SURREY — The Studio Theatre at Surrey Arts Centre has turned into a bit of a circus on Tuesday evenings.
Teens are learning juggling, stilt-walking, unicycling and other circus skills from Mike Battie, a longtime performer and instructor.
On a drop-in basis, students can still get involved in the Cirque Surrey lessons, which began on Jan. 10 and continue until March 7. The sessions are free to attend for a second year, thanks to sponsorship by Envision Financial.
“This is supposed to be fun,” Battie said. “They’re learning circus skills and after the first day, they get to do whatever they want in here – stilts, rola bola (balance board), juggling while on stilts, whatever they want, I’ll teach it.”
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Battie learned to juggle while in college, and he took it from there to stages at Expo 86.
“Right place, right time,” he said with a smile. “I learned a lot of different (circus) skills, and I came to Vancouver with a thought of becoming an actor. People knew what I could do, and juggling became my job for a while because after Expo, everyone wanted to have a juggling act.
“That was the advent of street entertainment, locally, right there,” he added. “I was still inexperienced but I got a lot of jobs for a guy who had my experience.”
Today, Battie performs at a wide variety of events locally, and has taught circus skills to students at Kwantlen Park and Guildford Park secondary schools in Surrey.
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PICTURED: Instructor Mike Battie with students. Photo: Tom Zillich
“You teach someone to stilt-walk, and if they actually get into that and become good and get a character, it’s very lucrative,” Battie raved. “You get a good character and wander around a festival or fair, it’s very lucrative. On a sliding scale, the low end is about $300 for your day, for three half-hour sets walking around on stilts, but you can get paid a lot more than that.”
At the second Cirque Surrey session, on Jan. 17, Willow Hill, a Grade 9 student at Frank Hurt Secondary, was already juggling tennis balls, which were filled with sand and covered in tape.
“It wasn’t that difficult for me, but I’ve been told I pick up things unnaturally easy,” Willow said.
Nearby, Jessica Boutsivongsak also juggled.
“Originally I’m self-taught, a little bit, just around the house, but this has really helped me improve my juggling skills,” said Jessica, a Grade 11 student at Fraser Heights.
“I’m more interested in exploring new hobbies, but I’m hoping to get involved with circus more, in the future,” she added. “It’s a great atmosphere here and I’m meeting a lot of new people, and the tricks you learn, it’s interesting.”
The 90-minute sessions start at 6:30 p.m.
“During the last session we invite the parents to come watch and even try the stuff themselves,” Battie said. “We were going to do a show at the end last year, but we thought, ‘Let’s not pressure the kids, let’s just invite the parents in, have the kids show them what they’ve learned, and maybe have the parents try something.’ It’s a way better fit.”
To get involved in Cirque Surrey, call the arts centre at 604-501-5566 (press 0).