Grounded with Ben Brown
‘Around the Retail World in 380 Days’.
Hey! I’m Ben Brown, I’m an Aerialist, a Coach, a Husband and a dog dad to a very cute Pug, Major.
My journey into circus was somewhat conventional, I was a Sports Acrobatic gymnast, a sport still missing from the Olympics, and at age 20 I made my way to what was at the time The Circus Space now The National Centre for Circus Arts. I was never an academic child and this combined with a toxic bullying atmosphere at my senior school did not make a good recipe for decent GCSE’s. So at 16 I left school and started working in a Supermarket. 4 very long years later and an unjustifiably bad colleague review from my manager at the time I said “Fuck it” and that was it. I made my way to London and I’ve never looked back. After graduating, I’ve performed on the 2 biggest stages in the world, performed on cruise ships, and the cabaret scene around Europe, performing as a soloist but also alongside my husband Jonathan as our duo act ‘Little Finch’. ‘Little Finch’
That was until March 2020. The reason I’m typing this with a very dead arm. The joy of being vaccinated in your writing arm because you’re a right handed aerialist.
When lockdown hit us in March, like every one else, all of my bookings, future gigs and classes disappeared over night. What made that harder was both myself and Jonathan were not eligible for the SEISS Scheme, mainly because our last three years earnings had been abroad and even though we had put them through the UK Tax system, we were told foreign earnings were classed as PAYE and told to seek furlough from Germany. (Insert side eye here)
So with no income, no support, a mortgage and a 3 month old puppy, we had to find work and find it quick. Luckily our housemate at the time was a manager for Holland and Barrett, and a week later I started full time in retail fully looking back at that pre-circus version of myself. I pretty much stayed in H&B as a temp until November 2020, after taking all the shifts possible across multiple stores sometimes for weeks on end I was finally made permanent and found myself reinstalling all of the tills across the region in 28 stores. After doing that I was made supervisor of a different store and I pretty much ended up as store manager as my actual manager was quite often no where to be seen most days. So whilst trying to learn everything about all of the products, a legal requirement, lead a team and direct a store I had no business doing, working 50 hours most weeks I had totally forgotten about Circus. Except when a song I or someone I knew used for an act played on the radio, which I found myself not being able to listen to. As my circus life slipped away so did my mental health. My body dysmorphia worsened, I could no longer recognise my face and the bathroom scales didn’t match the mirror.
During December I started working on an idea I had had for a while, which was to start my own circus school dedicated to Aerial Hoop. What I was thinking during a global pandemic where nobody could leave the house I don’t know, but somehow it worked. I announced plans for a 6 Week Intensive Course and also online Weekend Intensives which sold out overnight and slowly circus didn’t look so far in the distance. Before everyones Zoom Fatigue I was at one point teaching 4 or 5 different courses each week whilst working at H&B full time, building a new website, creating new clients for the 6 Week Course (Thanks to the incredible support of Business Coach/best friend Ulrike Storch), teaching at another circus studio and also online classes for The National Centre for Circus Arts, sometimes hilariously in the stock room of Holland and Barrett. Luckily with the success of ‘School of hoop’ and shows on the horizon for May 17th I handed my resignation into retail and headed back to make up and stage lights where I am currently back on my beloved Cabaret Scene and also extremely honoured to be performing as part of Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground. Bernie Dieter’s Berlin Underground
So yeah, that was my Around the Retail World in 380 days. A tiresome but definitely growing experience, not one I’m ready to repeat anytime soon, opportunities that otherwise would never have materialised through grit and sheer determination, a year of wonderful Wednesday quizzing (nod to Chastity Belt Cabaret ) and raising a puppy who is now a cheeky and equally lazy nearly 2 year old full time good boy.
What I love about circus is the community, our strength together, our creativity, our chosen family and love for our shared passion. I was recently reminded of how fickle that can be when someone I considered a friend of 10years saw me in a show, said nothing and left without saying goodbye, so I’d like to ask if not beg really, as our world of wonder that is circus comes back, as our passions reignite and we get too busy and only see each other running around from gig to gig, say hello, be kind and help a circus sibling out.
As circus has made its way back in to my life, so has the familiarity of the face looking back at me.
You can find me over on Instagram, say hello!
Photo credit: Bertil Nilsson.
Image description: Set against a grep background a hoop hangs into the top 3rd of the frame. We see the top of a head and shoulders of a figure dressed in a light grey top and grey trousers, balancing on both arms in a horizontal position. Their whole body is framed within the hoop with their split legs extending beyond to the side.