Category Archives: Circus

Slowly Arriving

It’s been eight months now since I came back to Zurich. A place which has been my home two times before already. All in all, this is my 19th year here. It is more home than any other place on Earth, and yet I struggle to relax into it.

Over the last thirty years, I’ve grown and learned in so many places around the world. Besides Switzerland, I’ve lived and worked in the US, Germany, Maldives, Belgium, Macau, Hong Kong, Canada, Malta, France, and the Caribbean. 

Of all those places, I guess I miss Macau the most. Its climate, its culture, its people, and its food. And, with it, also my intensive life there working for large-scale circus and stunt shows.

In the spring of 2020, my greatest dream almost came true. After 11 years of working backstage and a good 5 years of applying for every stage management job Cirque du Soleil advertised, I was finally interviewed by them. For Nysa, their coming resident show in Berlin. 

I got through the first interview ok, was shortlisted and invited for a second interview.

Then, just 3 days before this second interview and just before a very real chance to finally work for the company I had dreamed about ever since I was 21 years old and experienced them for the first time (in 1992), all Cirque du Soleil shows around the world were shut down due to Covid19. All interviews were cancelled as well.

Now, Cirque du Soleil shows are slowly reopening. But Nysa has been cancelled. And, I remain an outsider, not part of any clique or network. My chances of realizing this lifelong dream again looking slim at best.

Starting a new life here in Zurich, I’ve begun working as something akin to executive assistant for a management consulting company. I work for nine people at the same time. And, astonishingly enough, the job content is eerily similar to the admin part of working as a stage manager for large-scale shows.

There is also the same sense of urgency, the same unpredictability, constant changes, thinking on your feet, everything coming in late but needing to be done yesterday. And this sense of never quite knowing what the day or week will bring.

The one big difference is that now there is no instant gratification. As a stage manager, I am backstage in the evenings, after a day of admin, and see firsthand what I am working for. I feel the audience, the performers, the entire atmosphere backstage and onstage and I know I am making a difference. I know what I am working for.

Now, everything is abstract. I have an endless list of tasks, but do not hear if anything I have done actually helped towards the success of the project. I do not even hear if the project was successful in the end at all.

That being said, my job is never boring. The company climate is great. And the team is as good as it’s ever going to get, compared to everything else in my 32 years of work experience. So, I am in a good space.

At the end of the day, I guess I am simply homesick. Missing my home in Macau, in Coloane village, a small fishing village where at this time of year, I’d see millions of dragon flies soaring through the evening skies. And I’d sit on my rooftop after a long hard day, gazing at the stars, and having impromptu conversations with friends.

I am homesick for tropical climates, the cold beer in the evening which never tastes better anywhere else, and the local street food sold by my neighbors.

I am easing back into the structured perfection of Central European life. All the while realizing that a huge part of my heart will forever long for those places, experiences, and people I had to leave behind on the other side of the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy where I am. Happy in the moment. Content gardening on my terrace, feeling the loving presence of the street cat I rescued 10 months ago. My memories of all that was before sustaining me. 

But there also is a yearning. Missing something that might be forever a thing of the past.

I wonder if this is part of the human condition. Part of the condition of travelers. Or just part of my condition. To become so much a child of the world that the ache for faraway places becomes permanent. 

In my case, it is a double ache. For life backstage, helping to create magic onstage. And for a life in exotic places where material safety and structure are not a given. Where typhoons muscle their way through the city, expats tell each other wild stories, and nothing is ever quite easy, comfortable, and secure.

These aches might be a permanent fixture in my life. But I am so grateful for them. I wouldn’t want to miss a second of all the experiences I was lucky to have thus far, all over the world. Even if it means that somewhere, in the deepest recesses of my heart from hereon out I will always be homeless, or at home everywhere at once. Whichever way you want to look at it.

(The elephant seen in a local forest around Zurich. A little taste of places yet to be discovered for young adventurers travelling in their minds on the back of stone elephants to far away destinations.)

A Good Day

It was a good day. I slept well in my little rooftop sanctuary, got up early, downed two coffees, and went to school. I am in a class with four other people. We are from all over the world: Tibet, England, Colombia, Switzerland, and me from Germany. My French definitely is the worst 😂 Lots of work ahead.

Now doing homework on the couch while sipping from a glass of French vin rouge. Tonight’s sunset over the rooftops isn’t all that bad either ☺️

From Smoking Feet To Smoking Brain

Sooo… I will stay in Montpellier for one month. And this morning is my first day of school… uuuaaahhhh… but let me start from the beginning…

I’ve made the spontaneous decision to replace smoking feet with a smoking brain. I am taking a 4-week intensive French course at the Alliance Francaise to finally be able to speak the language better. And, to hopefully also better my chances in the future when I apply to circus companies and shows that prefer that you speak French as well.

Et voila, school starts in one hour and I am a bit nervous because the class I’m joining has already done 50 lessons, and my French is, quite frankly, tres horrible! (Sorry, no accents on this little iPad).

I’ve also quite spontaneously rented a little rooftop apartment for a month. It’s in the center of town, old, cozy, super quiet with a view over the rooftops. I can’t even describe my absolute delight when I settled into my little temporary sanctuary last night. Ever since last October, when I lost my home, I haven’t had a space of my own. I couldn’t retreat anywhere where I can just be me. All those things we ususally take for granted… eating breakfast when and for as long as I want, listening to the music I like without earphones, binge-watching a series for as long as I want without earphones, stretching on my couch, hopping around naked (singing and screaming if I like), leaving things lying around, opening the window when I want, and shopping for my own little fridge, choosing my favorite foods, trying new ones, and just feeling home.

Last night, I did all that (except the binge-watching). And it was pure happiness. Being able to unpack my bag and hang my two t-shirts into the bedroom. Being able to cook (!!!) and enjoy a meal of my favorite spaghetti and a good glass of wine in my (almost own) home.

So yeah, I’ll enjoy this little haven for the next 4 weeks. I’ll also spend time at the beach which is only a stone’s throw away. I’ll find a favorite cafe to sit and write in, and I’ll work hard on Le Francais.

Check out my place as well. The house is awesome on the outside. If you look closer, you’ll see that the entire front isn’t real. It’s a street art mural. It looks even better in real life. The apartment is simple but has everything I could possibly need.

As for hiking, the Wonderweg is still on! It will just see me blabbering more confidently in French after the course is finished on September 26. The idea is still to head further West through France, Spain, to the Street of Gibraltar and then onwards to Portugal. I still have about 2’500 km ahead of me.

For this next month, I’ll most likely post a little less since my brain will be fried. But, I’ll still keep you posted about my adventures wandering and wondering around Montpellier. Probably every second day.

Bonne journee! Et un gros bisou a tous x

Keeping The Ghost Light On

Before Covid19 hit, I worked as a stage manager, mostly for circus shows. It is one of my greatest passions and something I worked hard towards for many years. Now, as I hike and travel through Southern Europe, no matter how beautiful it gets, sometimes it’s hard for me to stay in the moment. I can’t help it. Even as I am passing breathtaking vistas, I catch myself hoping that, someday soon, I’ll be able to work backstage again.

I miss the daily challenges and joys of being a stage manager. I miss life backstage, the vividness of a show family, the collaboration, the continual growth, training, learning, and stretching of limits and boundaries. And then, to see what we have created come to life. There is nothing quite like that concentration of energy and dedication at top of show just before all our hard work materializes as magic onstage…

At the moment, like so many of my peers, I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to work. Until then, I will continue to travel. Througout my hike, I am stopping wherever I stumble upon a theater. I am working on a photo series of old village theaters, just like this one. Whenever I get the chance to speak to someone on the way, I interview them and through this endeavor have already discovered wonderful people and places. But I also draw on past experiences, or interview people around the world for my articles in TheatreArtLife. It is my little contribution of keeping the ghost light on until we are back. Celebrating and keeping the performance arts, the arts in general, alive.

You can find my articles here:

https://www.theatreartlife.com/contributor/liam-klenk/

Then there is #Step4Circus, an intiative, still in its infancy, which will hopefully grow over the next months. The idea there is to build up a long-term international foundation to help create projects and shows within the circus community. Anyone will be able to help us achieve this by organizing small (or big) events to raise funds for our initiative. So that eventually we’ll be able to utilize these funds to make a difference and create new opportunities around the world.

Until Monday, I am in the beautiful village of Montaren, soon heading to the Camargue, and then after to Montpellier. I might stay a while in Montpellier if I can find a good intensive French course to do what I have put on hold for years: refresh my French and finally get a chance to get closer to being fluid in it.

The Wonderweg (“Weg” is German for “path” or “way”) truly is full of wonder. Often also doubts, worries, exhaustion, and breathlessness in the face of, at times, almost overwhelming uncertainty. But, I am hopeful, bursting with creative energy. I do the best I can to make the most of the present, learning more to stay in the moment every day. At the same time, I feel ever more ready to tackle all that will come my way.

More Sure Than Ever

Whilst on the trail and enjoying each moment as best I can, I still think a lot about what will be. What will the future bring? Will I ever find a job as a stage manager again? So far, I have mostly big show and circus experience. Will circus be reborn? I miss my work backstage. It’s always been so much more than just a job.

As my thoughts run away with me, I tell myself to relax and not dwell on what will be, because we simply don’t know, do we? Best to enjoy the moment and make the most of it, be proactive, use my enforced downtime wisely, and let it lead me to where it leads.

On the trail, I meet so many who inspire me. Like Chriggel the other day, a 14-year old farmer’s boy who goes on hikes even though he has lost his left leg from the knee down and wears a prostheses. He has an awesome sense of humor and told me, “I want one of those new prostheseses they are developing. Those will be sensitive to touch and you can feel when something touches your toe. You can even feel water. Then my dad won’t accidentally run over my foot anymore.” I just looked at him with a big question mark on my face. “Yeah, he backs up the truck to park it, and if I stand too close it happens. And then, I want to walk away but am pinned down, and I need to tell my dad, hey can you back up a little more. You’ve parked on my foot.” We both laughed and he proceeded to tell me, “In a couple years, I want to hike from here all the way to Rotterdam, and then take the ship back on the river Rhine.” Chriggel was full of life and worked hard on the farm, helping his dad. He didn’t seem like he’d ever let anything stop him.

Or then, yesterday, an old man literally ran past us on the trail when it was at its steepest. A little later we caught up with him and got to talking. Fred had hiked over from Lugano in the Italian part of Switzerland which is a couple hundred kilometers away. He was now on his way hiking back home again. He was 72 years old and told us how he used to hike up Mount Everest with his alphorn. And how next year he wants to do the Little Matterhorn and play alphorn at 4000 meters before it is too late. He said, “I am not as fast as I used to be. I used to be able to hike up 2000 meters in 1 hour, now I need 1 1/2.” (At my current pace, I’ll need 4 hours to do that.) After talking with us for 10 minutes, he finished his quick rest and walked away at amazing speed. A minute later, he had already disappeared over the horizon. Oh, and he does his long hikes with only a shopping bag. When I asked him what’s inside he said, “A spare shirt and a bottle of water. It’s all I need.”

Making the impossible possible, stretching the limits, overcoming boundaries… It’s what we do in circus every day, too. And as we do, we bring magic to the world. At the moment, all shows worldwide are closed due to Covid19, but we’ll be back! After meeting Chriggel and Fred, I am more sure than ever.

For now, I’ll try to make a difference for myself by walking and absorbing the many experiences along the way… and I’ll try to make a difference for our circus community by walking for #step4circus. Check out these links if you want to find out more:

Our first trailer on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Msf7rKELYxg

Our website: https://step4circus.com/

Our campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/f/step4circus

Also, on Facebook, search for Step4Circus and you will find our FB group.

Entertainment With a Splash: a History of Aquatic Shows

Screenshot 2020-04-19 at 12.38.15

Ever wondered when the first aquatic theatres with moving lifts were built? When the first performer fell off a bridge into an artificial lake beneath? Or how it felt to be underwater with wild circus cats, goats, and pigs?

Aquatic circus shows are technological wonders of our time…
or so we think.

In this stunning historical deep dive, find out more about the origins of aquatic theatres. Find out when it all began. Discover when moving lifts, deep aquatic pools, and water effects like jets and fountains began to be implemented in custom-built circus arenas around the world…

Read the full article here.

Under the Big Top with Zirkus Knie: Birth of a Passion

Screenshot 2020-04-14 at 10.56.51

Come run away with me to the circus… in my article on TheatreArtLife, pondering the intricacies of life backstage…

In the words of Geraldine and Franco Knie:
“This is our life. It’s what we grew up with. We don’t know anything else. We learned from an early age that the show takes priority over anything else. You either love it or you don’t. Not everything’s always hunky dory. We’re selling emotions, so we also need to live them and share them.”

Read the full article here.