performers,” said Carl Shipston, of Greentop Circus.

“And there are quite a few who’ve had successful careers in other jobs who’ve decided they don’t want to do that anymore, so they’ve run away to join the circus.”

Just about every year since 1995 Sheffield’s circus school in the old St Thomas church on Holywell Road has taught a dozen or more people how to be circus performers.

Their three month course culminates in a public show, like last weekend’s ‘Tales of Love and Hate’ directed by Circus North Creative Director Gerry Flanagan, performed by students from all over the UK as well as Sweden and Germany.

The circus school and performance space started after Anneka Rice and her TV crews burst in for a week to turn the derelict church into a circus business for Sheffield and the north, and Greentop has never looked back.

“We’re a nationwide company now, we work everywhere from London to Scotland,” said Carl, Greentop’s sales co-ordinator.

The company is now making contacts in the Gulf states and China, and has plans to be international.

Apart from the professional Circus in Performance course, Greentop runs classes for businesses and schools, and has a series of circus skills classes for young people. It also acts as a booking agency for circus performers so Carl regularly sees the results of Greentop’s work on national TV.

“We often see people we know performing in the background for TV talent shows, and I counted at least four people who trained with us performing at the Olympic opening ceremony last year.”

Keeping going in the face of arts cutbacks is hard, said Carl, but the aim for Greentop over the last few years has been to become as self sufficient as possible. The business community is a perhaps surprising source of income, booking contortionists for dinners or corporate events, for example, or setting up workshops and classes for stressed staff.

“We’ve worked with supermarket chains, IT businesses, schools and charities.

“There are huge financial problems at the moment, but we’re getting jobs now related to team building and staff morale. People might say doing a circus session is about covering over the cracks for a while, but if your organisation is having fun doing exciting things it does raise morale and increase productivity.

“I think one way for companies is to cut everything, but more forward thinking companies say we need to we need to put something into the company and inject a bit of fun and morale into the team.”

For example, a bespoke course in equilibristics or manipulation (balancing and juggling, that is.)

“It’s just pure fun,” said Carl. “It’s about letting go and screaming and shouting and being silly. There’s nothing better than finding your inner child again and going with it.”

Greentop runs regular cabarets at the Grimesthorpe centre, and now runs three weekly classes for young people, in Grimesthorpe and also at Meersbrook United Reformed Church.

Carl is keen to attract local sponsors for the circus youth work projects, which help all kinds of children including those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It’s great to see how young people change when they’ve been coming here. It brings people out of their shells. And it’s good exercise too. Not all kids want to be involved in sports and this is a nice way to get kids to exercise in unique and different ways.

“I remember one young lad who was just a shy little boy in the corner when he started. We had a show coming up and at first he didn’t want to do it. But he did, and in the end there he was, walking round on stilts in a parade. It was amazing to see.”

l; tel 2448828.