6th Dec 2019 in Arts
“We perform to all ages, from newborns to 100. Everyone comes out saying they loved it!”
Tina Segner, Tumble Circus co-founder and performer
2019 marks the fourth time that Tumble Circus has brought its magical Big Top to Writer’s Square. Every December since 2016, their Winter Circus show lights up the Cathedral Quarter with festive frolics and seasonal silliness.
So let’s meet one of the super-talented performers – and co-founder of Tumble Circus – Tina Segner.
Tina has been a professional circus performer for over 20 years – and it all started when her teen wanderlust brought her to Ireland from her native Sweden after she finished school.
“My friend and I finished our A-Levels, did a year at university and then realised Sweden was too small for us and we wanted to see the world. I was going to go to Australia, but it was too expensive. So we hitch-hiked, took a wrong turn and ended up in Ireland!” jokes Tina.
She continues, “A lot of our friends went to London but we wanted to be different. We needed to go to an English speaking country – apart from English, I only spoke French and my friend only spoke German. On the ferry over, we realised we weren’t 100% sure they spoke English in Ireland or not – maybe they only spoke Irish!”
Relieved they were able to be understood, Tina ended up staying a little longer than her intended “three months”. She arrived in Dublin and it wasn’t long before she found herself part of the creative scene.
She explains, “Early on, I met people doing circus, doing shows and acrobatics. I really liked it; it was really challenging and fun. I knew how to juggle with balls and clubs – I had learned that a few years previously, and as a child, I was a springboard diver and I was also a horse rider.”
With a background in athletic pursuits and an existing interest in the arts and circus performance, Tina soon fell in love with circus performing and realised she wanted to pursue it seriously.
One of the people she met on the circus scene was Dublin-born Ken Fanning who himself had already had a few adventures, travelling the world as a juggler. They formed a trapeze double act in 1998 and went to circus school in England.
“I realised you have to go to school, you have to have some kind of education if you want to do something professionally. I went to circus school in England, then Ken and I came back to Dublin afterwards – but it was expensive to live there.”
A serendipitous call from the Belfast Circus School saw them arrive in the city to teach trapeze to circus students for “a few months”… which again, became a little more permanent than initially planned!
They moved to Belfast and as well as teaching at the Circus School, Tumble Circus continued to grow and thrive, with Tina and Ken performing around the country and around the world.
They both became parents with their respective partners – Ken has a teenage son called Tobin and Tina is mum to five-year-old Kasper – and before long, the duo realised they wanted to find a way to perform that meant they could put down roots – for some of the year at least.
“Touring is how we make our living,” says Tina, “but we were both trying to do more stuff in and around Belfast and that’s why we started Winter Circus three years ago. We had been touring steadily for 10 years. It’s great but also quite challenging and demanding and we just wanted to be a bit more rooted and home because we both have children.
“We have had a big top since 2008 and we thought we’d use it and put a show on and get people to come and buy tickets. So in 2006 we put together a show with four of us rather than just two.”
It is a show that has continued to draw the crowds to Writer’s Square, year after year. The show is bright, bombastic and brilliant, but it’s not ‘Christmas-themed’ as such.
“We’re not ‘anti-Christmas’ at all,” Tina explains, “we just feel like there’s so much of it in your face already at this time of year that we don’t need to highlight it.”
“We are a circus company so we want to entertain and amaze, but we also want to make people think just a little bit. Last year we had a couple of sociopolitical acts so we just take whatever the trend is that’s happening [as inspiration]. We had a comedy Brexit act last year and it was a lot of fun!”
“We never take sides, we just point out what’s going on. With the election coming up on 12th we have no idea what’s going to happen.
“What people can expect, however, is trapeze, aerial, comedy, really great juggling and manipulation and a lot of fun and a lot of heartstopping moments.”
You can also expect to see Ireland’s youngest circus performer on stage, as Tina’s son Kasper will once again be taking to the stage, following his debut last year at just four-years-old! Ken’s son Tobin, has also been a circus performer for a number of years and will star in the Winter Circus show as well.
Tina says: “That’s what I love about making shows – it’s great to go and see circus shows when there are younger people with those skills, but older people bring a whole new atmosphere to the stage and I love having different generations of people [performing together] – so it’s not just really young or old people, it’s a mix.”
It’s not just a family affair, however – Angelique Ross, Ali Stanger and Henrik Gard make up the ‘core ensemble’ of Tumble Circus, with Paul Taylor joining them for the Winter Circus shows.
“At the moment we have a really amazing ensemble. We have been working together for the past four years on and off.
“When you do a show, you end up creating an atmosphere that you just can’t get from people you’ve just met. Now we have years of experience of being together on stage and I think it shows. When we did the Winter shows last year, people commented on how good the dynamic was. You feel so comfortable and that only comes from working closely together for a few years.”
During the rest of the year, Tumble Circus goes on tour – Tina and Ken usually perform as a duo, but other performers can perform alone or with various other members of the group. Managing work bookings and logistics for their performers is one of the key challenges of running Tumble Circus, says Tina, but it also brings great satisfaction.
You’ll see Tumble Circus performing all over the country – this year they went on a three-week tour in January, performed at the St Patrick’s Day Festival in Dublin and even brought the Big Top to the Eastside Arts Festival in East Belfast.
However, returning to the Cathedral Quarter feels like home for Ken and Tina, and that’s part of the reason the CQ was such a natural location choice for the Winter Circus.
“Writer’s Square fits the Big Top perfectly and it’s a warm space and not being used very much, plus we love the background of the Cathedral. It’s really easy to get to, just two minutes from Royal Avenue and it’s nice to bring people there.
“We love the Cathedral Quarter; that’s where Belfast Circus school is and we train and rehearse there during the day.
“When we first moved to Belfast, the circus school wasn’t in the Cathedral Quarter; it moved there in 2000. I remember we were the first to move into the Cathedral Quarter when they first redeveloped that area. Now there are so many creative organisations based there, and there’s the restaurants and cafes and the yoga studios – and that’s great.
“For us, it made Writer’s square the obvious choice – it’s close to the circus school, it’s close to where we know. Lots of people, including many tourists, find us just by walking by and then they come to the show. It’s great – very multicultural.”
If you fancy being in the audience at one of this year’s shows, you still have time to get tickets, but be quick as they are popular! Tumble Circus’ Winter Circus runs between 13 December and 2 January in the Big Top at Writer’s Square. Three’s Theatre are also joining the fun at the Big Top this year, with the first outing of their new eco-friendly cabaret show, Rewilding – complete with biodegradable glitter, vegan-friendly food from Curated Kitchen, drag queens in repurposed fashion and lots, lots more.
Find out more about both shows at the links above, and book tickets at tumblecircus.com
All photos: Carrie Davenport Photographic