Clowning Around with Teo Greenstreet, Centre Director of Sheffield’s Greentop Circus
Teo Greenstreet has been Centre Director of Sheffield’s Greentop Circus, which puts on classes and shows around Yorkshire, since 2016
I’m Centre Director at Greentop Circus, which means I take the rap for everything. No, I’m joking: my job is actually making sure we have everything we need in terms of resources, a plan, and a vision. Our purpose is to promote excellent circus that inspires young people, develops artists and strengthens communities.
My circus days started in the mid-1980s in Sheffield. I started performing when I was 17 and set up my first touring company, the Leadmill Circus, when I was 19 and still a student. My first shows were with a wire walker and violinist called Charlie Robinson and a fire eater called Stephen Daldry, who’s a name you probably will recognise.
I was a unicyclist and a clown. One’s about technical competency, but clowns are always waiting for that moment that’s absurd, and unicyclists provide a lot of those because they’re quite eccentric. It’s quite a good tool for a clown, unicyclist. It’s quite a skill to be a clown, and that’s why I no longer am one.
I went on to be a co-founder and Chief Executive of the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton, East London. I did that for 15 years. I moved back to Sheffield after I got a call from Greentop saying: ‘Can you come and help us?’ That was in 2016.
The perception of circus has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Part of my job in London was getting the circus into the conservatoire for dance and drama, which meant creating the first-ever circus degree and putting it up alongside RADA and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. I also did a circus show for the Millennium Dome, the biggest circus there’s ever been. Those kinds of shifts are fundamental to changing people’s perceptions of circus. That’s what we’re trying to do at Greentop: to say this is something for everyone, it’s not just a tired old thing with animals in a battered tent. It’s closer to parkour or trampolining.
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We run classes in all manner of disciplines: hoop and trapeze, rope and silk – and that’s just in the air. We also take classes and courses out to schools. We just spent the first half of this term in a local junior school and they’ve just put on a show which was fantastic. Schools are using it to engage kids in physical activity in a different way. With the big issues around obesity, this is a fantastic way to inspire kids to take part and get active in a way they’d never thought of doing.
Let’s blow one myth away: people come into circus from all sorts of fields. Even big circus proprietors like Martin Burton, who runs Zippos, came from street theatre. There are very few circus families. We love to talk about these ancient lineages but it’s all ballyhoo, which is one of my favourite circus words. It’s circus speak for spin. We like to create stories. Some are true; some aren’t.
Circus 250 marks the 250th anniversary of the modern circus in Britain this year. We’re repositioning the circus in terms of popular culture. In terms of contemporary activity, theatre in this country has a debt of gratitude to circus. It has inspired different performers.
I came to Sheffield as a student. I was born in Colombia, but the hills brought me here originally and they brought me back. I love getting out with my family and walking. It’s how we find our solace in the world.
I’m a big fan of Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s one of my favourite places for getting a mix of the outdoors and culture at the same time. I think there’s nowhere else like it in this country; it’s fantastic.
Tea With Percie is a great place to get a cuppa. They’re great people down there, and really make the place. And Ceres down at Hunters Bar is a great French restaurant to grab a meal at, too.
I am a Tom Waits fan through and through. He’s the most circusy musician I’ve come across. He’s always got references which are about difference, and celebrating differences. That’s what circus does in a way: says we are amazing, let’s celebrate it in all manner of form.