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The Life of a Trampoline Artist

April 2019

BOSTON― British trampoline champion. Tick. 


Olympian. Tick. 


Circus artist. Tick. 


Broadway star. Tick. 


Lee Brearley has done a lot in his life and it all started at eight, with a casual, “I’ll do it,” while watching TV. 


“My mom was like ‘would you like to do trampolining?’ and I was like ‘nope don’t want to do it.’ And the weird thing was I can remember it clearly that I was watching TV and I sat there and I just shouted to my mom who was in the kitchen.” 


I’ll do it 


“It was weird, just out of nowhere something hit me that I had to do trampolining.” 


From then on Brearley was a trampolinist. Simple as that. 


And Brearley started ticking off boxes. 


National Champion. Tick. 


Competing at Worlds. Tick. 


And in 1999, becoming the first British man to qualify for the Olympics in trampoline. 


Trampoline was only just making its Olympic debut at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia so it hadn’t been a childhood dream to compete in trampoline at the Olympics for Brearley and he didn’t think it would be him going to the Games; He thought there were better men to represent Great Britain. 


“I was always very under confident as a kid” 


Going into the 1999 World Championship, the qualifier for the Olympic Games, Brearley thought fellow Brit Paull Smyth would be the first British Olympian for trampoline. 


“So at that point I was British Champion. But at the same time my synchronize partner [Paull Smyth], I always looked up to him and he’d been around years before I had. And I had always just assumed that the first British Olympian would be him.” 


Brearley now sees his under confidence in that moment as a plus. 


“I went into the competition just very like ‘it’s not me, it’s gonna be him’ and I think because I didn’t put the pressure on myself I actually competed really really well. So I became the first one and I was like ‘okay wasn’t expecting that’.” 


And another box got ticked for Brearley. He competed in Sydney, coming in sixth in the men’s individual event. He was an Olympian. 




After Sydney, Brearley said he didn’t know what he expected to do, so he went back to what he loves and continued to train on the trampoline. 


“And there’s a moment in a lot of athlete’s lives, and we were told about this, after the Olympics you can kind of go on a downer. And I never felt like I was on this like mentally on a downer, but physically my body went through this thing where I like technically I just wasn’t performing very well.” 


He continued to compete and by any other standard continued to do well, but the training wasn’t coming as naturally. And then came the injury. 


Torn ligaments in his ankle and a long processes of coming back. But Brearley did the rehab and in 2002 started training again. 


“And [I] started winning again at a national level. I came second in the next British Championships in 2002, to Paull [Smyth]. So I was kind of happy, I was like you know I came second after a big injury I know that if I was at full health with my ankle I most likely would have won that competition. So I felt pretty good about it.” 


While Brearley was returning to competition he was also planning his next adventure. 


“I then auditioned for Cirque as well.” 


Cirque Du Soleil. The worldwide phenomenon of wonder and acrobatics. 


“And so I started to come back competition wise, but then I got a call from Cirque and I was like ‘time to go’ And so I gave myself a week, did the competition and then when I won the competition I was just sat there and was like ‘no. I’m still the best here right now so I can go.’” 


There wasn’t anything left, Brearley felt, he had to prove in competition, so he went after something that had been on his mind for a while. 


“The first time I saw it was 1998 in London. Alegria came into town. And was just like blown away I was like ‘this is crazy’. So it was always in my head. And then in 2001, one of the Cirque shows came to Manchester and I got my family to go. So after that was when I really started to think ‘ok this is maybe a possibility.’” 


Brearley speaks about joining Cirque the same way he does about everything, like it’s a bit of a shock but he’s happy to go along with it. The same way he talks about the Olympics and the opportunities they and Cirque have brought to him. Surprised he’s still ticking off boxes. 




Switching from competitive athletics to something like Cirque Du Soleil is a process. 


“I think the scariest thing in the world is watching athletes try to dance,” said Carolanne Morgan, one of Brearley’s stage managers from his second Cirque show, Ovo. 


“Like it’s hilarious, for them, for us, knowing what the choreography should look like. Like their bodies aren’t necessarily built like a dancer body.” 


That’s one hurdle an athlete like Brearley faces when joining Cirque. However by all accounts, not one he particularly struggled with. 


Another hurdle is teamwork. 


“When we integrate people they’re usually from a circus background, a dance background, or sports background. For sports it’s cool, especially in trampoline, because it’s an individual sport, but Cirque is making them come together as a group.” 


Morgan sees this as a big positive for competitive athletes because their competitive nature allows them to push one another into bigger and better things. 


“They come together as a team, but then once the act is set, because they’re competitors, they are constantly wanting to do bigger tricks ,and we want that too. Even in wall and trampoline and BMX, they’re working on skills where some of them are now the only ones in the world that can do that skill.” 


Cirque becomes home to a lot of people with a sports background. 


“We currently have 21 artists with an Olympic background working for Cirque du Soleil, including 2 medallists,” said Justine Lord-Dufour, Senior Publicist for the company. 




Brearley turned his childhood whim into an Olympic moment and a 15 year career with Cirque Du Soleil. So what did he love about it? 


“It was just so awesome, so magical. And the possibility of being a part of something like that, using the ability I had from sport was just like, it was you know kind of cliche to say but it was a dream.” 


Once he was up and running with the circus, Brearley spent two and a half years with his first show, Cirque staple ‘Saltimbanco’, before moving onto another unique opportunity within the company. Creation. 


This means Brearley was part of the show from the very beginning, before there was even an official name. And he stayed with that show, that would become ‘Ovo’, for six years. 


Touring with ‘Ovo’ brought on all new boxes to be ticked off. 


Going to Switzerland to learn a special circus act called the human slinky. Tick. 


Touring the United States, Mexico, Australia, and Japan. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. 


Performing at the Sydney Opera House. Tick. 


Meeting the person you’ll marry. Tick. 


After six years on the same show Brearley was ready for his next adventure. 




“I mean it’s singers and dancer. I can hold a note but not good enough to be on Broadway and I’m not a professional dancer so it’s like I won’t even think about it. And then to be on it is like ‘ok this is pretty cool’ I can say I’ve been on Broadway.” 


Paramour, Cirque Du Soleil’s first go at a Broadway musical, featured a frenzied trampoline chase Brearley was a part of creating, including a solo all for him. But the transition to broadway was more of a challenge than the move to Cirque. 


“It’s a big difference. I won’t say it was an easy process with Paramour. It was new. It was not done before.” 


Paramour ran for a year and as it came to an end Brearley was at a crossroads. 


“Next step? I was like ‘uuuuhhh.’” 


After Broadway Brearley tried to stay in New York, working as a costumer on Anastasia. Slowly but surely, New York began to wear thin for him and ended a rough note that Brearley looks back and laughs on. 


“We,” speaking about his husband Clay and himself, “were in an apartment and then we had to move out of that one and we ended up in this other one and as New York goes there’s just some crazy people. Situations happened where we had to be out within 48 hours. So another ticked box was being homeless in New York.” 


And that was the final sign Brearley needed to say, “we’re off, we don’t want to be here anymore.” 


So they drove cross country (tick) to where the two call home, Portland, Oregon, to a house they started building before New York. Brearley is currently in school to become a massage therapist. 


This seems perhaps a mundane life after all he’s done but Brearley knows he’s not finished finding boxes and ticking them off. 


“I’m in a position now where I want to fight to get to a better place because as much as I love Portland and I love my home, I want to be able to go away and come back. I haven’t finished seeing this world. I don’t want to be trapped in this box. I’m not done yet.”

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