Business lessons from the Edinburgh Fringe: 3) Just add circus skills

If you have been following this series closely you’ll be equipped to build great relationships with your customers and be able to motivate your co-workers with a few killer one-liners and some well thought-out communications. There’s just one thing that needs to be added to spice up the workplace: circus skills. Yes, this is my big take-away from the Fringe: the business world would benefit enormously from regular injections of acrobatics, tightrope-walking and attempts at the seemingly-impossible.

I love to cook and I have a few simple rules that guarantee tasty times, one of which is ‘just add chorizo’. Yes, any bland savoury dish can be transformed by cutting up a few cubes of spicy Spanish sausage and, in much the same way, an OK theatre performance can be made that bit more exciting by the judicious deployment of trapeze or other skills.

We’d actually been to a few circus/physical theatre performances in Edinburgh – Circa and Casus were particularly impressive – and then, via the wonderful Fringe app which told us it was only 50m away from where we were, chanced upon a student production of a version of Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale. This set the tale in the context of a circus which enabled most of the performers to show off some pretty impressive trapeze and aerial silk skills. Without these the production would have been so-so and hence led me to formulate my circus skills hypothesis. (Students of theatre will note that this is not new – Peter Brook’s ground-breaking 1970 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first to integrate circus skills into the staging.)

The best illustration of this approach was the frankly astonishing BLAM! which I alluded to earlier – a word-of-mouth hit that had one of the most enthusiastic audience reactions I have ever seen outside of a rock gig.

The concept is at once both simple and extremely silly: four bored office workers liven up their dull work live by enacting action-movie scenarios using office equipment. The action – and there is plenty of it – spirals into ever-increasing levels of lunacy, all without any dialogue. Anyone who’s rolled up a post-it note and pretended it’s a cigarette or hoofed a rolled-up ball of paper into a bin during their working day will immediately identify with the protagonists but would probably draw the line at crashing through a cubicle or swinging from the light fittings – however appealing it might sound.

So whilst it might not, on health and safety grounds, be a great idea to emulate BLAM! too closely, it’s a good idea to recognise that as human beings we are not all that well designed to sit at desks all day tapping on to computer keyboards. I know from my own experience that introducing some form of physical distraction or exercise into a workshop or meeting can get creative juices going or get people un-stuck.

It’s not easy to do though as I think the prevailing conception about business is that it is serious and therefore needs to be dull. Like most people I come across, I take my work very seriously, but that doesn’t mean to say it shouldn’t be fun. So whilst I’m unlikely to parade around the office on stilts (particularly as I’ve never been able to master them), I’ll try to make sure things never become so tedious that we need to recreate scenes from Iron Man to avoid going mad from boredom.

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