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Jono Ayres: Interview with a Bristol based Aerialist and Circus Practitioner

Jono Ayres Interview with a Bristol based Aerialist and Circus practitioner
By Michelle Sciarrotta

Jono Ayres is an Aerialist, Teacher and Classes Manager at Circomedia Centre for Contemporary Circus and Physical Theatre in Bristol. He runs the 350 student strong Youth Circus, Adult Classes courses and is a specialist aerial teacher on the BTEC, Foundation and BA Degree courses.

How did you first get into the circus world and what attracted you?

I actually got in to all of this completely by accident. In 2009 I had just graduated from the University of Leeds, having first received my BA in Acting, followed by an MA in Writing for Performance. With theatre in mind I decided to go work at a specialist performing arts Summer Camp in the US and was offered a job teaching in the theatre department.

However, I then found out that I had actually been placed in the Circus department. While a little intimidated as I knew nothing about circus I thought it would be a good learning experience, and if I could learn to juggle that might look good on my acting CV.

But after just 3 months out there I was absolutely hooked, and I completely swapped careers. I was really fortunate that the Heads of the Department, Mike and Bronwyn, had taken me under their wing and had encouraged me because it ended up really changing the course of my life.

“I fell in love with the skills, the art form, but even more so with teaching it.”

From then on I spent a few years travelling around the world and training with whomever and wherever I could along the way. I finally ended up in Bristol in 2012 and was only planning to be here a few months but then started to get involved with Circomedia and I ended up staying. Through teaching here I would also eventually meet my future stepdaughter, my partner, and then have my own son (in that order).

What’s been one of your favourite moments or career highlights so far?

I think it would have to be performing Flying Trapeze in the Circus Big Top at Glastonbury Festival. That is something that I never would have thought I’d be doing and is such an incredible experience. It was again because of my involvement with Circomedia that I met Mike Wright, a 72 year old Flying Trapeze guru, who is also a teacher at the Academy. He has worked and performed all around the world, and is a regular in the Circus field and Big Top at Glastonbury. We started working together shortly after I moved to Bristol and as he still flies in all of the shows.

“Whenever I catch him it just electrifies the crowd.”

What’s been your biggest learning curve?

It would be easy for me to say being a Manager of a department has been my biggest learning curve because of budgets and things, as it was a whole new side that I had not had to dive into before. But numbers at least are always the same, there’s a right way to do an equation or a wrong way. So for me the biggest learning curve is one that I’m still on which is ‘how to be a good teacher’.

I don’t think as a teacher you should ever want to say ‘yes that’s it I know everything I need to know now’, because every student is different. Trapeze tricks might be the same, but people’s bodies, their personalities, and the way they learn those things will always be different and no one learns exactly the same way.

“I think it’s important to keep getting as much experience as possible, and to keep growing and learning as a teacher because it will ultimately make you a better one for your students.”

What advice would you give to aspiring circus performers and those who wish to get into the field?

There’s a few things that come to mind. Firstly is to absorb as much information from your tutors as possible. Whether it’s training exercises, trick tips, or how they got into the field. It’s our job as instructors and educators to pass on as much as we can from everything that we’ve spent our lives learning, so that you as a student can do it even better.

The next would be take opportunities that could help you, and learn to recognise them even if they don’t present themselves as useful right away. What I mean by this is that it’s easy to see getting a paid performance gig as an ‘opportunity’, but other things such as volunteering with your local Youth Circus to gain some teaching practice might become invaluable down the line.

“We have multiple students who were volunteering with the Youth Circus who have gone on to successful careers teaching and performing (including within Cirque du Soleil). All of them stated that gaining experience with us was a key factor in getting work later on.”

My final thought would be that like most career paths, luck will play a huge amount in what comes your way, but what you can control is what you put into it. This is especially true when it comes to your training: you will get out what you put in.

COVID-19 has been tough on the entire entertainment industry. How has your experience been and how are you coping?

It’s been interesting to say the least. I remember in the first few days before we went into lockdown I was feeling quite apprehensive and nervous. It was only when I opened up to my partner Lex about how I was feeling that I started to feel better. After that, I got productive and gave myself two main goals. The first was to ensure that my 3 year old son was happy, having fun, and not picking up any residual stressful energy from his parents who both work in the Arts. This in turn kept me grounded, and one thing I’ve taken away from this experience is that I can still create time to work while giving more time to my son when we’re back to normal.

Secondly, I found it really helpful to focus on a way to work around the problem. In this case ‘how can we teach Youth Circus classes online?’ What we came up with was something that we never would have thought to create had it not been for the lockdown. Using our incredible Youth Circus Tutors we created an online library of circus tutorials, games, and activities that we released each week. Throwing myself into working on a solution helped channel my energy and focus, and it even helped things feel normal for a while.

That’s such a positive attitude and outcome to the situation! Can you tell us more about moving online?

My goal when we initially created our online tutorial programme ‘Circomedia Youth Circus Home Edition’ was to find a way to maintain our relationship with our community of students and parents. Obviously back in March everyone was scrambling to try and transfer their work and jobs online, and some brilliant things have been produced because of this. But we were also concerned with the idea of putting our classes online and calling them the same, which obviously they wouldn’t be.

There were also multiple safeguarding concerns that would need to be addressed before we attempted to do live classes and that is something that needs to be done right first time. Additionally we were very aware that some households may not have access to multiple computers for parents to work AND kids to study, not to mention the Wi-Fi strength needed for live group classes, and the fact that children had probably been doing zoom schooling all day.

So we decided to create something more permanent that students could dip in and out of at their own leisure, could rewind and watch again, do with their families, and could also give us more range in what we could offer. So we created ‘Home Edition’ which now serves as a free, online resource for families and students alike. It includes stretches, conditioning exercise, multiple tutorials in varied disciplines and skill levels like Juggling, Acrobatics, Manipulation, and even gives tutorials on how to make your own equipment. We’re very proud of it. It was even featured in The Guardian recently as one of the top things to do with kids at home.

Youth Circus Home Edition: DO try this at home!

Circomedia Youth Circus Home Edition is a series of online circus tutorials and activities from your favourite Circomedia Youth Circus tutors! We created these tutorials during the UK’s 2020 Covid-19 lockdown, to provide families everywhere with fun and interesting activities that are safe and easy to do in your own home.

You’ll find juggling, balancing, acrobatics, strength & skill exercises, arts and crafts and more! Our videos cover lots of different skills and levels, from easy to hard. Everyone from our tiniest acrobat to our most advanced aerialist will have something to do!

We now have a huge library of online tutorials and activities. With over 80 videos released, we’re developing our library into a permanent free resource. Youth Circus Home Edition will continue to develop and will remain free and accessible to all, so that families who can’t access circus classes – due to shielding, financial constraints, or lack of local access – can engage with circus in their own homes.

Find out more:

Youth Circus Home Edition Website

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YouTube Playlist

Jono Ayres
Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

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