My Weekend: You could find me in a big top in Donegal or a tiny village in Italy

Circus performer and filmmaker Ken Fanning tells us about how work often creeps into his weekends
My Weekend: You could find me in a big top in Donegal or a tiny village in Italy

Ken Fanning of Tumble Circus, who will take part in Culture Night tonight, in Cork.

TELL us a little bit about yourself and your work.

My name is Ken Fanning. I create devilment with circus, clowns and film.

I work with the legendary Tumble Circus, which is Ireland’s first and only non-traditional big-top touring circus.

It might not seem like a big deal, but one day our children will be forced to learn about us in school.

We have performed all over the world. In 2019 we headlined the circus big top at the Glastonbury festival; this year we made a circus show on bikes and cycled all over Ireland, performing in schools, parks, care homes, outside pubs, on beaches, and in direct provision centres.

It’s been wildly successful and we are knackered, but it’s been great to be back in front of people.

I’m also a filmmaker and have completed four feature-length films, all of which have been screened at international film festivals. I have won awards for my film making and even went to Hollywood to pick one up — I lost it at the airport.

I’m also a dad to a 14-year-old son, who still thinks I’m cool.

What is your ideal way to spend a Friday night?

Most weekends I work, which means I could be anywhere, in a big top in a field in Donegal, or at a festival in some tiny village in Italy.

There will always be something unusual happening, something to look at, people to chat to, and places to discover.

I’m really looking forward to Friday night (September 17) as Cork city will come alive with arts, music, dance and all kinds of wonderful things in celebration of Cork City Culture Night.

This year there’s over 70 in-person, outdoor and online free events for all the family to enjoy, and I’ll be performing as part of Circus Factory’s Pitch’d Circus Street Arts Festival on the Coal Quay.

I would encourage everyone to log on to to check out what’s on.

Ken Fanning, Ali Stranger and Henrik Gard from the Tumble Circus performing. Picture: Leon Farrell
Ken Fanning, Ali Stranger and Henrik Gard from the Tumble Circus performing. Picture: Leon Farrell

Lie ins or up with the lark... which is it for you?

I like to get up early, watch the sun rise, read, stretch, meditate and slowly prepare a healthy breakfast. This is what I like, but in reality I roll out of bed, fart, groan, and drink coffee.

Does work creep into your weekend at all?

I think of work as the stuff you get paid to do that other people don’t want to do. But I love what I do and refuse to call it work. It’s a privilege to be able to do what I love, and I take that seriously and try to be the best I can and make shows and films that people will see and be inspired to live well.

If money was no object, where would you head to on a weekend city break and who would you bring with you?

I would stay at home in Belfast. It’s a great city, full of great people. I travel a lot, so when I’m home in Belfast I think of it as holidays. 

I love bringing any of my international extended circus family to Belfast. They all love it; some have even stayed.

Is there some place you like to head to recharge the batteries?

The Ormeau park is right beside my house and it is a blessing of a place. It’s all the countryside I need and is by my doorstep and leads to several great cafes, bars, restaurants and friends’ houses.

Do you like to catch up with family/friends at the weekend?

Whenever we are touring, we bump into so many of our extended international circus family — and sometimes in the strangest place. Sometimes you might not see some Australian friend for four or five years, and then randomly we both turn up at a gig in Iceland.

Do you get to indulge any hobbies? Even as a spectator?

Filmmaking used to be my hobby, but now people pay me to do it. But because I never really tried to make money from it or go commercial, I get to make the film I want, the way I want to.

Entertain or be entertained?

I like both. If I had a signature dish, it would be stuff found in the reduced section of major supermarkets.

We have so many places to eat out in Cork, where are your go-to spots for coffee/lunch/special meal?

The English Market is a real gem in the city centre.

For coffee, the 3 fools.

Sunday night comes around too fast... how do you normally spend it?

Sometimes tearing down a big top, sometimes feasting at an end-of-festival party, sometimes driving home in a Ford transit.

What time does your alarm clock go off on Monday morning?

Ten minutes past seven — I immediately turn it off.

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