The last time I saw Flying Bob, he was soaring high above screaming throngs of adults and kids at TM Roberts Elementary School in Cranbrook.
This was in 2012, and when I heard that Canada’s greatest unicycle-riding/high-wire-walking/echo-talking/gravity-defying magician, comedian and juggler was returning to Cranbrook, this weekend, in fact, for the 33rd annual Kootenay Children’s Festival, you can bet I pencilled that date in on my calendar. Saturday, May 12. See you all there.
Not only that, knowing that Flying Bob has been a legend of global proportions in the Circus Arts for at least 30 years, I was compelled to call him on the phone to ask him what it’s like to fly so high for so long. Flying Bob was gracious enough to take my call, in between a series of school shows in Vancouver.
“It beats having a real job — ha ha! — but it is a lot of work,” Flying Bob said. “I basically work for myself … so you take all the responsibilities, but you get all the joys. I get to travel all over the place, and stay in shape, and hopefully make people happy.”
Flying Bob is a one-man three-ring circus, who moves easily between dimensions, between the earth and sky. I remember his previous Cranbrook performance: hat juggling, ping pong ball juggling, amazing sleight-of-hand moves, peddling the high unicycle with one foot so he could toss juggling clubs under one leg. Stacking a dozen garden chairs into an enormous flower and balancing it on his chin. An immensely perilous routine on the nine-foot higher, where he changed his clothes in dangerous (and thus hilarious) fashion.
So, can we expect the same astonishment at the Kootenay Children’s Festival on Saturday, in the green fields of Mount Baker Secondary School?
“All of my fun, strange, weird, happy circus tricks,” Flying Bob said. “And it will outdoors, so I’ll be able to use the environment a little more and make everything bigger.”
But there’s more. Flying Bob is working to help all of us ground dwellers get a taste of those fabulous adventures which are his stock in trade. The artists is offering a Circus Arts “drop-in” as part of the afternoon.
“In addition to my show, for about three hours in the afternoon I will have circus arts activities set up on site,” he said. “If you like what you see in the Flying Bob show, you can come over and give it a try. You can walk on really low slack lines, you can juggle, you can balance, you can walk on stilts, you can try unicycle, spin plates — it’s really, really fun.
“Anybody can do it,” Flying Bob added. “If you want to get really good at it, it’s totally up to you. Like they say, if you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. Anybody can learn circus arts, you just have to dedicate yourself to it.
“Some skills are extremely easy, and some skills are extremely difficult. But when you learn them, are they fun. And you kind of get hooked on them — you get an adrenaline rush when you learn a new circus skill, which just motivates you to learn even more.”
Born in Nova Scotia, Flying Bob grew up in Saskatoon, where he took up the gravity defying arts. He is now based in Alberta.
“We like to get people involved,” he said of his shows. “I don’t like to see people just sitting there quietly with their hands folded in their laps, watching me do my tricks. Let’s get together, let’s make it a party. I have people — adults and kids — volunteer in the show, and they always go away successful. There’s lots of give and take and improv, and even things that happen in the show that I don’t expect.
“That’s what keeps it exciting and fresh for me too.”
The 33rd annual Kootenay Children’s Festival runs Saturday, May 12, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Mount Baker Field, 14th Avenue South and 2nd Street North.