Mark Segal Takes us to the Circus

Published: August 24th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Mark Segal
Pic: courtesy of Mark Segal

“You’re about to see a pretty weird rigging process,” Mark Segal tells me as he leads the way up a narrow flight of stairs, a black duffel bag slung over one shoulder. We’re heading to the cavernous gym on the second storey of the Eaton Centre’s GoodLife Fitness, where Segal works as a personal trainer when he’s not flying from trapezes and hauling his body up and down ropes as a circus aerialist. “I work here so I get free access to the room with high ceilings,” he jokes. 


Segal is here to secure a series of cords and swings so his circus troupe Suspended Animation Circus can rehearse for their BuskerFest act the weekend of Aug. 26. The four-person troupe, founded by Segal’s former circus school classmate Tyler Burke, will be executing aerials underneath an enormous helium balloon suspended high above the crowd. With its self-deprecating title “The 477th Greatest Show on Earth,” the members will assume the guises of D-list circus artists. “I’m a mentally challenged strongman from France,” Segal offers as an example. 


The 35-year-old former prop builder doesn’t look like your typical lithe, wispy circus performer. Short, stocky and extremely muscular, with tattoos winding around his ankles and arms, Segal describes himself as former “fat kid” who never really participated in anything athletic until an ex-girlfriend discovered the Toronto School of Circus Arts and suggested he take a look. He was intrigued, quit his film job and joined the circus. That was nine years ago. 


He started from scratch at age 26? “Scratch, man,” he says. “The people who are top-of-the-line, Cirque-du-Soleil-awesome are usually people who come from another country, and/or started when they were five. So I…don’t know what I was thinking,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know what made me think I could do it, but I didn’t care.” 


He’s had to make a lot sacrifices for joining so late, from putting off his desire to travel the world to dealing with constant exhaustion. He’s also stuck in the cycle of having to work a day job to support his training, but limiting the speed of his progress because he has to make money. Still, it’s worth it.


“I love it so much,” he says of the circus, searching for words to encapsulate the feeling. “It’s the best thing. Controlled falls, control of your own body…it feels beautiful and exhilarating and fun and challenging.” 


Was it at least a bit terrifying when he started? “No,” Segal answers immediately. “There are certain tricks that are scarier than others, for sure. There’s definitely a [gasps] moment when you have to get used to something. But everything in its place – you don’t do the big drop until you’ve done the things that lead up to it.” 


Trading a stable job for the circus may not be every Jewish parent’s dream, but Segal, who was raised in Whitby, gives his parents a lot of credit for how they handled his unusual career path. “My parents never tried to push conventional stuff on us,” he says. “When I was growing up they absolutely tried to involve [me and my brother] with Judaism, going to synagogue, that was important to them and to my mom for sure, but that’s as far as it went. The doctors and the lawyers were in the rest of the family. They didn’t know what we were going to be, me especially, but they didn’t even care as long as I was self-sufficient and happy and not in deep trouble.” 


Related articles: (stage, circus, mark segal, suspended animation circus, buskerfest)
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