It took more than an earthquake to stop Jeff Robinson from pursuing his dreams of being a circus artist. Now known as “The Quizzical Mr Jeff”, he creates a magical world for his audience, one in which impossible things can and do happen. With his bespoke props and carefully crafted ideas, Mr Jeff wants to transport the viewer from the mundanity of everyday life into a dream-like place.
In his Q&A, Mr Jeff lets you take a peek behind the illusions.
Seesaw: When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
Mr Jeff: I first realised that I wanted to be an artist when I was staying with a friend, thinking about my life and realised that I had to choose something that I wanted to do every single day for the rest of my life. And the circus arts brought me a lot of joy so I wanted to pursue that as far as possible!
S: Tell us about your training…
MJ: I was signed up to be in the Christchurch Circus school in New Zealand the year that a huge earthquake hit and destroyed the city, which led me to go and find personal training space and chase my dream under my own steam, renting a warehouse and throwing myself into my work. I trained for three years and for the last two I joined a touring circus, training while travelling and doing seven shows a week. It really hones your skills and ability to connect to an audience doing that many shows.
S: Describe your artistic practice…
MJ: I’m an entertainer, specialising in object manipulation and visual illusions. I strive to create beautiful experiences – for me that means the performance will take the audience on a journey, through highs and lows, keeping your attention focused through to a crescendo, hopefully leaving you feeling dreamy and satisfied.
S: Career highlight so far?
MJ: Oh, there’s been so many. I am fortunate that my art has taken me to so many amazing events around the world but performing my work in the HUGE circus tent at Glastonbury Festival was a massive buzz.
S: Career lowlight?
MJ: That existential dread that comes when you’re between sessions, and you wonder if you’re doing the right thing with your life… but this is alleviated when you go back on stage and you know that all the hours of devising and practicing are paying off and that you’ve got this.
S: Funniest career moment?
MJ: When I was sick with the flu at Edinburgh Fringe 2017, I was doing the Interstellar Cabaret performing alongside a collection of world-class circus and cabaret artists. While performing my hoops routine there is a section where I do a bunch of hard pirouettes. As I spun around a thin stream of snot flew out of my nose and caught beautifully in the spotlights. People in the audience “ooohed” and clapped. It was hilarious.
S: What do you love most about what you do?
MJ: I love the rush that you get from the audience when you take the stage and invite the audience into your show, take them with you to a place where they are laughing, screaming and clapping.
S: Tell us about your 2019 Fringe show, “The Quizzical Mr Jeff”
MJ: Simply put, I make objects do amazing and seemingly impossible things, using the dexterity of my hands and fingers.
My Fringe 2019 show is a collection of unusual object manipulations, physical illusions and funny moments. I have tried to create an authentic call back to vaudevillian style using bespoke props and carefully crafted ideas. Ultimately I want to create a world of magical realism for the audience to fall into; a shared dream where anything can and does happen, a space where the ridgitity of normal life falls away.
S: What’s your favourite part of the playground?
MJ: Who doesn’t love the swings? Wheeeee!