LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Monday, 9 December 2013

How to run a circus - Zippos owner Martin Burton looks back at a "tremendous" year.

It was a pleasure last week to post pictures of full houses and long queues at Zippos this year. With Zippos currently resident at Winter Wonderland in London's Hyde Park, I thought it would be good to catch up with showman Martin Burton. In the following interview he shares his thoughts on the past season, the secrets of his success and his plans for 2014 

Martin 'Zippo' Burton
How would you describe the past year for Zippos?

"2013 has been a tremendous year for Zippos Circus. My Circus team, led by
Beau Denning, has worked fantastically well together and we created a
show that really touched people nationwide, from the south coast of
Britain to the northern shores of Scotland. Our Scottish finale was one of
my favourite moments in the 2013 season."

What was the most memorable moment of 2013?

"Ultimately our performances at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland must create
my most memorable moments of 2013. I remember going to Paris to see Cirque
Pinder 25 years ago and commenting that I could never imagine that Zippos
could ever play to 9000 people a day, as Pinder was then (and now). At
Hyde Park to Wonderland we get 9000 people in every Saturday and every
show ends with a standing ovation. It's not the business that gives me so
much joy but support for the circus as a genre. Sometimes I hear that
traditional circus is dead but I can tell you it certainly is not!"

Bring in the circus horses
- Nicky de Neumann's
Roman riding was a big hit
with Zippos audiences
 ...and the worst?

"Listening to the vile and horrible lies sometimes chanted by animal rights
supporters outside of my circus, when I know that there is absolutely no
animal cruelty takes place in Zippos Circus - rather the animals enjoy
their life and performances and give great pleasure to their trainers and
my audiences."

To what do you attribute so many full houses?

"A great show of course but much more than that Zippos Circus is a brand
that the public can trust with the highest level of customer service. None
of us at Zippos Circus ever forget that it is our paying customers who
allow us to live the lifestyle we love so much."

You're not using the horses at Winter Wonderland.
Were there any other venues in 2013 where you had to leave out the animals
to secure a site?

"Hyde Park is of course very horse friendly. But with up to 8 shows per
day, very restricted space with no room for exercise paddocks and the huge
crowds that the event attracts I just could not guarantee the highest
standards of animal welfare that I require and expect. We miss the horses
every day!"

Was Nicky de Neuman's Roman riding a big draw, and do you find there's still a
big demand for animal acts?

"I reintroduced horses to Zippos Circus over 20 years ago. I did so because
I realised the circus going public do still want to see at least domestic
animals in a traditional circus. I was proved right because our business
increased by 25% in the moment so I re introduced horses to Zippos Circus.
Nikki de Neuman offered Zippos visitors a very different style of
equestrian presentation, and a distinct change from all the wonderful
Liberty acts presented in previous years by Tom Roberts. Zippos creative
director, David Hibling, decided to present Nicky's work in a series of
short acts throughout the show rather than one big horse number. This
proved a very popular idea with our visitors."

Married to the circus
Zippos' Queen of Clowns Andreea Delbosq
was proposed to in the ring... at every show
How much do you use publicity stunts like the strongman pulling a bus
with his teeth and how effective do you find that sort of thing as a
ticket seller?

"Brand development, publicity stunts and PR are the very lifeblood of any
circus and always have been. In 2012 my clowns chose to get married so I
had him propose to her in the ring during the clown entree every week to
get Zippos local press coverage. This year some costumes were stolen from
the backstage area and at the last minute my Clown told me he had his
clown nose stolen too. This was a true story which made national headlines
in the Scottish press. It's my job to recognise those stores which will
run and run and publicise the circus well."

...the groom, meanwhile, had his nose nicked.
How important is Facebook and Twitter etc to circus promotion today,
and have the main tools for promoting your circus changed much since you
first came into the

"Facebook and Twitter did not exist when I founded Zippos Circus. However
the birth of the Internet was something that Zippos Circus recognised at
the very beginning. We had a website designed before most people knew what
a website was. More importantly Zippos has been harvesting email addresses
and data from its visitors since the very beginning of email and we
regularly announce and promote our tour dates using that email data. More
recently Facebook has become yet another tool to keep Zippos in touch with
its visitors and tell potential customers know our plans and news."

Cirque Berserk
- the dark and fiery side of Zippos
Do you think there is a disparity between the type of new circus shows
that get reviewed in the broadsheets and the type of circus that the wider
public actually 
wants to see?

"No. It's not about traditional Circus versus new Circus. It's about good
Circus versus bad Circus. Circus artists are very willing to try new ideas
as proved by my own experiments with Cirque Berserk, which is about to
undertake a nationwide tour of English theatres in January 2014."

How would you describe the state of the British circus scene generally
as we head into 2014?

"There are more circuses touring Britain now than at any time in the
history of British Circus. Perhaps there are only two or three other truly
significant circuses touring the UK, but there are up to 50 smaller
circuses touring either for a full season or just part of the season and
finding new venues and new places to play. The British Circus industry is
expanding helped by the popularity of circus training and circus schools.
Circus will certainly change in the future, as it always has done in the
past. But I believe it will continue to thrive and I am determined that
Zippos Circus remain part of that scene for many years to come. Its time
of course, to see a great British circus back on mainstream TV regularly."

2nd Edition out now!
Read a full chapter on the birth of Zippos Circus and its involvement in the BBC comedy Big Top, among countless other stories from the circus world in Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson - described by World's Fair as "The greatest show on Earth in a book."

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