IT is a hobby you perhaps wouldn’t associate with a fear of heights – but four years ago such a phobia inspired Helen Goodrum to take up aerial acrobatics and stilt performing.
“I decided I couldn’t go my whole life feeling sick every time I went up a tall building,” she says. “This seemed like a fun way of changing that.”
It only half worked.
Helen, it turned out, was so gifted she is now a professional performer preparing for a seven-month tour of the US with one of America’s premier physical theatre companies.
“I still don’t like tall buildings,” admits the 26-year-old of Westwick Road, Greenhill. “It sounds weird but when I’m doing stunts 60 feet in the air without a safety harness things will only go wrong if I make a mistake and I trust myself not to. But with skyscrapers, I still can’t trust them to stay standing. I still get that sick feeling.”
As tall stories go, it takes some topping.
But now this former Meadowhead School support officer (and, before that, pupil) is to spend the summer cart-wheeling, hand-standing, spinning and splitting her way through 11 cities performing to crowds of up to 5,000 in parks and theatres.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” she says down the phone. “I’m currently in sunny San Francisco about to rehearse, so I’m not exactly missing the snow back in Sheffield.”
It won’t be her first time away. During the last two years she has performed with the company, The Carpetbag Brigade Physical Theatre, everywhere from Hong Kong arenas to Mexico street parties, a Danish Scout jamborees to a Colombian theatre riddled with bullets
“That was unusual,” she notes.
But this will be her biggest challenge. Previous tours were done during holidays while working at Meadowhead. This time she has left her job and taken the plunge (hopefully not literally) to turn the pastime into a profession. She will be the only English person involved in the 20-person tour.
All of which is some way from that first lesson.
That was in Canada in 2009. Helen was living in Vancouver Island after studying dance at Norton College and then London’s Roehampton University. She’d met the director of Carpetbag who told her those dancing skills would make her an ideal physical theatre performer. On that suggestion – and with her desire to overcome her height phobia – she started learning.
“I enjoyed it so much when I got back to Sheffield I carried on at Greentop Circus school in Brightside,” she says. “Then when Carpetbag came to perform in the UK I basically pushed them into agreeing to let me perform.”
That led to this. And from this to the future.
“I have a three-year contract and I’m relishing it,” she says. “But there’s no reason I can’t keep doing this into my 40s. I just love performing.”