WATCH: News Letter reporter Neve Wilkinson tries out stunts at Tumble Circus

NEVE WILKINSON visits Tumble Circus and tries out some tricks under the tutelage of Tina Segner and Ken Fanning

Monday, 22nd November 2021, 10:39 am

As Tumble Circus sets up for their annual Winter Circus in Belfast’s Writers Square, I spoke to performer Tina Segner, who recalls a particular outdoor stunt in the lashing rain that made her say ‘I will never try that again’.

I visited the award-winning circus founded by Tina alongside Ken Fanning and got to take a sneak peak at what is to be expected from the all human, all skill and thrill event, and after trying out some of the circus acts myself, I asked Tina what was the most dangerous thing she’d done.

She said: “Me and Ken have a free standing trapeze rig that goes up to six meters and we can put it up anywhere. Our double trapeze act was the last thing in the show, and it had started raining.

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PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/11/2021: Belfast News Letter reporter Neve Wilkinson takes to the air on the trapeze as she trains for her Day at the Circus. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

“We had hundreds of people there and it had been such a fun show, we didn’t want to stop just because of the rain, but it was pouring it down.

“And on that rig, we don’t have a crash mat under us, or any safety. We were just relying on our own skills, training and expertise, but the rain on your body makes it really slippy.

“It was fine, we did it, but I remember coming down thinking I will never try that again.”

Since 2016, Tumble Circus have blessed Belfast with their Winter Circus in a fully heated big-top tent.

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/11/2021: Belfast Newsletter reporter Neve Wilkinson gets into the swing of the hula hoops as she trains for her Day at the Circus in the Vault Artist Studios in East Belfast. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Presenting packed seasons of family shows for all ages, Winter Circus has become an important feature in Belfast’s festive calendar and the team are looking forward to welcoming audiences in real life once more.

Tina spoke about how she has luckily never witnessed a bad accident, but she does get hurt: “I have been hurt because I think that is just the nature of performing. You never go into anything thinking that you are going to get hurt, because we take safety precautions.

“We never put ourselves at an obvious risk, we do things we are trained in and I know it may look risky to other people, but it’s not for us.”

She continued: “But yes, you do get hurt sometimes. You do have falls and you do whack yourself. Touch wood nothing really bad has happened, yet.”

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/11/2021: Belfast Newsletter reporter Neve Wilkinson with Tina Segner and Ken Fanning. PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Tumble Circus was founded in 1995 by Ken and Tina after a chance meeting in Dublin. The team of 7 now tour extensively throughout Northern Ireland, Europe and worldwide.

Tumble Circus combines circus skills with comedy, theatre and social commentary to make people laugh, react, and act.

Speaking on how she got started as a circus performer, Tina said: “Ah, I got started by mistake, by not knowing what else I wanted to do. I remember my parents and teachers telling me I could do whatever I wanted, and I just thought nothing was exciting and I didn’t want to do any of it.

“Then I happened to come across some street theatre people who were doing circus. And I saw them and thought - that’s what I want to do. I joined them, and I haven’t looked back since.

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/11/2021: Belfast Newsletter reporter Neve Wilkinson looks a bit nervous during the axe juggling as she trains with Tina Segner and Ken Fanning for her Day at the Circus in the Vault Artist Studios in East Belfast . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

“So I joined them in Dublin for a year, then I went to circus school in England for a year, then I did a course in Belfast for a year.”

During the pandemic, the team experimented with circus on film and in 2020, they went virtual with Winter Circus: The Movie.

They also brought small scale socially distanced shows to people living in isolation and made other virtual projects such as Lost in Circus diaries and The MacCarnysons.

They also conceived the newest show, Cycle Circus, a sustainable adventure responsive to Covid-19 regulations. This summer Cycle Circus entertained 7,000 people throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

With the pandemic being tough on all industries, I asked Tina if she’s ever had to have a second job. She said: “I think because I’m so stubborn, I’ve never had another job. I am also aware, as a circus performer, that the job is not for everyone because it can be quite hard.

“My son said he only does circus because he likes to earn money, but I don’t think that’s the real world.

PACEMAKER, BELFAST, 11/11/2021: Belfast Newsletter reporter Neve Wilkinson with Tina Segner and Ken Fanning in the Vault Artist Studios in East Belfast . PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

“I think you need to be quite versatile. If you are just a trapeze artist then it’s hard to make a living, but because I do hula hoop and juggling and trapeze and aerial.

“I think you have to be open.

“You have to have lots of different skills.”

From reporter to circus performer ... in a day

Both senior artists and co-founders of Tumble Circus, Ken Fanning and Tina Segner, taught me everything from acrobats to hula hoop routines to juggling.

I started off by juggling one ball, which is in fact easy but by the time they added two more, I had balls flying all over the rehearsal hall.

Eventually, I got the hang of juggling in pairs with Tina by my side, but I don’t think I’ll be a solo act anytime soon. I was told that it is important to practice every day, for just a few minutes.

Next, we tested my hula hoop skills which weren’t bad. We made a little dance routine involving hula hooping, passing it under my legs and spinning it high above my head. This was great fun, with a modern soundtrack in the background.

Circus performers have so much body strength. I tried out the trapeze with both Ken and Tina standing close by to help give me a boost up.

As I ended up 3.5 metres in the air, sitting on a thin wooden seat, holding on to some rope, I felt amazed at what these performers could do.

Ken and Tina took time to show me a double trapeze act too, which I was not ready to try out. ‘They put so much trust into each other’, I thought as Tina’s whole body was hanging with just her feet between Ken’s legs.

And last but not least, was the diabolo. I enjoyed this most because it was so easy to pick up and I managed to learn four tricks, including a ‘crowd-pleaser’. Although, when you do go wrong, all the string gets twisted up which is less than ideal, and definitely happened to me a few times.

Winter Circus back in Writers Square for over two weeks

Belfast’s award-winning circus company Tumble Circus are delighted to return ‘louder and prouder’ with Winter Circus, following an extremely difficult 18 months with the Covid pandemic.

The one-hour Winter Circus shows will run between December 17 and January 3 and will take place at Writers Square in Belfast – look out for the fully heated Tumble Circus big top tent.

The show will be an all human, all skill and all thrill event. Expect acrobats, aerialists and jugglers, as well as a modern soundtrack, international circus artists and comedy characters that both young and old can enjoy, expect big laughs and mighty craic to be had.

Gilly Campbell, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: “Tumble Circus never fail to delight and enchant all who experience their amazing, world-class circus skills. It’s simply thrilling to see them return this December, back to doing what they do best, and presenting the captivating Winter Circus right in the heart of Belfast’s city centre.”

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