Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘bicycle’

Eccentric Bicyclist Justin Case. Opening Night Performance of Ringlings Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

Eccentric Bicyclist Justin Case. Opening Night Performance of Ringling's Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

Those of us who work or live in Coney Island are especially thrilled to have the Ringling Bros. Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus in residence this season. The fave circus performer of quite a few Coney Island regulars, including ATZ, is the comedic trick cyclist Justin Case. Billed as an “Eccentric Personality Extraordinaire,” the Australian plays a flustered Frenchman who brilliantly pedals his way through the show and into our hearts.

Justin Case Riding Tiny Bike. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Justin Case Riding Tiny Bike. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Amazing fact #1: Since the circus opened on June 18, Justin has clocked nearly 4 miles riding a tiny bicycle round the ring and through a flaming hoop of fire! The virtuoso cyclist shared this amazing stat (by way of comparison, the entire length of the Boardwalk is 2.7 miles) in a recent Q & A with ATZ. The full interview including amazing facts #2 and 3 after the jump.

If you haven’t seen the Coney Island Boom A Ring aka Ringling’s Gold Unit yet, what are you waiting for? There’s lots of entertainment at this one ring circus for the price of a $10 ticket: aerialists, acrobats, Globe of Death motorcyclists, trained tigers, elephants, dachshunds and more. Circus bloggers are calling it “pure gold” and “a fine-tuned circus machine, endowed with a host of top-drawer talents full of inventive sparkle.” The Boom A Ring’s blue- and-yellow striped tent is pitched at 21st Street and the Boardwalk in Coney Island through September 7.

Tricks of an Eccentric Cyclist’s Trade

Q: What was the inspiration for the tiny bicycle that you ride in your act?

A: At the time I started doing the little bike there was a trend towards 14′ – 15′ unicycles – they were just getting taller and taller – if one guy had a 6′, the next guy had an 8′ and so on. I went against the trend! Also the little bike through the hoop of fire is an homage to all the circus animals who have jumped through hoops of fire in the last century!

In his Ringling Circus Debut, Justin Case Rides a Tiny Bike through a Ring of Fire. Opening Night Performance of Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

In his Ringling Circus Debut, Justin Case Rides a Tiny Bike through a Ring of Fire. Opening Night Performance of Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

Q: My friend Deb Stern who went to the circus with me along with her son kind of summed it up when she wrote: “Shane just can’t get over the “tiny” bike and wanted to know what the trick was because he just couldn’t/can’t believe that it was what he was seeing. It really is amazing. I don’t think my body was ever small enough to be able to ride something that small. The man must get leg cramps. I wonder what ever got him started with bikes? I have not come up with any good questions…..they all seem soooo simple……I’m just in awe of the guy..”

Is the small bicycle you ride through the ring of fire the smallest bicycle in existence? What are its dimensions? Does the bicycle hold a Guinness World Record for smallest bicycle?

A: I must say I am very humbled by the fantastic reception I receive from my audiences. I really haven’t investigated the Guinness book of records – but I’m told the one in the Guinness book of records is smaller than mine but uses a long pole with a seat that means the rider is able to sit down – it’s really just the pads of my big toes that sit on the pedals – most of the weight is supported on my arms like a crouching handstand. There’s no trick – just sore knees! I always tell kids go and do gymnastics you learn so much about your body and how to orientate your self in space. I’ve measured the bike against Barbies’ bike in a toy store and I know it’s smaller than Barbie’s!

Justin Case Bicycles through a Ring of Fire in Ringling Bros. Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo by rbbbconeyisland via flickr

Justin Performs the Most Difficult Stunt. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Q: How long did you have to train to ride the tiny bicycle? Did you start with tiny bicycles that were larger in size and work your way down?

A: The fabrication proved harder than the riding it – I made it with the help of a friend. As far as riding it goes, it was just the ‘try, try again’ principal, but it is funny when it goes wrong because you have no time to get your hands down so you just head butt the floor, which proved to be a great motivating factor. I calculated recently that I’ve ridden it just under 4 miles since we opened the show here on Coney Island!

Q: What is the most difficult stunt in your act and why? People are split as to whether it’s the tiny bicycle or the unicycle hop over the volunteer from the audience. I’d go with the tiny…

A: Actually it’s neither! Although both are difficult – obviously with a volunteer lying on the ground there’s a huge responsibility to keep him safe, especially if he’s a nervous type and keeps moving as they sometimes are – the tiny bike is rough on the knees – but as far as technical difficulty goes, it’s when the front wheel comes off the bike, I ride around and pick it up, then put it back on the front forks and secure it again – it took me a year -practicing three hours a day – before I did it the first time. Then I broke one of my ankle bones in three places doing another tick and had to relearn the wheel trick again three months later when my ankle had healed. On occasion I will get to the very last step only to have to go back and do the whole thing gain. Bumps in the floor, sloping surfaces etc all make it a very tough trick to complete – and like I say – I’m the first person to do that trick – It is surprising how hard it is to be original. Still it is more how you do it than what you do.

Q: What about that unicycle hop over the volunteer from the audience? At the dress rehearsal the volunteer was Nathan Bliss of the Coney Island Development Corp. Nate gave me an entertaining description of the stunt from his perspective: “I’ve always wanted to run away and join the circus, so I was thrilled to be pulled out of the crowd and asked to perform some modest-but-challenging acrobatic moves. The highlight of the experience, of course, was surviving Justin’s unicycle hop–during which he came excruciatingly close to depriving the Bliss family of future lineage! All told, it was a thrill to be a part of the very first ever Ringling show in Coney Island, and even more of a thrill to share the experience with so many folks from the community who received free tickets to attend the Circus that night. On our way out of the tent, I was stopped by many children in the audience who recognized me and wanted my autograph!”

What’s the hop like from your perspective?

Justin Case Performing Unicycle Hop with Volunteer Nathan Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

Justin Case Performing Unicycle Hop with Volunteer Nathan Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

A: The trick can be stressful – as I said before – you don’t want to hurt someone – but it can also be a lot of fun with the right volunteer. The audience love it when I ride up between the guy’s legs, and once I start to jump over his arms and legs the guy usually relaxes a bit. I try to make the guy look good – doing the hand balance etc. so that he gets some applause from the crowd early on which helps him relax. I like to give them the Polaroid at the end as a thank you – after all – they’ve been a big part of my act.

Q: Oh, and Nate’s question is “How’d I do?”

A: You were good – relaxed, so the audience were relaxed too- smiling and a good sport. Most importantly you didn’t flinch – makes my job so much harder when people do!

Success! Ringling Performer Justin Case and Volunteer Nate Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

Success! Ringling Performer Justin Case and Volunteer Nate Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

From Boyhood in Australia to Circus School in France…

Q: I read in your bio that you were only 4 when you taught yourself to ride a bicycle. What are your memories of riding a bike as a young child?

A: The sense of freedom the bicycle gave me was something I loved – the freedom and independence to explore and leave my neighborhood.

Q: What is your earliest memory of why you wanted to join the circus?

A: I didn’t go to the circus as a child and wasn’t exposed to it until I was about 20 while traveling in Europe – but throughout my early life I’d always had an affinity for sport, the visual arts and the theatrical arts – when I saw circus it seemed to encompass all of those creative and physical elements – it was a place with no limits and no boundaries.

Q: I see a number of illustrious European circus schools on your bio–Annie Fratellini‘s school in Paris, Ecole Sans Filet in Brussels, and the French National School of Circus in Chalons-en-Champagne. How difficult was it to get into these schools?

A: It was hard – it involved auditioning – lengthy processes – and having a very clear vision of what one hoped to achieve in the world of circus – at the time I tried to attend the European schools there was no internet and no way of finding out about them other than getting on a plane and going from Australia to Europe and knocking on their doors – which is quite literally what I did!

Ringling Circus star Justin Case was born in Australia, studied at circus schools in France and has performed all over the world.  Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

Ringling Circus star Justin Case was born in Australia, studied at circus schools in France and has performed all over the world. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

Q: Can you tell us a funny or illuminating anecdote about your days at circus school?

A: When I arrived at the French National School of Circus in Chalons I spoke no French – I would just turn up for classes and follow everyone else – at one point I turned up for dance class and for three straight weeks I was the only student – no one else showed, including the teacher – turned out he’d explained to the class that he would be absent for a while as he was going away to perform elsewhere. Of course I hadn’t understood that – also, Chalons is in the middle of the champagne producing region in France. The students would often perform for the various vineyards and as well as being paid we would we would also often receive complimentary bottles of champagne. By the end of the year we had a whole wall full of cases of champagne that no one could face drinking – we were so sick of the taste of it!

Q: And how old were you when you first started busking?

A:I first started busking when I was 23 in 1988 – also working with a community based circus with kids in youth detention centers.

Q: Your bio says: “Justin looked into the comic stylings of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati for inspiration.”
What are your favorite stunts or slapstick bits in Keaton or Chaplin films?

A: My favourite thing about these artists is they always double cross you – you expect one thing and something else will happen. All three are dealing with the human condition in such an innocent and positive manner. I think that as we all face the the joke of life, it is comforting to see characters do it with good humor, in the knowledge that there but for the grace of God go I.

Justin Case riding handlebars. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Justin Case riding handlebars. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Coney Island and Beyond

Q: Do you practice everyday?
I practice a lot when I’m not working – several times a week – but when we’re in a long run such as this it’s more about maintaining fitness and rest

Q: What is your workout routine?

A: Fairly simple – chin ups, sit ups, general stretching

Q: What do you do on your days off?

A: Play as much golf as possible!!!! ( Handicap of 10)

Q: Do you go bike riding in NYC or on the Boardwalk? (or do you just ride in the circus)

A: I do ride in NYC but I like to use my motorbike – I’ve loved exploring Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan on my motorcycle a Suzuki V strom 1000.

Q: What are your impressions of Coney Island? What are some of the amusements, attractions, or restaurants etc that you and your wife have enjoyed?

A: We’ve very much enjoyed Footprints, Gargiulo’s, Tatiana’s and Umi Sushi who deliver all the time to the circus lot! My favourite dish is the New Zealand lamb at Gargiulo’s. My wife and I have enjoyed walking along the boardwalk a lot – especially after shows in the evening when it’s cooler – so many different nationalities, families, couples etc all just enjoying the ocean – it’s very relaxing – we’ve also enjoyed exploring and shopping at Brighton Beach.

Q: Have you had a chance to ride the Wonder Wheel? Swinging or Stationary Seat? The Cyclone? How was it? Time Magazine quoted Charles Lindbergh as saying that a ride on the Cyclone was more thrilling than his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

A: Not ridden them yet but they are on our list of must-dos before we leave!

Q: How often do you get back “home” to Melbourne, Australia?

A: Haven’t really been home in the last three years and won’t get back until February of next year – unfortunately our house was destroyed in the Melbourne bush fires this February so there isn’t really any longer a home to go back to. My parents’ home was also destroyed and we’ve been dealing with all of that since.

Q: Did you ever visit and can you tell us something about Luna Park in Sydney or Melbourne? Many parks around the world were inspired by Coney Island’s legendary Luna Park (1903-1946), but the Australian parks are among the few still in existence, so we’re very curious to know more about them.

A: This is a huge coincidence but my very first paid gig ever was at Luna Park in Melbourne! I also used to busk outside there all the time – there was a move a few years ago to bulldoze the area but people are rightly very attached to Luna Park and it was saved, and I think recently reopened.

Justin doing handstand with volunteer from audience. Photo courtesy of Ringing Bros.

Justin doing handstand with volunteer from audience. Photo courtesy of Ringing Bros.

Q: I read on Buckles circus blog that the Boom-A-Ring circus is scheduled to go to Italy after its Coney Island run. Will you be traveling there too? This brings me to the next question–how many languages do you speak? In Italy, will you emcee the show in Italian? French?

A: Yes we go to Italy, Spain and Germany. I’ll probably keep the French but include some Spanish or Italian phrases where I can – I speak French and some Spanish, and if we’ve been doing shows in Japan I’ll do it in Japanese , but not the whole act translated – just pertinent points. When we were working in Beirut I got to do some Arabic cursing which was fun. And incidentally, it’s been surprising how many people here in the Coney Island audiences do speak French.

Q: Thank you! I look forward to seeing the show again before the summer is over. Please come back to Coney Island next year!

A: Thank you so much Tricia – I enjoyed answering your questions and I hope that the circus being here has made some small difference in bringing people back to Coney Island.

Thanks to Maya Haddad of the Coney Island Beach Shop and Pablo57, Coney Island resident and photographer, for permission to use their wonderful photos and for contributing questions.

Through Sept. 7: Ringling Bros.Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo by rbbbconeyisland via flickr

Through Sept. 7: Ringling Bros.Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo by rbbbconeyisland via flickr

Related posts on ATZ...

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

December 23, 2009: Coney Island School Bus Lot Has Gotta Go! The Circus Is Coming

September 3, 2009: Coney Island Baby: Cyclone, the Mini Donkey at the Ringling Circus

June 15, 2009: Coney Island-O-Rama: Weekly Events June 15-21

Share

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: