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Mark Sterrenberg: FSU Circus Performer and Fire Breather

Mark Sterrenberg has some unique skills and hobbies. For example, he is the only person I know who can spit fire. I met him when he became my co-worker, and it was really interesting to me when he would come into the office and talk about his burns-whether they be internal or external. I decided to sit down and talk with him about his experiences as a fire breather and an FSU circus performer.

Her Campus (HC): Tell us something unique about yourself.

Mark Sterrenberg (MS): Circus for me was kind of my thing. I’ve always had a fascination for it. One of the things I do on the side is what’s called “poi,” which can be described as fire spinning and stuff like that, but it’s not lit up. It’s been something that I’ve been getting into for a short time. I really love poi and have been fascinated by it since I was a kid. 

HC: Do you remember the first circus experience you ever had? Maybe as a kid or in college?

MS: The first circus experience I ever had was with Ringling Brother’s. I had gone to a Ringling Brother’s circus with some family and cousins. I really focused on the hand-balancing acts and some of the circus tricks and stuff like that. This is when I started to fall in love with it as a kid.

HC: I don’t remember seeing fire breathing at the Ringling Brother’s circus I went to.

MS: The Ringling Brother’s don’t have fire breathing, but in the circus I’m sort of a jack of all trades, I do hand balancing, teeterboard, and I do some fire breathing as well.

HC: What or who got you into fire breathing and all the other stuff you do for the FSU circus?

MS: Fire breathing was its own story. Ever since I was a kid I have been a pyromaniac. I’ve always had a fascination with fire and one of my buddies in circus talked to me when I was already in the FSU Circus earlier this year. He told me that he could teach me if I came out for a couple of hours. I first learned about the risks. For example, he told me if I swallowed the fluid I might have to go to the hospital. He gave me a lot of safety protocol on what you do. He was a fire breather and fire juggler, and while he was talking to me he would juggle fire behind his back and the lit torches would fly over his head. At first I thought, “oh my God, your hair is going to catch on fire!” and next thing I know he catches it without even looking at it. And he keeps doing this constantly; it was almost second nature to him.

Mark (left) during FSU Circus rehearsal.

HC: Wow, I bet that was crazy to see!

MS: Yeah it’s very different. The first time, I actually had a friend that was in circus. She was a stilt walker for the circus, and she really liked it. I guess what happened was I remembered her and her experience and I wanted to try it out, seeing as I enjoyed weightlifting and was confident in my strength I felt like that would transfer. So I tried out and got i! I could not believe it. I was ecstatic. It was a big change in my life because I didn’t feel alone. I was suddenly surrounded by all these unique people with unique skills, it made me feel as if I too was unique.

HC: Can you recall a favorite circus experience? Maybe during a live show or rehearsal?

MS: I think the biggest thing was just being close with a lot of my teammates. One of the biggest things I’ve endured from my childhood was that I had somewhat verbally abusive parents. On the other hand, the circus community was very supportive; when I felt distant from people, my circus friends would reel me back in and remind me of who I was. They wanted me to succeed and they genuinely believed in me. One of the biggest experiences was during my first year, I had a big aspiration to be in Cirque du Soleil. I still do. And even when I messed up, my circus friends would be supportive and tell me they knew I could do it and to keep trying. The community was fantastic.

HC: Finally, do you want to put in a plug for the FSU circus, like dates and times?

MS: There’s no show times right now. More information will come out later, like late February and march we will get the times. The shows will probably be on the weekends in April.

Gerrit Van Lent is a Senior studying Political Science, English, and Public Administration. He spends the majority of his time on campus or at the office of The Children's Campaign, a non-profit that informs elected officials and works on behalf of vulnerable and at-risk children, where he does public policy research and legislative affairs coordination. Gerrit is active on campus and in the community via Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed community service fraternity engaged in service around Tallahassee. In his free time, Gerrit enjoys practicing martial arts at Logan's Martial Arts Academy, skateboarding, listening to music, video games, and enjoying time with friends. His interests include eating candy, cooking, pets, action movies, dungeons and dragons, and other rad stuff.
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