WORDS Merlin Varaday PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
Brittany Walsh, or “Acrobritt”, as she is known in the circus world, taught herself how to perform acrobatic archery – on a dare! This amazing talent has led her as far as Dubai, Germany, Finland and Hong Kong. She recently spent a year performing in the Comedy and Dolls Variety Show at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. David Letterman hosted her, and after being featured on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!there are two wax statues of Acrobritt (in Florida and Tennessee).
Brittany’s philosophy of hard work, curiosity and fearlessness has created a solid foundation that will continue to take her on one amazing trek after another. The only thing more dazzling to observe than what she has already done is what she is going to do. This is one to watch!
Can you describe the journey that led you to being an acrobatic archer?
I definitely didn’t start out with acrobatic archery. It was a very unplanned, unexpected occurrence. I competed in gymnastics for 11 years, and then later turned to circus, and I’ve been doing that for almost 14 years now. I currently train about 20 hours per week to maintain the skills I have.
In the beginning of my acrobatic journey, a friend and I were looking at an old circus book, and there was an old photograph of a woman doing acrobatic archery. My friend dared me to give it a try! So we went and got a beginning archery kit and just went for it.
Was it an actual bow and arrow?!?!
In the beginning, we started with a Nerf-type set up. The first step was trying to hold the bow in my toes. And then to see if I could do a handstand while doing that. Then, trying to draw the string with my toes. So, there was a progression!
Had you done archery before, the normal way – you know, with your hands?
Um, no. I actually had never done any kind of archery before I decided to do this specific trick. Even now, when I try to do archery the “normal” way, I’m still much better with my feet than my hands!
When you are doing a performance, you have to hit a very exact target, correct?
Yes, and most of the time I do. When I am aiming, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. For some events, I use suction cup arrows for safety, and for some performances I actually use flaming arrows! Sometimes I am aiming at a balloon; sometimes there is a person holding the target; sometimes the distance is not so big, and sometimes it is quite long. I also need to take into consideration how my body is feeling that day. All of those factors play a role in how I am aiming.
Is there someone specific who inspired or mentored you?
I am pretty fortunate to have been surrounded by people who are very passionate, and who don’t hold back when it comes to chasing their dreams. I aspire to be like that. My Do Jump! Artistic Director Robin Lane greatly inspired me. When I first got involved in circus with Do Jump! they really welcomed me. Robin was very helpful in guiding me and encouraging me. Also, my coach and friend from Austria, Stefan Furst, who comes from a sports/acrobatic background and is now an acrobatics teacher, was very helpful to me in my personal growth.
You hold the Guinness World Record in acrobatic archery! What did you achieve to gain that distinction?
There is actually a long list of requirements to make the Guinness book of World Records! There was a prior record I was trying to beat, held by another female circus performer. First, I had to apply to Guinness. Then, I needed to hire a professional land surveyor to measure the distance. I had to find a bunch of completely random witnesses – no one who had any kind of personal stake in my beating the record. I had to find an appropriate location, and make sure there sufficient safety precautions. Finally, we had to shoot a video of me beating the record. I had to hit a bullseye that was only four inches in diameter!
If a young child told you they wanted to do what you do, what advice would you give them?
When I was young, my sister and I would read the Guinness Book of World Records and watch Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, and we were completely in awe. I never imagined being involved in either of those myself, but now that it has happened, it definitely feels like a dream come true! I would tell them to follow their passions. Whatever you enjoy in life, continue working at it as hard as you can. Then, nothing is impossible.
Were there specific fears or challenges that you needed to overcome to become an accomplished acrobatic archer?
Of course there is always the fear of failure. But not going after your dreams and living a life of regrets is even worse than trying and not succeeding. That’s always been my motto – if something doesn’t work, I can always take a couple steps back and rethink it. I might change my approach, but I never give up or decide not to try.
If you weren’t a circus performer, what would you like to do?
I’ve always had a passion for travel! I would love to host my own travel show. I love meeting new people, and drilling down as far as possible into different cultures.
Now you have a perfect way to travel the world! What’s next for you?
I try to continuously find new ways to challenge myself – aiming further, hitting a smaller target, doing tricks blindfolded…
This year I will be focusing on a performance called Auream with Halcyon Shows, a Portland circus company. Watch for it in late 2019, early 2020!