“I could never have told you that at 36 years old I would be going to circus school!”

1 December 2017

Tapping into her childhood love of performing, Steph a student at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne tells us about her journey.

What helped you to make the decision to pursue elite training with NICA?

During my teens and 20s I struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. I started using when I was in my early teens and stopped using when I was 29. But, throughout that time I always liked performing and always wanted to be a performer. I have journals of what was going on in my head at the time and interspersed throughout the journal are comments like “I’d really like to be in this play,” and “I’m thinking about calling this drama school.”

When I got clean I decided I didn’t want anything to do with my old life and drama school was part of that, so I cut out anything to do with performance and started working as an aerobics instructor. In hindsight I can see this actually had a massive element of performance in it!

When I hit my mid 30s I realised I was unfulfilled working as an aerobics instructor in the gym, so I started to meditate and consider what I could do aside from being a personal trainer. I went on a meditation retreat and when I was asked what I wanted to be I said “I want to be a clown”. While I was there someone asked me “Why don’t you apply for the circus school?”, but I immediately discounted myself as too old.

When I got back a close friend said, “There’s a school called NICA, you should apply.” I told her I had already looked into it, but that they ask your age and I’m too old. She pointed out that perhaps they were asking age to make sure I was over 18, not to make sure I wasn’t too old. I’d never thought of that, so finally I applied and was accepted into a Certificate IV course last year.

You’re almost two years into your training, what has been the highlight so far?

My highlight has definitely been my clown coach and the friends I have made. The circus people I train with are amazing and accepting.

When I came to NICA, I’d approach people and say, “Hi, my name’s Steph and I’m 34 years old,” because I was so worried about my age. But my peers have taught me it doesn’t matter how old I am. In fact I am inspired by these kids (some of whom I’m twice their age!) and the things they can do.

Circus is a physically demanding art form, how does the training impact on your body?

I am very routine based and sleep at least 9 hours. I make sure I eat enough food and I get a sports massage fortnightly. The sports physios and sports psychologist at NICA are also fantastic and help me take great care of myself.

How do you connect the art of circus to a modern society?

It doesn’t matter if it’s 100 years ago or today – circus, and theatre more broadly, takes current issues and parodies them or they’ll use shock tactics, or current affairs and incorporate that into their work to either change people’s minds or educate them.

What’s next for you?

I want to bring joy by combining my experiences in life and my clowning and trapeze skills.

My driving force is connecting to people, making them laugh and giving them space to feel. I want to show people its ok to feel hard things, and that I have felt these things too.

I love creating and I’d like to write my own one woman show about my life and what I’ve learnt, using the skills my clown teacher here at NICA has given me.

I’d love to tour my one woman show to all the festivals in Australia and around the world.

Ultimately, I’d love to return to Sydney to be a clown doctor, working in hospitals with sick children. 

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