‘An airplane distress flare nearly killed me,’ says the proprietor of Cirque Berserk.
‘An aviation distress flare nearly killed me,’ says Cirque Berserk’s owner.
Martin “Zippo” Burton, a flamboyant, larger-than-life personality with a strong sense of humour, worked as a clown for the greater part of 18 years.
However, for the past three decades, this former secondary school theater teacher and dairy farmer’s son has run his own circus, the Zippos, which the press has dubbed “Britain’s Favorite.” “For the rest of my life, I couldn’t keep falling into orchestra pits and missing the properly placed cushions.” “It’s fun to watch someone fall off stage into a drum kit,” Martin, 67, adds with a deadpan smile, “but the fact is that it genuinely hurts.” So he works behind the scenes, juggling reams of paperwork, avoiding health and safety traps, and bending over backwards to help his contortionists, acrobats, and other performers, many of whom come from far-flung corners of the globe.
“London can be a shock if you live in a Mongolian yurt, therefore it’s my responsibility to look after them.”
He conducts his circus like a teacher in a raucous classroom, loves the diversity, and doesn’t consider it work.
One of the issues Johanner faced the morning we met was a request from a Cuban acrobat who “wants to marry an English girl and could I facilitate it.”
Despite the fact that it appears to be a ringmaster’s job, Martin remains unaffected.
“I have a deal with my performing family that I will ask them to do things that are difficult and often dangerous. They do those things in exchange for my assistance with a variety of domestic concerns.
“If you wake up thinking, ‘Here we go again,’ stop doing it. Instead, each morning brings a new adventure. To book a troupe of red-list African artistes into Covid quarantine hotels, which are all full, or to schedule a christening, we use a bowl inside the ringmaster’s top hat.”
Such is the life of a circus director, and Martin’s friendly attitude and acute eye for detail make him an obvious choice.
One might expect a man who went to theater school and then “broke his mother’s heart by becoming a vagrant” – his colorful description of busking as a clown to pay his £70-per-month mortgage – to be a little odd. “Brinkwire News in a Nutshell.”