Munruben’s own Chantel Ashton-Rodriquez has been reacquainting herself with home life after her whole world as a circus performer was turned upside down when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Every Saturday for the last 14 weeks of isolation, she has put her time and energy into piecing together her family’s past as one of Australia’s iconic circus acts.
The Ashtons are behind Ashton Entertainment – a circus tradition dating back to the 1800s.
“We’ve got thousands of posters, newspaper clippings, photos, footage, costumes and props,” says Ms Ashton- Rodriquez. “Now that we have time and we’re on our site for so long, we’re just trying to get that stuff sorted and tidied up.”
“It’s a huge job, my Mum has scanned like 3,000 photos so far.”
Ms Ashton-Rodriquez is a 6th generation Ashton, who performs alongside family members of the 4th all the way up to the 8th generation.
In March this year, they would have embarked on a tour of Queensland, Melbourne and Sydney, marking a return to normalcy after shows were cancelled due to bushfires and floods earlier in the year.
Those plans ended abruptly when the government prevented mass gatherings.
“We were in Brisbane, but it was exactly one week before we were supposed to open in Warwick,” says Ms Ashton- Rodriquez. “Our whole calendar just got wiped that day.”
“During this pandemic, it’s been really hard for this because our whole business has closed down.”
“We’ve never been in a position like that where we just can’t work.”
That is at least the case for her generation of the family, but roughly 90 years before this her grandparent’s generation endured something similar.
Doug and Phyllis Ashton ran the circus back then.
“They had to close their circus down during World War Two, and they had to pick themselves up and get little jobs and gigs wherever they could before they could put their show back together,” says Ms Ashton-Rodriquez.
Realising this has been a huge source of strength and comfort for her family.
“So that’s what our family have been thinking about, ‘Well if our grandparents could get through that, then we can get through this and get the show going again post-covid,’” says Ms Ashton-Rodriquez.
If circus acts were to fold because of the pandemic, Ms Ashton-Rodriquez fears the impacts it would have on everyone in the industry.
“That’s what we rely on, that’s our livelihood, that’s our income, so with that completely wiped that was very scary to go through,” she says.
“It’s not just the performers, it’s the truck drivers and the admin staff and the crew and the lighting and sound.
“There’s just so many areas in live entertainment and now all of those people are now out of a job.”
The Ashtons are usually on the road for 48 weeks of the year, performing 6 to 8 shows per week. Without that weekly structure, Ms Ashton-Rodriquez concedes it has been hard to maintain the extreme fitness levels required for circus performance.
“We do our own home workouts, we go to the gyms – now that they’ve started to open – but there’s nothing quite like a live show,” she says.
“We’ll probably need a couple of months to really get our bodies to where they should be for a live show, so we’ve got some work ahead of us.”
In the meantime, they have plenty of time rediscover memories preserved in boxes full of memorabilia.
“Our cousins came over and we had a barbecue and we started watching some footage of our grandparents and great grandparents in the circus, so that was nice to go through all that- a bit emotional, but it was nice,” says Ms Ashton-Rodriquez.