charliejuggler (charliejuggler) wrote,

Growing a circus and planting it in pastures new

Back in early 2006 I was the Administrator for Cambridge Community Circus, where I also ran most of the Sunday workshops. We were based in a converted church hall in central Cambridge, the Drama Centre, where we had a small storage cupboard that also held the gas meter and enough room to hang some very low trapeze bars. It was a great venue as it also functioned as a theatre, and we'd run many cabaret and community shows there. However, suddenly we had the news that the building had been sold, as part of some deal involving the expansion of Cambridge's Junction venue - and after a few months it seemed the new owners (Anglia Polytechnic University) weren't so keen on us as tenants, wanting the building to themselves. Our Sunday juggling workshops which ran from 5pm to 8pm and generally attracted 5 to 20 people would need a new home.

There ensued a short panic while we tried to find somewhere else to move to. Luckily an old community centre down the road had just been bought by a local charity, who were hoping eventually to rebuild it into a social enterprise space. We knew the building well and it seemed a perfect, if temporary venue for us. There was a huge storage cupboard, steel beams in the roof that we could rig aerial equipment from and enough room for all kinds of activities. We moved in March 2006 and I set about trying to fill the space, with a serious programme of publicity including juggling on the radio ("you can't see this of course, but now he's spinning a plate!"). The numbers started to rise and Sunday nights became a lot busier, with sometimes 50 or 60 people coming. By this time I was spending more or less every Sunday night running the workshop.

A few years later others took over the workshops from me, gratifyingly some of them having first learnt their skills under my tuition. My own businesses (circus and software) were taking increasing amounts of my time, as well as renovating the house we'd just bought and running a juggling convention. I'm not great at taking a back seat but something had to give and the people taking over also had more considerably youthful enthusiasm than me - oh, and a few years later our kids arrived which ate up any free time I might have had.

Fast forward to today: and CCC (or Camcircus as it's generally known these days) has grown beyond all recognition. Their Facebook group shows 938 members, there are classes and practise sessions all through the week and the Sunday session alone lasts from midday to 8pm. Aerial skills are incredibly popular and the range of classes includes parkour or movement training. The Cambridge Juggling Convention, which I helped run back in the day, has returned to great acclaim, there's a regular show at Strawberry Fair and Camcircus people are now going on to professional circus careers with both their own companies and travelling circuses. There's a growing youth circus which I've even taken our own kids to enjoy. My own involvement is limited to at most an hour's juggling on a Sunday night followed by a drink in the pub.

But as ever, things are changing again: the temporary venue that turned out to be a home for over 8 years has also been sold (local objections torpedoed the charity's plan to rebuild it). Luckily a new venue has been found in north Cambridge which has huge possibilities. The amount of enthusiasm and energy in Cambridge for the circus arts is incredible and I believe we have one of the most active groups in the country. It's all come a long way from the handful of people in a little hall, with their props sharing a cupboard with the gas meter!

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