It’s a circus out there

Daredevil Douglas Gerling of the Medrano Circus promises to be in tip top form when he and his colleagues perform in Tel Aviv this week.

Daredevil Douglas Gerling 311 (photo credit: Roi Barkovich)
Daredevil Douglas Gerling 311
(photo credit: Roi Barkovich)
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 nine.
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 Globe.
“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 weeks.
“By chance, I was assigned to an ambulance at a circus.
Over time, I met the people, saw the life and I just fell in love with it.”
“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 performing.”
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 Gerling.
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.
“You can 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.
“It’s very 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 road.
“I know what the circus life is like and I chose it,” he said.
“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.
The 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 the fans.
“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.
“I like 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.