Eversheds’ Chrxistmas party will have a circus theme this year. Sidestepping the obvious jokes about certain partners being clowns anyway, for one employee at the firm the big top surroundings really will be a familiar sight.
Stephen Thompson is a management consultant at Eversheds Consulting, but before joining the firm in May he spent four years as a freelance circus performer.
Thompson’s days are now spent travelling to client sites and providing consulting services, such as helping companies figure out record retention systems, looking at legal departments’ strategies and considering the potential for cost reductions – but it was not long ago that he was plying a quite different trade, working in some of the world’s most prestigious circus productions.
“I was a bit of a generalist in terms of the kind of stuff I did,” says Thompson, “but I was mostly doing a lot of hand balance and aerial strap work.”
Hand balancing is fairly self-explanatory, while aerial straps involve using two ribbons suspended from the ceiling to perform feats of strength while flying around the arena. Needless to say, both require an enormous amount of upper body strength.
“I was a competitive gymnast in primary school and then in high school, but in my senior years at high school I got distracted by my studies and moved away from gymnastics while I focused on getting the grades to get into a good university,” relates Thompson, who went on to study Business and then Law. “But at university I found it was something I missed, and what started as me wanting to get fit snowballed into becoming a circus performer.
“It’s common for gymnasts to go on to be circus performers, but it’s still quite a challenge making the switch, because gymnasts tend to perform somewhat like robots whereas circus performers have to be more fluid in their movements.”
Thompson was all set to become a lawyer after graduating, but decided to put his career on hold when he was offered a scholarship to Australia’s prestigious National Institute of Circus Arts.
This was the springboard to a career as a freelance circus performer that would see Thompson perform in the Melbourne International Arts Festival and appear with the Cirque du Soleil.
“I did Cirque du Soleil as part of its Dralion and Varekai shows, [the latter being the story of Icarus learning to fly again after falling from the sky], and did some promo work,” he says. “I’d also do TV spots.”
Thompson even found himself getting work as a stuntman in films because “gymnasts tend to be good at jumping off things”, although he holds back from going into detail about the films he was involved with because it could breach the non-disclosure agreements he had to sign.
“I had a lot of fun [as a circus performer], but getting up at 7am, being in a gym by 8am and having a Russian coach shout at you to do more push-ups was quite exhausting,” he admits.
On top of that, Thompson kept a toe in the legal sector, squeezing in some voluntary work between training for 36 hours a week and performing around 12 hours, before moving to the UK in January to begin his career in the legal sector.
“When people hear about my past in the circus they tend to think I’ve given up on my dream, but I feel lucky I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue two passions,” he says. “I really enjoy my work, and the circus is a short-term career anyway. Not many performers continue after 30.”
Thompson says he no longer has the opportunity to train as often as he likes, but is finding that the skills he is learning as a management consultant can be put to good effect in the context of the circus.
“The circus industry needs people with strong business and legal skills and I’ve started helping my friends write business cases so they can get loans or grants,” he says. “So I’m able to use the skills I have now to help out.”