There are plusses and minuses to Douglas Gerling’s job. On the positive side, he
can walk to work – it’s right around the corner from his bedroom. And he
receives tumultuous applause when he succeeds. On the down side, when he doesn’t
succeed, he might very well end up with broken bones, or worse. And he can go
for months without seeing his wife and daughters, ages six and
Welcome to life in the circus, or rather to the 27-yearold
Gerling’s life for the last five years. The Colombianborn, Germany-bred
daredevil performs some of the riskiest, heart-palpitating acts as one of the
featured performers in the Italian Medrano Circus, currently in Israel as part
of an eight-month engagement.
The glamour and the romance of traveling
the world and performing for adoring crowds may have what initially attracted
Gerling to the circus, and it’s still the main reason why up to four times a
day, he crosses the high wire meters above the ground, is tossed head over heels
at breakneck speeds in the ominous-sounding Wheel of Death and narrowly avoids
fellow motorcycle riders as they careen around each other in The
“I spent three years in the German army and then studied to be a
paramedic,” said Gerling last week, as he prepared for the first of two shows
that day in Haifa, where the circus has been staged for the last two
“By chance, I was assigned to an ambulance at a
Over time, I met the people, saw the life and I just fell in love
“I began talking to some of the performers, and told them I
wanted to join an act and I began to practice.
Two months later I was
There were some bumps – and crashes – on the way to
Gerling’s rise to the high wire, however.
“I’ve fallen down many times.
Three years ago, I fell eight meters, broke a leg and didn’t work for six
months. Then a half year after that, I fell again. But since then, I’ve been
more careful, and I have faith that nothing bad will happen to me,” said
He was a featured performer in Circus Europa which came to
Israel last year, and this year joined the Medrano. Established in 1864 by the
Casartelli family, the venerable institution, which stopped using animals over a
decade ago, first appeared in Israel in 1952, with its most recent appearance
being in 2005.
GERLING HAS risen in the ranks to the point that he now
trains his fellow daredevils to become part of the Wheel of Death and The Globe
teams. He said that it becomes obvious if someone is not working out, and it’s
not only because they end up groaning in pain after they fall.
tell if someone’s not giving everything they need to the performance. When that
happens, we have to tell them to leave,” he said, adding that the personal
offstage soap operas of circus life stay out of the big top.
important to build trust with your team. Of course, we have our private lives,
but the moment you go into perform, you need to forget everything – it doesn’t
matter if you had a fight with this person 10 minutes ago, you now have to work
with him and both of your lives depend on it.”
That togetherness creates
a family atmosphere, which according to Gerling, is like most families – full of
love, arguing, jealousy and joy.
“You’re with everyone 24 hours a day –
and after my first month in the circus, I already felt that I had a new family.
You do everything together and there are problems like with any family. But
these are also people that you depend on.”
Complicating matters is the
fact that the circus performers also have their own families, and while some
wives, husbands and children travel with the circus fulfilling administrative
and sales jobs at shows, most of the cast often go for long periods of time
without seeing their loved ones.
“It’s very difficult for me right now.
My wife and girls live in Germany and sometimes I don’t see them for two or
three months until I take a week off, or they come to spend time with me,” said
Gerling, dismissing the idea that they join him permanently on the
“I know what the circus life is like and I chose it,” he
“My children need to decide when they are bigger if they want to
follow me, not right now. Now, I want them to go a normal school, live in a
house and lead a normal life. After that, they can decide if they want to follow
in their father’s footsteps or get a normal job.”
Gerling, along with the
other circus performers and staff – numbering over 125 – live in crates and
caravans set up near the big top in whichever city they’re appearing.
Medrano will be moving from Haifa to Tel Aviv beginning on Friday, April 8th,
with multiple shows at Hayarkon Park through Pessah. Then it’s on to Yom
Haatzmaut in Beersheva, June in Jerusalem and onward through to Succot in Holon.
For Gerling, the daily grind spread over eight months is endurable only due to
“Some days we have four shows in a row, and at the end of the
day, you’re so tired you can’t walk. But when we go out to perform, we don’t
think about being tired – we give everything we have,” he said.
the audiences in Israel very much. They give us so much love and power to
perform. The Israeli audience is hot.”
There’ll be plenty to heat up
about in this year’s edition of the Medrano Circus, including the Romashov’s
Russian Swing act, in which arialists synchronize four moving swings as they
jump, flip and twist their way from one to the other; the Seven-Man Pyramid,
featuring acrobats building human pyramids on the high wire and Spiderman, a
stuntman who defies gravity with his feats.
While they may look like
they’re fearless while attempting their super-human endeavors, if they’re
anything like Douglas Gerling, they have one foot firmly planted on the
ground.Ticket and show information is available at Hadran *2274.
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