A Brief History of Suitcase Circus
For the past 40 years we've been quite busy, here's the short version...
The Early Days
In 1975, in a little cottage at Long Green, West Lothian, Scotland, Suitcase Circus was born.
It started as an informal association of support for the work of Reg Bolton (1945 – 2006) introducing Circus Skills into the streets and housing estates of Edinburgh.
A New Direction
Reg spent a short time studying at L'Ecole Nationale du Cirque, Annie Fratellini's Circus School in Paris.
It was clear that Reg was not cut out to be a great Circus Star; his orangutan arms would never straighten into an elegant handstand, but had stayed long enough to make a great decision.
He would start his own Circus School, where elegance and perfection would not be the only criteria.
Edinburgh Circus School
The Edinburgh Summer Circus School, in 1977 attracted 30 students; 10 from Scotland, 10 from England, and 10 from overseas.
The teachers included Annie Stainer, Emil Wolk, Frankie Anderson, Toby Philpott and Paula Melbourne.
Circus To Save The World
Over the three seasons of the school, the concept of Community Circus had started to develop, and both Craigmillar and Pilton, infamous Edinburgh housing estates, had their own Children's Circuses, later to combine for a legendary tour of the Western Isles.
It was all very new and exciting,
Prince Charles even visited and tried to ride a unicycle.
In 1981, Suitcase Circus organised the first ever Community Circus Festival, in Manchester, featuring performances from seven groups from various parts of England and Scotland.
Among the team involved in that first festival were Pauline Peel, Tina Glover, Andy Webster, Danny Hignett and Linda Chase Broda.
The next few years saw similar events in Edinburgh, Palenville (USA), Rochester (England), and Brisbane (Australia).
The Long Green Theatre Company
Throughout the 70s and 80s the Bolton family, Reg and Annie along with their children Joe and Sophie performed as ‘The Long Green Theatre Company’ in more than 20 countries around the world...
International Children's Theatre
As it happened, one of their most popular children’s theatre shows was also named ‘Suitcase Circus’.
A situation of art imitating life, a show about a family travelling around the globe putting on shows.
This charming story contained a whole gamut of theatrical forms, circus, slapstick, puppetry, dance and music.
Bolton's Travelling Circus
The first time the whole family visited Western Australia was in 1983, performing this show at the Perth Children’s Festival.
During this visit to Australia they circled the country performing at festivals in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Alice Springs.
Suitcase Circus WA
Then, in 1985, the Bolton family moved to WA, and a new phase began. The land of the big sky also offered unlimited horizons.
Suitcase Circus began to work with Sports Clubs, with Corporations, in Shopping Centres, with Aboriginal and other cultural groups, with special interest groups, at rural Agricultural shows and at Pre-Schools and Universities
New Circus Festival
Reg Bolton directed WA’s first ever Circus Festival in 1987.
The inclusive nature of Suitcase Circus was an integral part of the ‘New Circus Festival’ bringing together local circus groups along with Australian and International performers.
Circus In Education
Reg, a qualified teacher who had somehow not got around to getting a real job, embraced opportunities to work on Circus in Education.
Joe Bolton, his son, also found he had real talent and enthusiasm for teaching, and this gradually became the main focus of Suitcase Circus.
Reg Bolton toured the state extensively in 1985 with his show ‘Sawdust Superstars’ and pioneered early WA circus-in-education events.
This included visits to remote communities and the first WA circus school projects with Balga SHS and Cecil Andrews SHS.
Reg and wife Annie Stainer both took up positions at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
Annie Stainer was Head of Movement for actors’ courses for 7 years and Reg directed 17 different Theatre-in-Education productions at WAAPA. (Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley) from 1985 - 91.
Joe Bolton provided circus skills units for Acting, Musical Theatre & Dance Departments from 1992 - 1998. Nowadays, Joe is occasionally invited to run intensive circus skill masterclasses for WAAPA.
YMCA Circus School
In 1997 Suitcase Circus decided to stay put for a while, Reg Bolton initiated an arrangement with the YMCA. The result was Perth’s first public Circus School.
‘Circus Y’ at Tompkins Park in Melville was officially opened by Premiere Richard Court and had a membership community of 400 people.
With classes for beginners and experts the school served to launch the careers of several professional performers.
In 2004 Reg Bolton completed his PhD, consolidating four decades of work in the field of social circus. His thesis ‘Why Circus Works’ can be found at RegBolton.Org
Check it out
The Work Goes On
The scope of Suitcase Circus continues to evolve, with ongoing collaborative projects for schools, communities and special interest groups.
We are proud to be able to continue providing inspiration and resources for new and established circus programs and share the benefits of social circus far and wide.
“It’s all of us, versus gravity!” – Joe Bolton