circus life

Magic Circus of Samoa, Apia, October 2006


Zoe founded CirqueScape after retiring from international performing. Her touring career spanned more than a decade and saw her ice skating, juggling, and aerial dancing across six continents. Her guest blog posts will give an insight into her experiences over the years. You can check out her performance background at

If you want to catch up on the previous instalment, we’re picking up from here. Alternatively, you can start at the beginning of the story here.


Circus life on tour

I was caught off guard by how much life changed when we moved down to the town. I’d grown rather accustomed to my little stone hut up in the mountains, and I hadn’t really thought to ask where we’d be sleeping once we left the circus base. If you want it to sound fancy then I suppose you could say it was a form of modular living. Or you could call a spade a spade and we were living in shipping containers. The very same shipping containers that the circus would be packed into when it was time to move on. We’d move out and the tents and props would be moved in.

There were six containers, all liveried in identical circus logo and colours. Externally, all that distinguished them from each other was their allocated number, painted and circled in yellow on the side of each container. But each had its own personality inside. One was an office and sleeping space for the boss, while another was divided into two equal sized rooms. There was one that was divided into two rooms, one larger than the other and both with built-in beds.


Circus life

My circus roommates… a Colombian, a Venezuelan and two Argentinians!


Congratulations on your new home!

Container number 5 was my (very) humble abode. It housed three rooms constructed from plyboard, and was also home to the majority of the South American contingent in the circus. No longer was my morning wake-up call the noise of birds dancing and squabbling on the tin roof of my hut. Salsa and samba beats from the stereos of my neighbours was my new alarm.

It might have been unconventional, and sounds unpleasant to many (so I’ve been told). But circus life was a real lesson for my 22 year old self in how much space and how much “stuff” we really need. To begin with, my room had just a piece of vinyl floor covering and a mattress in the corner for decoration. So I set about making it a home.

Now we were down in Apia I could walk into town whenever I wanted, rather than having to wait for a ride down the mountainside in the back of one of the circus SUVs. This gave me a whole new sense of independence, and I always felt safe walking around alone.

I went to the local market and bought a hanging shoe organiser as a replacement for drawers. I swiped spare lengths of rope from backstage and strung them up as a makeshift wardrobe. And I cut the top off a two litre bottle of pop and used it as an emergency toilet if I needed a wee. Because sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. And it’s not worth getting drenched in a tropical storm for the sake of having a whizz in a portaloo. Even if it does mean peeing in your bedroom. Insert quip about the glamour of the entertainment industry right about here.


It’s the simple things…

The subject of bathrooms brings me around nicely to the other surprise that awaited on our shift down to town. On our first day pitched in Apia, I gathered up my washing essentials and trotted off to find the shower. I knew it existed because I had heard colleagues talking about. Still unaccustomed to the rather sprawling site, I did a few laps to see if I could locate anything that looked remotely like a bathroom.

It must have been the third time I was passing the kitchen tent that the boss called out to me from his breakfast. He asked if I was lost, with a sizeable twinkle in his eye. I showed him my towel and shampoo and nodded, and he pointed me towards a yellow tent. It was roughly the size of a shipping container, and was right behind me.


Circus life = not your standard bathroom

I was dubious but he looked at me encouragingly, so I scouted along the edge of the tent to find the entrance and poked my head inside. It was completely empty other than a blue 50 gallon plastic barrel in the far corner, so I approached the barrel to get on with a bucket wash. A far cry from the plumbed-in showers up in the mountains, but it would do the job.

Alas, the barrel was empty. I stayed in that tent for a pretty long time, searching around for a water supply and wondering what I was missing. In the end I sheepishly stepped back out of the tent to be greeted by the boss chuckling through that deep belly laugh… “ah, Zoe, we’ll turn you into an island circus girl yet!”.

It turned out that if you wanted to shower in the circus you first had to go and retrieve the hose. It could be in any number of places, from backstage, to the big top, or wherever it was being used for cleaning dishes or seats or clothes. So off I went in search of a water supply, clad in nothing but a sarong and with my shampoo tucked under my arm.


Give me solutions, not problems!

Needless to say those first few weeks in town were another huge learning curve for me. One which anyone who has backpacked or camped will probably be familiar with, to a greater or lesser extent. Circus life, I came to learn, was largely about finding practical solutions to everyday problems. One day at a time.

Unless they were part of the show those solutions didn’t have to be beautiful, they just had to work. Sometimes the solutions were beautiful in their simplicity. Although all meals were cooked for us by the resident chef (who doubled as the accountant), we all washed our own dishes after meals. This often meant a queue of people waiting for the hose just after lunch or dinner. So a rack of taps was set up outside the kitchen tent. There were three of them side by side, all tied to a single wooden plank (which in turn was tied to a metal pole or the nearest tree) and linked up to a single attachment point. Of course, the taps only supplied water if you attached the ever elusive hose to the setup…


No place like home

I developed a deep appreciation of the efforts that were made to make the circus feel like home. But that rarely came in the form of anything that I might have recognised as “homely” from life in the UK. We were encouraged to socialise all together in the kitchen tent in the evenings. We’d chat and sing, play computer games, watch movies.

One night a few of us were sat in our usual spot, unwinding after one of our last rehearsals before opening night. Someone mentioned that they hadn’t had pizza in weeks and they missed it. Less than an hour later a stack of pizzas were delivered to the circus. The boss had heard us chatting as he walked past and decided to treat us. I felt like a kid who’d been allowed to ride the ridiculously overpriced coin operated helicopter outside the supermarket. It sounds silly, but when you’re so far from everything you know it really is the little things that count.


Gearing up for opening night

Our mountain regime of a full run-through of the show every night at 7pm continued down in the town, right up until we reached opening night. It was quite an experience watching the weeks of hard work come together; it was the first time I had been involved in a professional production and I didn’t know what to expect. But our first night with an audience certainly did not disappoint…


The photos you see in this post are Zoe’s personal photos and show what her circus life was like!

Have you experienced circus life? If you haven’t then what do you think it’s like? Comment below to tell us!

Want to hear what opening night was like? You’ll have to read Zoe’s next guest blog post… coming soon!

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  1. […] you want to catch up on the previous instalment, we’re picking up from here. Alternatively, you can start at the beginning of the […]

  2. […] to know what it was like moving down to the town? Read Zoe’s next guest blog post to find […]

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