I fight a constant battle, in my house, prising the children away from their preferred screen based entertainment and making some attempt to let them really experience life first hand. Quite often this is a messy business, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes exhausting but I hold firmly to the belief that life lived in a second hand way – as a passive observer planted immobile before a screen, is a poor approximation of the “real thing” and does very little to develop the kind of resilience and tenacity that a life lived fully demands.
The difficulty, I suppose is that screen based entertainment is so hyper-palatable. Easily accessible and often created and designed to hold attention, with just the right amount of “reward” to keep the malleable young mind hooked.
Without any scientific proof, I’ve cooked up my own theory that exposing children to a wide range of situations in early youth, will help them grow towards adulthood prewired to engage with new and different experiences, brave enough to get out and give things a try and with a healthy toolbox of coping strategies and a certain taste for the joys of achievement.
It’s difficult to find real role models in our sedentary and unadventurous culture and I despair at the hours spent glued to the pointlessly frustrating antics of the “You Tubers” diet of inane drivel. Even the wealth of “action” documentaries seem to be so far removed from reality in a physical sense that it’s difficult to find them incredible or inspiring.
With this in mind, I set forth with my 11 year old son to try some unique entertainment, in the form of Gifford’s Circus – a travelling multicultural troupe of artistes in the broadest sense, who tour the leafy lanes of the South West of England during the summer.
“I held the jewel of my childhood up to my eye, and through it I saw ponies and a dressing-up box and a tent, and that was Giffords Circus.”
A rowdy, intense, band of extraordinary performers come together in this show to produce and experience so exuberant and charged that it comes close to woven magic.
In the tiny big top, seating just a few hundred people, the audience are clustered round a traditional sawdust ring, close enough to touch the performers, to smell the horses and to catch the expression – somewhere between intense concentration, grit and fear, on the faces of the Ethiopean Acrobats as they scale up and down vertical poles, without safety nets or harnesses, two brother waiting tense below.
This was a performance like nothing else – from the traditional slapstick of Tweedy the clown, through a performing chicken, an astonishing duo of female high wire performers, Spanish horses taut bundles of controlled energy, jumping through hoops of fire and floating elegantly over the arena. Every moment sparkled, dancing along to the strains of live music, from the Painted Wagon’s in house saloon band.
The ultimate antidote to mass market entertainment, Gifford’s Circus exudes raw life and incredible talent sourced from around the world – it’s also a unique nomadic community of individuals who live, breath and love their art, engrossed in the serious business of making magic. See it if you can – but if not, I hope their story might inspire in you, the desire to go out a source just a little raw adventure of your own.
Giffords Circus Painted Wagon Tour continues until 15th September 2017
All images courtesy of Giffords Circus/ Gem Hall