Circus Performer Heather Holliday Speaks to Theatrefullstop about starring in the international hit, Limbo!
With the return of the quirky and original circus show that had crowds and celebs flocking from all over in its first season last year, Limbo once again aims to amaze, bewilder and astound. Ahead of press night, I was able to speak with Heather Holliday, who not only held the title of being the youngest sword swallower in the world as a teen, but is also a fire eating extraordinaire! Heather speaks to Theatrefullstop about why she’s glad to be back in the UK, her inspirations, and why it’s important to have a good attitude in the circus industry!
Limbo returns to the Wonderground Festival this summer after a successful run last year. How does it feel to be back?
I’m really excited because (we’re) here for such a long season and (of) all of the places we go, London has the most entertainment and it’s the most interesting to be in. Also, (it’s) nice to be back because we’d just created the show last year and it was fairly new. We were still getting to know each other, the performers were getting to know each other’s skills so after a full year we’ve been able to just be a lot more creative with each other and get to know each other and I think that’s really going to show on stage with the new stuff we’re doing.
What drew you to take part in the show?
I’d never worked in a show like this before. (I’d worked) mostly (in) variety shows where you come on and you do your 5 minutes and then you leave. You’re surrounded by a bunch of talented people, but you don’t really interact. This show, everybody is doing everything with each other. So whatever skills you have, you put them on the table and it somehow combines with other skills and other people, (it) heightens your skills with their skills, I’ve never worked with people so closely before.
The show has received international success and critical acclaim, does that put pressure on the performers?
No, I think it just motivates us more! You need that pat on the back to tell you that you are doing the right thing and going in the right direction.
What inspired you to become a circus performer?
I didn’t really know that this was going to be a career because when I started, I was in high school and I didn’t have any skills. I was just doing (an) internship at this Theatre in Coney Island and I was just going to be the magician’s assistant. I was meant to be at a cool summer job, my friends we’re going to come and watch me onstage and then it turned into a career, I wasn’t planning on it (I fell in) love with it because it was a lot of fun!
You held the title as being the youngest sword swallower in the world as a Teenager. What inspired you to get into something as daring as that?
Working for a sideshow, it was such an amazing experience because I met all of these people from all over the world that were flown (in) because they were weird or different. There was a Mexican Wolf Boy that had hair all over his face and he walks the tightrope, his family have been in the circuit for years just because of their abnormality. There (was) another guy from Texas who has lobster claws which meant that he was born with a condition called Ectrodactyly and his hands we’re not like ours, they didn’t have palms and resembled lobster claws. I’d met all of these interesting people and I just felt like I was in this world and I was really lucky to be exposed to all of this. (In) the show, they asked me to do more, they asked me to learn all these things, I was young and wide eyed and was (around) all of these amazing people!
Could you describe the rehearsal process for Limbo?
It was interesting because nobody knew anyone (at the beginning) and so the hardest part I thought was for the band because you’ve got these 3 musicians who have never met and now they’re supposed to have some chemistry. As the physical performers, the circus performers, we had our skills; we put them to the vibe of the music so we waited for them to get the ball rolling, to hear what they were doing. It changed everything we tried to create, it changed when we got into the space finally and we saw the lighting, you know, that changes the mood. Our performances were adapting while in our first opening season, we were still getting into the groove of how we were supposed to be acting and what we were doing. It was just a bunch of people sitting in a room kinda like, ‘so what do you do? Because I can do this!’ We only had 3 weeks to create the show as well, it was very last minute.
From last year to now, in terms of group dynamic, how has that changed? Does that influence the performance?
It totally does because we had only just met a few months earlier and now that we’re more comfortable with each other, we’re trying new things. We’ve got more trust with each other and even dance sequences have changed, just because we’re more comfortable. The chemistry and how we’re relating to each other on stage and how we’re looking at each other (is different), there’s something deeper than just ‘you’re on stage with me, I’m noticing you!
How have you found the UK responses to the show and how do you find the crowds?
I think this is a very sophisticated theatre audience here. At first, our first season ever was in Australia and they’re loud and rowdy. Then when we got here, everybody was a lot more polite and it was more like these golf claps in the palm of their hand. At first we were like, ok well maybe they’re not as into it but afterwards, we’d go outside and people would be telling us how amazing it was. Wherever you go, people are going to react differently. But even if they’re not making noise, you just look at their faces because you can see if they’re enjoying it or not. For London, a place that has so many shows, I really hope that we’re bringing a lot more variety to the normal pace of shows here.
What has been your proudest moment as a Circus Performer?
I’ve been performing for 10 years and probably my proudest moment was when my parents were really really proud of me! I think it was hard for them to accept it because it wasn’t normal, and in the past 10 years I’ve never asked my parents for money. When they’re proud of me, when they’re showing off (with myself) in a magazine or a newspaper, that’s as proud as I can be.
You’d said you had been in the circus industry for 10 years, what have you learned throughout your years?
The most important thing that no one can really tell you is how you treat yourself and how you treat others that you’re working with. This isn’t just while onstage, it’s just an attitude and even when you are confident in your work, just not to get cocky as accidents happen when you’re cocky.
What advice would you give to aspiring circus performers out there?
That it’s really really hard work, you’re not going to read a book and get it but if you’re dedicated then I believe that anything can happen!
Limbo is currently showing as part of The Wonderground Festival until Sunday 17th August. For more information on the production, visit here…
For my review of Limbo, which is currently showing at The Wonderground Festival until Sunday 17th August, visit here…