The Rise and Fall of the ‘Cirque du Folies’ – a cautionary tale (a BJJ parable)

The following is a parable…a cautionary tale told in allegory. Begin parable:

What you are about to read is the true story of the rise and fall of the “Cirque du Folies” as told by a founder of the troop of artistic acrobats. Read with caution.

YoloBJJ: I’m here with Brian “Juney” Juneau, founder of the troop of acrobats known as the Cirque du Folies. Brian…tell us how it all started.

Brian “Juney” Juneau: “Yeah, so…when we first got together we were all just…just tired of not being appreciated and, and just struggling to get by day to day, ya know…? We just trained and trained to be the BEST at what we did but nobody seemed to care. All we really wanted was to be able to train our beloved acrobatics and to just be the best we could be. We didn’t mean for anything bad to happen, you know?

I mean, sure, there were already acrobatics shows and competitions going on, some big ones, a bunch of smaller ones but no one was getting paid. I mean, do you know how much it costs to train gymnastics? To pay gym dues and equipment costs, not to mention putting food in your stomach?

No, what we REALLY wanted was to create a professional outlet for our art that could showcase the skill of these high level acrobats AND that could give them…US, a way to make a living at the same time. I mean, no one was trying to get rich…not at first, I guess, we just wanted to train and do what we love.

YoloBJJ: So what happened?

BJJ: Well, everything started out great. We formed the ‘Cirque du Folies’ and started holding events at different locations…you know, kind of “taking our show on the road”. We had a lot of interest, especially with the awesome talent we were showcasing. We were bringing in the best gymnasts and acrobats from all over the world. All the social networks were buzzing about the shows and the talent level etc… It was super exciting to be there when it all started happening!

YoloBJJ: Sounds great! What was the problem?Leaderboard

BJJ: Well…as it turned out, all that buzz and excitement we were hearing was coming from the die-hard acrobatics community, which was cool! That is really what we wanted all along – to be appreciated by our peers. And we wanted the people who understood what drives us, and who loved acrobatics too, to really respect and enjoy it!

YoloBJJ: But….?

BJJ: But, what we realized very quickly was that the die-hard community was a lot smaller than we had realized when we started. Even with top notch talent, and great shows all-over the world we just couldn’t bring in the money to pay the acrobats, pay travel fees, rent the venues, set-up costs like staging, lighting, video and internet streaming crews, etc… we just weren’t bringing in enough money. It didn’t help that about 20% of our audience was watching the events bootlegged instead of paying for the live stream. It just meant that we needed to make the show that much bigger to offset that 20% loss.

Well, anyway…It wasn’t what we thought it would be. I mean, yeah, we were “living the dream” but we still had full time jobs, still struggling to pay bills, pay training and gym fees, and still eat every day, ya know? It just seemed like, no matter how good our shows were, we just couldn’t bring in enough money to make ends meet, let alone make a live-able wage. It just…it just sucked! To struggle so hard for something we loved so much and to be right back where we started! I mean, it was like treading water and getting nowhere. Something had to change but we didn’t really know how or what to change.

YoloBJJ: And then what happened?

BJJ: Well….(deep breath)…well, first let me say…no one ever intended for this to happen okay? I mean, no one was sitting in a room thinking about how we could ruin our show. There wasn’t any “Illuminati” sitting in dark chambers working out how to making everyone’s dream a nightmare….it just kind of happened…kinda’ slowly…over time. Know what I mean?

YoloBJJ: Sure, it’s okay…tell us what happened…

BJJ: Well…One show in particular, we brought in a gymnast / acrobat who was pretty well known and was a great acrobat as well! We were stoked to have him. We set-up a show and all-of-a-sudden he started going to the internet and talking trash about the other acrobats. Like, he didn’t tell us he was gonna do that, and we SURE didn’t ask him to! He just started doing it.

YoloBJJ: Like, how do you mean? What was he doing?

BJJ: Awww, you know. Talking bad about the other acrobats, saying things like “they wouldn’t know a front double pike/axle from a cartwheel” or that their gymnastics were “no good” or that they were “afraid to even TRY the kind of stunts that he could do”…that kind of shit!

At first we thought it was kind of funny, like, we thought maybe he was doing it as a joke. And I think most other people did too. It was just a bit funny. I mean, Acrobats are a tight knit group. There is a lot of respect and brotherhood in the community. I mean, think about it: We have to trust each other out there. We have to work together to a degree to make sure no one gets hurt and that, at the end of the day, we can all go back to the gym and keep working on getting better at our acrobatics. To be better acrobats, know what I mean? It’s just that…before this, there really wasn’t any smack talk going on between the gymnasts, we were more like a family.

YoloBJJ: So, did you ask him to quit with the smack-talk?

BJJ: Well, like I said, at first we just thought he was kind of joking around…it was funny. And, I still believe that’s all it was at the time. But, what happened next we just didn’t see coming.

YoloBJJ: What happened?

BJJ: Well, the gist of it is: That show was our highest grossing show to date! I mean, we didn’t strike it rich by any means, but it was definitely a strong show. The people were eating it up. Every time he would put out another post jawing on one of the other acrobats our site would start getting all kinds of hits. The live-stream had more subscriptions than any of our other shows! Everyone was stoked. I remember, after the show, the acrobat came over and said…”So, how did it go”? We were all like, “Man, it was our best show yet! You gotta come back again!!”…Looking back, it seems tragic that we didn’t see what we had just done.No Gi Leaderboard

YoloBJJ: And…what was that?

BJJ: Well, we had set the stage for the “Death of our Dream”, so to speak. It sounds dramatic, I know, but really, when you think about it, that’s what ended up happening. I mean, what we really had always wanted was an outlet to display the extreme talent in a sport we all loved…

YoloBJJ: Hang on…so what exactly happened that killed your dream”?

BJJ: Well…you know, we should have seen this coming. I mean…we had seen similar things happen in a similar market with the “Ultimate Flipping Challenge”. Do you know it? It’s similar to Acrobatics…I mean, it has acrobatics and gymnastics in it, but it is more of just a contest to see who can be the “Champion Flipper”. They had that reality show “The Ultimate Flipper”…you remember it?

YoloBJJ: Haha…yeah, we remember…

BJJ: Anyway…that show had started blowing up as soon as the acrobats started disrespecting each other. It got so big that it became an expectation that the acrobats would try to start trouble every time they got together. I mean, their shows were huge, but the whole time we were like…”Man, that’s a shame…no respect for our sport”.

I mean…we were actually a little ashamed because those “flippers” came out of gymnastics and acrobatics you know? Like, a lot of what the “Flipping” game is, is because of acrobatics and for us to see gymnasts and acrobats being so disrespectful to each other was just sad and a little disturbing. We would distance ourselves from that show by saying things like: “Man, I’m an acrobat, not a Flipper” or telling people that acrobats were “like flippers” except we had humility and respect for acrobatics. We never even saw the slippery slope we had already stepped on to.

Anyway…I remember one show, that same acrobat was performing and he started his smack talk about one of the other acrobats and next thing you know…they are out there on the stage trying to actually hurt each other. I mean, here you have one acrobat trying to physically injure the other by doing very obvious things like, stepping left on a jump that clearly should have been a right step! They were both out there doing a routine but the routine had stopped being about acrobatics and had become all about the “beef” between them. It was pretty shameful, honestly. But the crowd was on the edge of their seat! They were eating it up! People in the audience were like…”Damn….is he going to catch him when he does this triple back roll/twist from the hi-trapeze??? All excited, almost like they were hoping he WOULD drop him!

YoloBJJ: So did you guys step in then and say…”Hey guys, that’s enough. That’s not what we are about in the acrobatics community”…?

BJJ: I guess that would have been the right thing to do but, no…we didn’t.

YoloBJJ: Why not? I mean, here you are…watching the sport, the art you love turning into a spectacle and you completely had the power to stop it but….but you didn’t? Why?

BJJ: Look man, I told you…nobody meant for this to happen! It’s just that…well, let’s be honest: The community was loving it! The live stream was huge and the social media response was off the charts! I mean, you can’t just blame it on us! The community was not only loving it, but making it financially worthwhile for us to let it keep going…no – scratch that..we not only ‘let it keep going’…we started PROMOTING it! I mean…we had been struggling so long and hard to make acrobatics profitable for these high level athletes and here we were, on the cusp of making it happen. We were paying the athletes, the travel fare, production…the whole works. We were finally making money, ya know!?

YoloBJJ: So, everything is going great. The athletes are making money the producers are making money, the community is having a great time…so where is the problem?

BJJ: Well, over the next few years it just kept growing and growing. I mean, every show got bigger and bigger, paychecks got bigger and bigger…and the show just got more and more shitty. I mean, look, I’ve already admitted the part we played. We let it go, we encouraged it…but, next thing you know the acrobats are getting together ahead of time, trying to figure out how to make it a bigger show, a bigger payday…and we were letting it happen, I mean, we were getting paid too, ya know.

A couple years went by and the acrobats were staging incidents during the show, cussing each other’s families, making crazy accusations about each other…slapping and spitting at each other in the middle of performances…it all sounds terrible, at least for someone who truly loves acrobatics, but hey, what can I say…we were loving the paychecks….

YoloBJJ: So…ten years after that first event you went in a new direction…tell us about it.

BJJ: Well, what we realized was that there our market had been changing over all those years. Where we had started out with a core audience of passionate acrobatics fans, most of whom were acrobats themselves, we had grown an entirely new audience of spectators. These were everyday folks who just loved to see a spectacle. Our ratings had grown over time and we had begun pulling in fringe fans like…like tumblers, flippers, free-runners…hell, some of the new fans didn’t train anything at all, just plain-ole couch potatoes who liked to see a big spectacle. (Brian takes a deep breath and pauses with tightened lips).

YoloBJJ: Go on….

sample "skyscraper ad"

BJJ: I remember it like it was yesterday. The Chairman came into the board meeting with a bunch of papers tucked under his elbow. We had formed the board some years ago to bring in some actual business professionals to help us keep up with the growth of the Cirque de Folies…

Well, he walks in and sits down with a big grin and starts out all….”Gentlemen, you are about to witness the biggest payday of your lives”!

Somehow, I just didn’t get excited. I mean, I was already making more money than I really needed at that point but something about that money just made it hard to stop. I mean, if I am honest, most of us had lost the spark for Cirque de Folies years ago. Yeah, we had finally made it, but made it doing what? It sure wasn’t the acrobatics that we had set out all those years ago to try and grow and make sustainable. By that time it had turned into a freak show! Just a bunch of characters touting off and seeing who could have the biggest ego! Getting people riled up wondering what sort of craziness would happen at the next show…

YoloBJJ: So, what did the Chairman say?

BJJ: Oh yeah, that…well, he says …”extensive market research has shown that, with the a few changes to the show itself we can increase our annual earnings by….” blah, blah millions or something. Then he drops the bomb: The show was going to be renamed “World Acro-combatives Entertainment” or “WAE” and new events were being formed to showcase the “drama and excitement” of it. There were going to be all-new acts including Trapeze fights, Sumo Bowling….Don’t even ask me how that one got in there, and…

YoloBJJ: Sumo Bowling? I don’t even know what the hell that is?!

BJJ: Don’t get me started! (I chuckle…Brian does not) Anyway…that was the end of it for me. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was one of the original acrobats in the Cirque de Folies, ya know. I used to wake up every morning stoked to get to the gym and start working on my routines: rings, trapeze, trampoline, see-saw jumps…you name it I did it all. None of those things were in the show anymore. It was all about the ruckus and the shit-talking…I just…It took me a long while to realize that I wasn’t living my dream at all anymore… That, in fact, my dream had died a long, slow death. So slow that I never even realized it was dead…. (Brian is sunken down in his chair now…his eyes are red and, for a second, his lower lip quivered).

You know…I used to really love that show. I mean, I sacrificed and worked hard to put on a great display of acrobatics with top level athletes so that we could all enjoy the sport we love. But….well…

YoloBJJ: Brian, I know it was tough for you to go through this. If you had any advice for people going through something like this right now…you know…trying to build something great out of their passion…what would you tell them. I mean, looking back over your experience…what would you do different? What could you tell others to help them from going through the same thing?

BJJ: Well…you know, I guess…well, I guess to just…just “Stay focused on your passion”. I mean, always ask yourself…”What was it I wanted to do here”?

Don’t get distracted by “Success.” Make sure you define going in what success looks like for your dream and then stick with it. Don’t ever let money be the definition of success because once that happens it’s no longer about your dream at all.

I wanted to live my life performing acrobatics and I really didn’t want much else at the time. I just….we all just got caught up in making it grow! Why?! To be successful, that’s why…but we never truly internalized what being successful really was.

Looking back, we were actually the most successful the first few shows, that couple of years or so when we were able to pay the bills…even though we didn’t really make much. We were doing acrobatics for a living! It wasn’t a glamorous living but, I guess we just forgot that it wasn’t glamour and fortune we were looking for to begin with.

I really wish I could have seen what was happening back then the way I can see it now…( I see a small tear trickle out of Brian’s left eye. He doesn’t even bother to dry it.)

YoloBJJ: Don’t we all Brian…don’t we all…(end interview)

Editor’s Note: Brian left the WAE (formerly Cirque de Folies) after ten years of creating, growing, and performing in the troop. He now lives in Springfield, Idaho teaching acrobatics at the “Dreamer’s Academy” school of acrobatics”. He rides his one-speed mountain bike to and from work and lives in a one bedroom apartment.  When asked how he feel about his life, now that he has left behind one of the most “successful ventures” in the history of acrobatics he said….”You know…these days, I know what success is and I live it every day. I get up in the morning, pull on my tights, and hit the rings, training and teaching acrobatics. I am healthy and able to do what I love with people who love doing it…I don’t actually want anything more than that. So, I guess you could say I am the happiest I have ever been….and just a little bit wiser about what that word “success” means.

End Parable

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