Circus performer Sue Broadway

Juggling jobs in her 60s is just one of performer Sue Broadway’s skills

Performer and artistic director Sue Broadway spent decades moving from job to job, long before the term ‘gig economy’ was coined. And many of those jobs were, literally, juggling.

A third-generation performer, Sue has had the sort of career you’d usually only read about in books, with highlights such as travelling with a circus through Europe, South America and Africa – delighting people with her flying trapeze act and juggling skills.

Appreciative audiences in remote villages

‘I still remember fondly a tour we did in Africa,’ she says. ‘We took a show to villages where we just played in the dirt. In the middle of nowhere really, in the middle of rugby fields, football fields – but it was a really fantastic experience to be in that environment, doing a show for people who really appreciated it. And appreciated the fact that we bothered to go all that way to show them what we could do. I'll never, never forget that,’ Sue says.

The circus was not such an unusual choice for Sue – her mother was a contortionist, acrobat and tap-dancer – but, she did have a brief flirtation with the idea of being a serious actress before the pull of the big top proved too strong. ‘When I discovered the circus, and started performing, I felt like I had really found my genre. I have played around in that field ever since; there's something about the live audience experience that I just can't get away from,’ Sue says.

Founding Circus Oz

Sue was one of the founders of Circus Oz and made the transition from performer to artistic director when she lived in the UK for a decade, where she started another circus company and toured through Europe, South America and Africa.

Back in Australia, she worked on the Sydney Olympics and directed the Moomba Parade for several years, adding ‘parade expert’ to her expertise in administration, directing and producing.

Over the years, Sue has seen dramatic changes in the theatre and performing arts funding landscape.

‘When I started, when I told people I worked in the circus they'd say, "But what do you do for a living?",’ she recalls.

‘No one thought you could actually make a living being an artist, it was just a joke really.

‘There's a much wider recreational use of circus and all of the performing arts now at all kinds of community events, which is great.

‘We started Circus Oz because we could, because nobody else was doing it. And now you can go to university and study to be a circus performer, so the technical level of contemporary circus has gone up enormously in the time that I've been doing it.’

#MeToo

Circus Oz was very much a feminist initiative, inspired by ideals of gender and racial equality and diversity, so Sue is heartened by the rise of feminism .

‘I’ve seen an incremental change over my lifetime. Generally speaking, I think it’s improving slowly; two steps forward and one step back, rather than the opposite,’ she says.

‘It’s fantastic to see younger women stepping up and taking over the fight and being so determined about it.’

Slowing down

Now, in her 60s, Sue is finding the flow of work has changed as many of those who commissioned her in the past have, themselves, retired.

‘I'm still doing it but perhaps not quite as often as I used to. It’s quite nice to take on projects that I'm really fascinated by, rather than needing to earn a living quite so much,’ she says.

‘I am slowing down a little bit, although I still juggle hats and I do a couple of tricks with glasses and spoons and balance a teapot on my head.’

Sue and fellow clown Deb Batton perform in their own double act Broadway and Batton at this year's Victorian Seniors Festival, and host a show called The Classics, which features performers who are all aged over 50. The show is billed as ‘Funny, playful, and like good wine, vintage is better!’

‘I'm not as agile as I used to be,’ Sue says. ‘But I still love performing. It just feels like coming home.’

  • Click here to find out more about The Classics Quinquagenarian Circus.