Angela Wand moved to Sweden to be with the love of her life, and wound up in the circus as a bearded lady.
After a hard day at the office it's easy to joke about running away to join the circus, but Angela Wand did it for real. The American-born performer moved to Scandinavia 15 years ago after exchanging love letters for four years with the man she later married.
"He started Clowns Without Borders, who go to places like refugee camps where they might have enough water and food but they go to relieve the boredom."
Wand has also performed with Clowns Without Borders in places such as Rwanda, bringing rare moments of laughter to dark corners of the world.
Now she works fulltime with Circus Cirkor, thrilling audiences with exhilarating acrobatic feats in their latest show Inside Out.
Wand's life hasn't turned out quite like a fairytale story - she and her husband separated late last year. Their careers put too much strain on the marriage, and something had to give, but Wand has no regrets.
"It's definitely a strain on friendships and relationships, but we've both chosen to make that a priority . . . not everybody can do it, you're gone a lot, touring and travelling, so the first thing I do when I'm home is contact my closest friends."
She is the bearded lady of Inside Out, on this week at the Opera House. At 39, she says she is the real life "old lady" of the troupe. "My role is Julia, the bearded lady. She's very old, she's been around the circus for many many years and she meets a young, sort of lost, girl who comes into the show. She gives guidance, but there's a tradeoff, they both need something from each other."
Cirkus Cirkor was founded in Stockholm in 1995 and grew from an underground cult movement to a formidable circus ensemble that has toured the world to rave reviews.
Wand is in awe of her circus- mates, especially the gravity-defying acrobats who rely on each other for their own safety.
"They don't get nervous - they've got a strong connection, they read each other's bodies quite clearly." They are attuned to minute changes in which their partners shift their weight and can respond to each other's body language on instinct."
Wand was not born into the circus life but from a young age was intrigued by physical theatre.
"I think my parents think I come from another set of parents. But they're very proud, they think my life is so eccentric and glamorous."
She always knew she wanted to be on stage. Like any job, being in the circus has its good days and bad days, but she says as soon as the curtains open, the rush of adrenaline hits. "Sometimes you don't want to work, but you can't stay in a bad mood because you have to go and meet the audience."
Even if it's more than a bad mood getting you down, the show must go on.
"You can't call in sick to the circus, even if you feel like you can't even stand. In fact, the audience should never know if a performer isn't totally on form."
Mistakes do happen, but the trick is not to let the audience know. "Unless it's a major injury, that's the last thing you want to do"
Working with Clowns Without Borders meant performing in some less than ideal conditions and drinking from some questionable water sources.
"If you've got diarrhoea and you're totally sick, somehow you do the show. I've done shows with a fever . . . the adrenaline gets you through - the rush is everything."
The TV3 Season of Inside Out is at the Opera House until March 8
- The Dominion Post