The Jay Miller Circus ringmaster explains the lifestyle, allure and skills needed to sustain a career in the travelling entertainment industry.
Gone are the days of taming lions and corralling elephants, the modern ringmaster is an international man of mystery, with “1001 random useless talents”.
Mitchell Pitch, grew up in New Zealand, mostly Auckland, he travelled Europe as a teenager and spent the last five years living in Australia.
Throughout his decade-long career, the showman has performed for crowds of between 60,000 and 80,000 people at the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the “whirlwind” 2010 Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in India.
He’s been hired by Cirque du Soleil for their cast-only wrap party and thrown more than a few shapes for world famous electronic dance DJs like Robin Shulz and Sigala at Australia’s prestigious nightclub, The Ivy.
But from July 28 until September 2, Mitchell belongs to us on the Isle of Wight. He spoke to iwObserver about the Island, how you can learn to perform “Circo Art” and the lifestyle of a ringmaster.
Mitchell started on the circus career path at a youth camp, he met a fire spinning camp leader and learn the trick himself. Later teaming up with other fire spinners in an Auckland park, before travelling to Ireland at age 18 and bumping into even more fire spinners.
“Most of them were jugglers as well,” reminisces Mitchell. “And it just happened to be the year the European Juggler Convention (EJC) was in Ireland – so they took me along to that and that just opened my eyes to a whole other world.”
Mitchell then went to another EJC in Greece a year later before returning to New Zealand, then he found a Circo Arts training course and signed himself up – he was hooked.
Mitchell studied at the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology for two years, learning quite literally – every trick in the book.
“There’s actually quite a few courses around the world, the course that I did was called ‘Circo Art’ – it was a two year diploma,” explains Mitchell.
His first task as a Circo Art student was to create a roving character, the kind you see wandering festivals on stilts and “all of that jazz”.
“I was a roving prince,” laughs Mitchell. “Oh, I look back on some of those photos and shudder. It was terrible – but it was good fun. Roving entertainment became a foundation and basis of a lot of my income over the years. It’s also how I developed a lot of the stage presence that I require for my role as the ringmaster.”
‘The face of the circus’
Mitchell told iwObserver what is required for the complex ringmaster role.
He continued: “I am the face of the circus. I am the person who needs to keep the flow of the show going, so if there any dead spots, I need to fill them by either pulling out a random trick to fill that gap, or by talking about things the performers are doing.
“I am the one that interacts most with the audience themselves – aside from the clown. The two people who are allowed to to break the fourth wall as it were, are the clown and the ringmaster. We are there to really connect with the audience.
“My main speciality is actually aerial straps and I do that in the opening of the show.”
Mitchell has no plans for a career change, you can hear his passion for the job in the enthusiastic way he talks about, eyes lit up and always laughing.
“As long as I have a voice I can be a ringmaster,” said Mitchell.
The 30-year-old admits he has “1001 random useless talents”, although his favourite trick was a handstand on a bed of nails that he used to perform himself.
“Don’t worry I’ve had my tetanus shot,” he laughs.
‘Regular humans doing spectacular things’
A year after the release of blockbuster The Greatest Showman, Mitchell describes how stigma around those in the carnival trade has declined.
“I definitely think there is still some of that around. Films like The Greatest Showman have helped a bit because it has made people realise we are just human like anyone else.
“Yes, in some respects there’s still a bit of a stigma there because we are a travelling nomadic crew and we move from town to town, so there is that sort of image around us.
“Mostly people know we are just regular humans doing spectacular things.”
Family and relationships
“My mum is my biggest fan,” says Mitchell. “I’m pretty sure she always will be. But it took a little bit of convincing for my dad. He took a bit longer to come round to the idea, but he sees that I am making money and that I am happy. He loves what I do now.”
Constantly being on the road can make it tough for performers to maintain relationships, but it’s not all bad, you might meet the love of your life on the circuit.
Mitchell rejoiced: “A lot of the performers here are married or in a relationship. Obviously their partners are also performers, two of our performers are currently pregnant – it could be any day now actually. Their due dates are some time in August. So that’s going to be a very exciting event for everyone here.”
If you’ve ever fancied performing in the circus but weren’t sure how to go about it, Mitchell’s got some advice for you.
“One bit of advice – It’s. Hard. Work,” warns Mitchell. “But, you’re going to love it. There will be times you want to quit and throw it all away, but then you’ll get another contract, and you’ll meet another group of performers, or you’ll finally hit that trick you’ve been aiming for – for months – and everything will be great again.
“Or you’ll perform for a full house like we get here on the Isle of Wight and it just makes everything worthwhile.
“People who want to learn often use the excuse – ‘oh I’m not fit enough to do that’. No but the whole idea of going to learn it, is that you are going to build that core strength to get there. Yes, it does require a lot of strength and stamina, but it is something you develop over time as well.
Mitchell says anyone can be in the circus – you just need a few key personality traits.
“If they have the drive, if they have the imagination, if they have the passion – most definitely,” confirmed Mitchell.
‘I love it here’
It’s only his second time on the Island, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t forged a lasting connection with Island life and people.
“I love it here,” beams Mitchell. “I went down and joined the Newport Carnival – people are just so happy and excited to see us, they really make us feel like we are a part of the community.
“Even though I have performed for massive, massive crowds, in India, New Zealand all around the world – having a full tent on our final Saturday on the Isle of Wight when the whole crowd is just absolutely electric – nothing has compared to that.”
Jay Miller’s Circus runs until September 2, you can find them at Circus Field, Whippingham, Wootton. Look for the big tent!
To book call 07976655180 or enter our competition using the form below to win one of four pairs of family tickets worth £80 each.