INTERVIEW and REVIEW: PARAMOUR and KYLE DRIGGS

Kyle Driggs and Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio

Paramour is a story of a simple love triangle, but the activity around the story makes the show a spectacle.  Not only are the music and dancing beautiful, but like any circus show, there is activity on every inch of the stage and from the ceiling to the floor!  I had the same feeling I have at any circus production — wishing I had multiple sets of eyes so I could see everything at once and not miss one performer.  Also, having tall people in front of me became a special challenge at Paramour because every inch of stage that’s obscured means missed action!

The show includes so many circus skills including juggling, acro, unicycle, mime, CYR wheel, pole, lyra, trapeze, clowning, contortion, Spanish web, and straps.  The aerialists hanging from the chandeliers made me want to go home and find something in my house to hang from.  During a dream sequence, a zombie came down from the ceiling over my head!  The show also incorporated flying drones decorated like lampshades that “danced” around the actors as they were singing.

Paramour is set to close April 16, 2017, one year from its opening date, due to planned renovations in the Lyric Theater where it is playing.  You have just a short time left to see it! I hope it will reopen in some form down the road so I can go see it again!

Thankfully, an AYCO board member helped me arrange an interview with one of the performers, juggler Kyle Driggs.  Kyle was very generous with his time and not only answered all of my interview questions about Paramour and his career, but offered advice for me to share!

Kyle began juggling as a teen and was supported by the Philadelphia Juggler’s Club.  He was also involved with AYCO member school, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.  By the time he was a high school freshman, he knew juggling was his future.  He attributes his successful start in circus arts to the unwavering support of his parents.

In high school, Kyle mostly juggled juggling balls and clubs. In his senior year, he became interested in using rings because of the 1950s technique of rolling them around the body and over the back, coined by the Bramson Family. So when it was time for Kyle to audition for École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), the National Circus School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, he auditioned with rings.  For three years at ENC Kyle developed his skill base and routines.  Kyle also minored in dance at ENC, which was evident in his beautiful Paramour acts.

Kyle took my family and me on a backstage tour and showed us small dressing rooms, halls lined with tons of costumes, and a wig room complete with wig drying machines, telling us, “The wigs are constantly washed and styled. They are all human hair.” He took us below the stage where eight musicians play multiple instruments each.  Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel described how when fellow musician Seth Stachowski is unable to perform, his position must be covered by two replacements because he plays five instruments!

The costume room at Paramour taken by Allie

The wig room at Paramour, taken by Allie

Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel, taken by Allie

Paramour schedule, taken by Allie

Kyle described working on Paramour as intense.  After four months of rehearsals, the show opened with eight or nine performances per week.  Usually Kyle has one day off per week and only had two weeks of vacation during the whole year.

At the end of our tour, Kyle led us to the stage and enthusiastically described his career path. Of course we wanted to know how Kyle started juggling with umbrellas — his signature object!  The story is just how you might imagine:  he was playing out in the rain one day with an umbrella, and he discovered he liked the “feeling it had”.  Kyle describes himself as an object manipulator who looks to work with objects “with charisma and feeling”. He says that the story he is telling and the feeling he is portraying is more important than technique.  Kyle described the many emails he receives from aspiring jugglers asking him what kind of umbrella he uses.  He typically answers that he feels it’s a personal choice and that he had to break hundreds of umbrellas before he found what worked for him.

Kyle Driggs answering questions from Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio

Kyle left me with a few interesting thoughts about ENC (Ecole Nationale de Cirque, in Canada).  He described the audition phases which include physical tests (acrobatics, physical conditioning, and flexibility) and artistic tests (dance and acting).  Kyle recommends making sure the physical tests are “easy for you” before you audition.  I expressed my personal concern about attending a college with French-based communication when I have only studied Spanish in high school.  He eased my fears, telling me that the instructors don’t only speak French to students and speaking French is not a requirement.  He called ENC the best immersion program for learning French; however, and considers himself fairly fluent now.  Kyle cautioned that his three years at ENC were very challenging and that he had to work very hard.

Kyle lives a life of an artist entrepreneur.  He said, “It is hard to make a living as an artist in the US… in Europe, it’s different.  In France, for example, the government pays artists.  In the US, you have to constantly get gigs.  And you have to pay for your own medical insurance and cover your own liability. As a freelancer, you have to have a lot of hustle.”  He described that working for Cirque du Soleil is an entirely different experience similar to working for any big corporation: you have job security and perks such as very good healthcare, but that you surrender some creative control.

Kyle values his creative control and his ownership of his own routines. In fact, though currently employed by Cirque, he legally owns the material he performs in Paramour, a situation he describes as unusual and that required extra legal advice and negotiating on his part.

Once Paramour closes, Kyle will spend June with Circus Flora in St. Louis, Missouri.  He is spending his free time applying for grants to fund his independent projects and working on his next big step in life – starting his own company to produce shows himself.  He is working with a partner/theater owner in Philadelphia to bring that dream to fruition.

Advice from Kyle:

Network.  You can’t do it alone.  Reach out to people who might be able to help you.

Go for it.  “Whole heartedly go for it!” For me as an aspiring aerialist, for example, he recommended reading and viewing on line everything there is on my tool of choice, silks.  He told me to learn everything there is to know and to study it like I would a school subject that really intrigues me, above and beyond what is assigned.

Work hard.  Working as a circus artist entrepreneur is hard work.  Prepare yourself.  Make yourself an expert at your skill, and work until the physical parts of the ENC audition are easy for you.

Circus is an opportunity:  Circus is one of the few disciplines that is still “do it yourself”.  With dance and acting, so much has already been done that it seems like you are defined (in one style) before you even go to school.  You are pigeonholed.  Circus is still undefined and open to more creative interpretation.

Final interesting tidbits:

1) The performers actually do say “hup” (softly) on stage – I wondered where it came from!

2)  Kyle won the Paramour Blooper Award for once falling off the stage during a performance!

Thank you, Kyle, for spending so much time with me!  Best wishes for the future!  I hope to see you again down the road!

– Allie

5 Ways Circus Makes Life Better

Zoe on silks at The Circus Project, picture by Kim (a circus project student)

1. Circus Makes You Happier: Everyone has heard about the science behind exercise and why it makes you feel happier and more positive afterwards. The key lies in endorphins. Simply speaking, endorphins are chemicals that your brain releases during exercise that directly affect your body and your perception. Endorphins block some of the receptors in your brain in a way that reduces pain and triggers positive feelings. Use this to your advantage! Feeling down from studying? Get up and do some contortion!

2. Circus Builds Community: Okay, so circus may not technically be a team sport. But that doesn’t stop the amount of community that is created during training. There is no replacement for the amount of trust one has in their spotter, base, coach or partners. And people make life better, especially when you can laugh and play with them. Just walk around town with a few of your circus friends and you might find yourself doing handstands on a board walk or climbing a massive tree.

3. Circus is a Creative Outlet: Everyone needs a creative outlet so they can process emotions, relationships, problems and other daily experiences. Circus allows you to create art that is both intensely physical, and full of emotion. There is more to circus than tricks, and without some sort of creative outlet it is hard to grasp emotions. So put them into your work. Create a solo because you had an argument and you need to get out of your head. Work on a hand balancing routine so that you can think through your problems. Putting real emotion into circus just makes the show better.

4. Circus Helps Body Positivity: Many of us have issues with our bodies, but there is no reason to feel anything but love for ourselves! Maybe you don’t nail that silks drop every time, but think about the strength it took just to climb up there. Perhaps your hip lock isn’t the tightest but your hair twirls just the right way when you spin on trapeze. Circus bodies aren’t perfect but they are ALL strong and talented. Look at your progress when you think you aren’t capable of anything great.

5. Circus can be Inspiring: Maybe it comes from coaches, from friends, from a performance you watch, or a song, or a particular apparatus or trick. Sometimes you find something that gives you a flame to fan. Circus can inspire you to learn, to condition and be strong, to create an entire routine by yourself or to be the star of your own solo. It can be hard to find something that gives you inspiration; especially for kids that grapple with school, maybe a job, family and problems of their own. It is tough to be in a mindset to create, but if you can find that within circus then you should feel proud of yourself. Circus is hard, but circus is also beauty and strength and has something for everyone to find inspiration in.

– Zoe

Meet the 2017 Hup Squad!

Ashley, 13, from California, loves circus because “It is a way for me to meet new friends. I have met so many friends that I know will always be part of my life in the past two years I have been in circus. Circus is also a way for me to concentrate on something other than schoolwork. It teaches me how to be part of a big group and how to work together, and I really love that.”

Cailey, 15, from Arizona, loves circus because “It is fun! Seriously, I love finding bruises, being sore and overall feeling myself improve. I also love the feeling of getting a hard trick after working on it diligently. Watching people’s reaction and seeing the look on their face when I tell them I fly and am an aerialist, that I am going to join the circus…I enjoy that. I love dancing in the air. I AM circus. I would love to share that and anything I learn about circus with others.”

Allie, 15, from New York, loves circus “For its physical, social, creative and service opportunities. I need physical activity, and there is no better study break than a few silks inverts. I love the friends I have made in circus and the occasional friends I see at AYCO or Bindlestiff events. It’s fun to connect with other circus-kids! Also, I have found circus adults to be really caring and always willing to give me advice on routines I am designing or my life in general. Designing my own silks, lyra, and duo-acro routines has been a learning experience that allows me to express creativity in how I combine moves to the music. And finally, circus has been a great way to give back. I love to give circus to younger kids and see their faces light up when they succeed at their first challenging move!

Mazie Jane, 13, from Colorado, loves circus because “When I joined the Salida Circus, I had no background experience in circus arts. Now, I have performed aerial silks and trapeze in numerous shows and at events all around Colorado. I love the circus because it is now a part of me that I feel was missing for years. I am simply lost without it!”

Zoe, 14, from Oregon, loves circus because “It gives me wings! Performing and training circus is a place I feel very at home. I love the feeling I get from learning new tricks, and being able to peice them together in a form of beautiful art. I feel like circus has very much filled a creative and artistic hole in my life that wasn’t filled before. I also love circus because it makes me feel confident and gives me chances to make new friends and circus family. Circus is the best self help that I could ask for, and every time I go back to it I get the same feeling as the first time.”

Emily, 16, from NJ, loves circus because “There is endless potential in circus and its foundation is in teamwork. If I have an idea for a new hand balancing trick, I can work on it until I get it, and then share it — where others will adapt it. In circus, you are always surrounded by people with unique perspectives, which is conducive to creativity and fun!”

Anna, 16, from New York, loves circus because “It is fun!! I have been unicycling since I was eight and I have been juggling too and I have enjoyed every moment of it. Circus does not require a specific skill level because there are so many things that you can do therefore circus is for everyone!!

The Social Circus Movement: Alive and Kicking!

social-circus

Image by rafayanwer, http://cdn4.designbyhumans.com

Social circus is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the circus community. Here’s a little info about this wonderful, growing movement!

What is social circus?

Cirque du Soleil and other organizations define social circus as outreach to at-risk kids to build confidence and strengthen emotional health. Some international social circuses include Clowns Without Borders, Cirque du Monde and Zip Zap Circus. These particular programs focus on either traveling to developing areas outside the US or bringing kids from these areas to the US.

Do all social circuses focus on outreach internationally?

No, there are many smaller social circuses throughout the US that serve a local community. They have the same missions of giving kids some tools to succeed in the future via circus, but function on a smaller scale.

What is AYCO’s role in the promotion of social circus?

AYCO recently completed the first phase of a multi-year plan to support the growth of social circus in the US by creating The Social Circus Network. The Network includes members from Circus Harmony of Missouri, CircEsteem of Illinois, Fern Street Circus of California, Trenton Circus Squad of New Jersey, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus of New York, Circus Smirkus of Vermont, My Nose Turns Red of Ohio, Prescott Circus Theatre of California, The Circus Project of Oregon, Wise Fool New Mexico, SANCA of Washington, Phoenix Youth Circus of Arizona, Salida Circus of Colorado, Zip Zap Circus, Circus Up, Circus Mojo, Circo Social Puerto Rico, and the International School of Louisiana Circus Arts Program.

Does social circus refer exclusively to working with at-risk youth?

No, some social circuses focus on working with kids with disabilities and adults, such as Circus Mojo of Kentucky and Circus of Hope. Circus outreach programs can take many forms, and often times larger circus schools have programs for disabled children and adults, as well as programs that send performers to hospitals.

How do I get involved with social circus?

The world of social circus is growing, and there are more recognized social circuses around the US than in past decades. Find a local social circus and try it out. Or, if there is not one near you, start an initiative!

– Emily

The following link is to the list of social circuses recognized by AYCO. Maybe one of them is near you!

http://www.americancircuseducators.org/directory/categories/recognized-social-circus-programs

If you have more questions, feel free to email AYCO’s social circus coordinator: socialcircus@americancircuseducators.org

Circus in Uncommon Places

zaatri

Circus Za’atri, at a refugee camp in Syria http://circuszaatri.blogspot.com

Part of what distinguishes circus from conventional sports is its flexibility. The “rules” of circus include respect, courtesy, safety — leaving much room for interpretation. Some modern circus groups are applying these rules in wholly new ways.

Viaceslavas Mickevicius of Lithuania is leading the way, bringing circus to Lukiskes Jail, his country’s highest-security prison. Lukiskes has been criticized for its overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. Mickevicius’ program offers 700 men incarcerated for serious crimes the opportunity to redirect some of their energy into circus. This past year, the program had its very first show, complete with stilt-walking, unicycling, and an audience of 20 relatives.

The Lithuanian program is not the only one taking circus to unexpected places. The Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan is home to Circus Za’atari, which is supported by the Finn Church Aid’s non-formal education program and run by Sirkus Magenta, a Finnish nonprofit. The school was founded in 2013 and has grown since to put on performances and tour local UNICEF schools.

Bringing circus to schools is rising in popularity. Public elementary schools in Japan have introduced unicycles as a recess option. The circus community can attest to the valuable lessons taught via circus — focus, patience, balance, self-awareness, empathy — to name a few. Now, students in Japan have the opportunity to learn these skills right at school. Unicycling is quite safe, as one school nurse explained. She has seen only two unicycle-related injuries in her three years of working at Kyuden Elementary School in Tokyo. The implementation of circus equipment in schools appears promising, perhaps the practice will gain popularity elsewhere.

Unicycling certainly seems to be gathering momentum as a trend. Specifically, mountain unicycling, or muni riding, has attracted attention in recent years. Muni riding began in the 1990s on the West Coast of the US, but has become a global phenomenon. Muni riders are more athletes than performers, since they hold competitions as opposed to showcases. The North American Unicycle Championships and Convention was held in July of 2016 in South Dakota, with England and Australia also hosting similar events.

There is yet another program that is reinventing modern circus: Cirkus Cirkör of Sweden. Cirkör itself is a contemporary circus and it has started a novel project as part of its outreach program. Cirkör created Circus Older de Luxe, which brings circus to assisted living facilities. A typical program includes a short show, a meet-and-greet, and a workshop in seated circus. Some of the homes and facilities the group has visited have created the position of Circus Manager, who plans weekly seated circus activities.

Circus is full of potential and can change lives in many forms. All of these programs take facets of traditional and contemporary circus and apply them to another cause. Modern circus is never finished being defined — something new can always be done.

– Emily
Check out these websites for more information about the circus organizations and programs above!

Circus in Lukiskes Jail:

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-lithuania-prison-circus-idUSKCN0YP1WH

5 Reasons to Be a Circus Volunteer with AYCO!

workstudy-smile

At the past ACE Conference in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to be a part of the work-study program (run by the amazing Tara, who also happens to be our Hup Squad coordinator).  Obviously, volunteers are super important in making these excellent circus events happen, but here are five reasons why volunteering at an ACE or AYCO festival may benefit or create a more enjoyable experience for YOU:

1. Free Registration:
If you are on a budget, as many circus people are, applying to the work study program may just be for you.  In exchange for your volunteer work, the costs of your event registration are competely covered!

2. Fellow Volunteers:
All of your fellow volunteers at this event are people in similar situations as you with the same central interest, Circus.  This allows for a tight and powerful bond between fellow volunteers which can lead to long-lasting friendships.

3. Networking Opportunities:
While volunteering at the event, it is inevitable that you will interact with and assist attendees of the event.  Many American Circus Educators members are well-established teachers, directors, performers and producers in the circus community, and because the usual social barrier has been broken down by your role as volunteer at the event, the networking opportunities are endless.

4. Festival Accessibility:
Although you will be volunteering throughout the event, there is still time to attend workshops and participate in the festivities.  Much of the volunteering is done between workshops or at breaks, so there is plenty of time to participate in most of the festival!

 5. All Around Amazing Time:
From first-hand experience, participating in the work-study program is an all-around great time! Do it and you will most definitely not regret it!

– Andrew
workstudy-silly

 

 

International Aerial Dance Festival

The International Aerial Dance Festival (ADF) is held every year in Boulder, Colorado. It is a hub for aerialist around the world. People come in for one or two weeks and get to train with professional aerialists and circus artists from around the world. The festival is hosted by Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, and classes are held both at Frequent Flyers and at the University of Colorado Boulder. The festival started July 31 and ended August 12.

Since ADF is held right in my home town, I have been fortunate to attend for four years now. I love getting to train with such amazing teachers and get to know aerialists from around the world.

This past year, three guest teachers were brought in: Ana Prada, Rain Anya, and Tanya Burka as well as many teachers that work at Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance, the host of ADF.At the two-week-long festival, each week you can take up to five classes. Each class meets for an hour and a half every day, sometime between 9am and 7pm. At the end of the each day, there are also special evening workshops.

All of the classes I took were wonderful. The first week I took four classes: Fabric, Invented Apparatus, Lyra, and Low Flying Trapeze. Fabric was taught by Tanya Burka, MIT as well as ENC graduate and performer with Cirque du Soleil. Tanya was a great teacher. She taught us a piece of choreography and had us play with different dynamics. We also played with the movement of the fabric, such as throwing the fabric horizontally while being inverted. My next class of the day was Invented Apparatus, taught by Nancy Smith, the founder of ADF. A lot of the class was improv based. I loved getting to explore apparatus that I hadn’t seen before. It was so interesting to see all the different people’s processes and how they like to explore. Next was Lyra, taught by Ana Prada, a Columbian yoga practitioner and aerial dancer currently working in Costa Rica. The class focused a lot on moving using the breath. We also worked on very twisty movements using both the inside and the outside of the lyra. My last class of the day was Low Flying Trapeze. April Skelton, formerly of Canopy Studio in Athens, GA and now the Education Director at Frequent Flyers Aerial Dance in Boulder, CO, taught multiple phrases that we worked on throughout the week. She had a very different approach to the low flying trapeze than I was used to; she uses the ropes and the fact that the trapeze can form around your body to create new and unique moves.

One of things i learned in Low Flying Trapeze

One of things I learned in the Low Flying Trapeze class

After all the classes at night there were also workshops that included Thai massage and juggling. There were also performances by the teachers over the weekend showing some of their best work. I loved the shows and getting to see how amazing the people I was learning from were.

The next week I took another four classes: Fabric, two Lyra classes, and Pre Contortion. The second week, Ana taught Fabric. Again, she taught a lot about moving from the breath as well as being efficient with movements so you don’t waste energy. I found it really useful to work on this way of moving, especially because when I work on fabric, I tend to hold my breath. Next, the two Lyra classes were taught by Tanya. I had a lot of fun working with a single point lyra, which I don’t usually work on. We did a lot of spinning and bendy moves. I was so inspired by working with the single point lyra that my new solo that I’m creating is on a single point lyra. Finally, my last class of the day was Pre Contortion which Tanya also taught. I loved getting to be bendy and work on my flexibility even more. We also worked a lot on strength so we could be able to support the flexibility.

I had so much fun over the two weeks and learned so many new things. I wish I had gotten to work with more of the teachers, but I loved all the teachers that I got to work with. I also made so many new friends. Over the past couple of years, I have met people who come back every time, and I’ve made friends with them, so much so that it starts feeling like a family reunion.

emily3

Here is one of the friends I made last year.

 

emily1

His name is Mangle and he is from New Zealand.

 

emily2

I became friends with the woman who uses him in her circus.

I had such a great time at ADF this year, and I hope more teens decide to come in the future. It is such a great opportunity to work with new teachers and meet new people.

ADF was the highlight of my summer, and I can’t wait until next year.

-Em