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Running away with the circus.

Rowenna and Alyson share their story about life on the road with Cirque du Soleil.

Oct 20, 2020

Words: Mim Hook

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At their home in Warragul, Rowenna and Alyson Dunn have a shed full of suitcases — grazed and loved and of every size and colour. Some still have airport stickers on them. Bright name tags too.

This travel-worn luggage, now packed up against a garage wall, once ran away with the circus and lugged around a whole life for over a decade.

They know a few stories, these suitcases. Most of all though, this is a love story.

“In the circus, everyone is young at heart. Settling down and getting a house and having kids… you’re living the opposite. Most people say one day we’ll travel; we’re saying, one day we’ll stop travelling!” says Alyson.

Ro and Alyson fell in love on the road. They both lived, worked and played across the planet with Cirque du Soleil. New York, Vegas, Amsterdam, London, Montreal, Melbourne… all the bigwig cities via a big-top experience.

"Most people say one day we’ll travel; we’re saying, one day we’ll stop travelling!”

Before they fell in love with each other though (don’t worry we’ll get to this bit soon), Alyson and Ro fell in love with circus life.

So roll up folks, grab a handful of popcorn… COVID regulations can’t stop you dreaming… Rowenna and Alyson are taking you on a trip to Cirque du Soleil right now.

Here’s Ro: “So, I fell in love the first time going into the big top, that sensory overload, the excitement, the smell of popcorn, people are thrilled to be there. It really is a departure from reality. You are actually in a parking lot or a field but that’s forgotten. It’s this beautiful tent, a whole village really, that’s transportation into another universe.

“And so there’s the creaking of the floors, the smell of makeup, artists already wandering through the crowd performing and people finding their seats, and I was like WOW people get to live this all day every day.”

You can hear in the breathless, exhilarating way Ro and Alison speak about the circus how much this experience is a part of who they are. How fantastic and otherworldly the circus life is.

Ro says, “Then getting to know the people behind the scenes… these amazing creatives, artists, personalities, doing things other people only dream of. Circus life is this mix of culture and perspectives, learning people’s stories and backgrounds. You see the world in new ways. With people from 18–22 different nationalities on tour, you learn about justice and injustice from around the world too”.

Rowenna grew up in Warragul and lives there again with Alyson and their children. They started to fall for each other, however, in Alyson’s home country of the United States.

Alyson and Ro were both working for Cirque du Soleil in a mixture of publicity, ticketing and creative media roles when they met.

Their love was a slow and steady burn, “We were both in tricky relationships when we met and became best friends before we fell in love”, says Alyson.

The backdrop of a circus is a dazzling place to fall for someone.

“There are countless, countless love stories from the circus. There’s a number of artist and usher stories because a particular usher stood at your door for three months while you came on stage to perform. There are locals falling in love with circus workers travelling through their city on tour.

“The circus collects people as it moves across the world. People really fall in love with the circus, and also the people who are a part of it (like me, with a particular person in the box office!). The ambience, the atmosphere, this collective, eclectic group of people from all over the world… it’s a wild thing to get caught up in,” says Alyson.

“It’s a magnified and amplified environment,” adds Ro. “You’re living, working and travelling together. There’s no separation. Being on tour really fast forwards everything. You start dating and immediately you’re moving in together.”

Fast forward to 2020. Cirque du Soleil has filed for bankruptcy. Our two protagonists sometimes stand in their garage and gaze at their stacked suitcases with a sigh. It’s a different world. Our horizons have moved in on us. So how does this year feel for Ro and Alyson, who are used to jumping aboard a plane and soaring around the globe every month or so?

Alyson says, “COVID is a hard year, but we’re not panicking — I think this is because of our past with the circus”.

“Living with the circus for so long made us not be afraid of change,” adds Rowenna.

“Change can be hard to deal with, but in this work it’s the one constant challenge you’re thrown. Working in the circus teaches you to be resilient, to see change as rewarding, challenging and interesting”.

"Living with the circus for so long made us not be afraid of change”

Humans of the planet, however you may love and live, thank you for your generous company. Please make your way to the nearest exit. There are photo opportunities and treats to eat on your way out.

And we’ll see you next time. We’ll see you next time.

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