Ten Tips To Create an Awesome Act This Summer!

By Emily Fulton

Photo by Andrew Fulton

I get it, act creation can be hard. If you’ve ever struggled while creating an act, or you’re just looking for some fresh inspiration, read on! Over the many years I have spent creating acts as a youth circus performer, I have found a few ways to take that “ouch” out of act creation. Here is a list of ten of my favorite tips to make your act creation process seamless and your act look as natural as the breath that fills your lungs. Believe me, the extra work that you put in now as you create your act will pay off tenfold in the “oohs” and “ahhs” of your audience. Now let’s get started!

1. Find Where (and How) You Create Best

Some people thrive in busy studio environments, and others prefer calm, quiet spaces, but either way, find where you create best and work there. If you work best while listening to music, then listen away, my friend. If you fancy creating with a notebook and pencil, do that. If you feed off of the creative energy of your circus studio, try creating there. It doesn’t matter so much where you work, but it matters way more that you find a place where your creative juices flow freely.

Photo by Judith Boyd

I invented this trick while experimenting with my lyra, in my living room!

2. Choose the right music early on in the creation process

This is where I usually slip up– I wait until the last possible minute to choose my music. Like seriously, the day before the show, I will still be debating between two or three songs. Don’t make my mistake! Take time early on in the creation process to choose a song that fits your theme. It’s important that you like the music you pick, but equally important that it fits the mood and story of your act. I know this is going to be a huge surprise, but a high-paced act is not going to be a huge hit if slow jazz music is playing. Another thing you will want to consider is whether there are any lyrics in your music, and what the lyrics say. Lyrics can make or break your performance, so make sure any lyrics in the song fit into the story in your act. It’s also totally fine to completely stay away from lyrics and stick to instrumentals instead (that’s what I usually do), so you don’t have to worry about them fitting into your theme. Lastly, be sure to follow any guidelines (such as you may only use copyright-free music with clean language) put forth by your studio or venue when choosing music

3. Go Internet Spelunking

For me, this is the most fun! Head on over to your buddy Google or my friend Insta and see what inspiration they have for you. New tricks, fun sequences you’ve never thought to try, lighting ideas, story prompts you couldn’t imagine, costume inspiration; it’s all fair game for you to explore. I even watch dancers to see how they time their movements perfectly to the music, and gymnasts, in awe of their beautifully crafted, clean skills, with a whole lot of grace sprinkled in between. You, of course, want to be careful that you don’t copycat a whole act you saw online and call it your own, but you can definitely have some fun trying new sequences and experimenting with other inspiration you found online.

Photo by Judith Boyd

This is a trick that I learned from the internet that I added into my lyra act!

4. Use the Notecard Creation System

For me, this system is tried and true. It was taught to me many years ago by Jackie Davis, my first circus coach, and I choreographed my first solo act using it. I still use variations of this system all the time in my advanced performance troupe. It’s very simple, but very useful. Start off by writing each trick you think you would like to put in your act on a  COLORFUL  notecard. Be sure to put each type of trick on a different color notecard; so if I was making a contortion act I could put splits on blue, standing tricks on yellow, and back folds on green. Then lay all of your cards out on a table or on the floor in an order that you like. The order is completely up to you, but I find my acts look the best if I break up similar tricks, so I try to never have more than two tricks of the same “color” in a row. Next, try your act out in the order you have laid out. See how it goes, and then move the cards around to switch the order. Keep repeating this process (reorder cards, try running new trick order) over and over and over again until you have an act that you are happy with, and remember that you can always go back and rearrange the cards later.

5. Get Inspired with Prompts

I just LOVE to get my creative juices flowing by creating short pieces based on prompts. You can do this in a few different ways, so there are really endless possibilities to how you can utilize this strategy. To start, you need your prompts. You can either brainstorm them on your own or with friends, or you can use a premade list. I often use writing prompts (crazy, right?). You should be able to find about a thousand lists if you just ask your BFF Google, but I have this one you might like. Then I like to use this approach; pull a prompt randomly out of a hat, spend five minutes “drafting”, another five minutes to polish and add transitions, and then perform! I find this is the most fun if you do this exercise with a group of good-natured circus friends who won’t take your act too seriously. You can each make an act and perform it after the ten minutes is up. Remember, the goal of this exercise is simply to utilize the prompt, your creativity, and your circus skill set as best as you can with only ten minutes to prepare, but if you find a prompt that really inspires you, feel free to run with it and create a fully performable piece!

6. Ask for Constructive Criticism

This part is a bit difficult for all of us, am I right? No one enjoys being reminded of their flaws, but when you’re making a performance piece is just when you need that comment on form. I hate to admit it, but sometimes my acts are just missing something. My coach’s comment of “smile more,” “point your toes,” or “work on your transitions” is often just what I need to hear to take my act to that next level. Find someone (a coach, a circus friend, a parent) who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about what they honestly think about your act. I try to get multiple opinions from both “circus people” and “normal people” so I have a good read of how my act is on a technical level and how an audience member would perceive it. On top of the direct benefits (having an awesome act), accepting and seeking out constructive criticism shows that you are a mature, dedicated circus artist who is willing to do whatever it takes to make your performance the best that it can be. It shows that you know that you aren’t perfect but you are willing to do the work that it takes to improve.

7. Remember the transitions

Transitions may be my least favorite part of an act to consider, but I think they are definitely one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when you’re trying to create a truly mesmerizing act. Transitions can take an act from “just okay” (or even downright cringy) to dazzling with only a few minutes of work. I think the most important thing to think about with your transitions is that you need to do something. No, I don’t just mean tuck up onto the bar and go straight into your next trick. I mean add some pizzazz! Instead, you could try adding an improvised split on your way up. This will make your act WAY more interesting for your audience. You don’t always need to use big movements in your transitions either! A perfectly timed hair flick is often just as effective as a physical trick. Remember, most importantly, transitions are a time for you to connect with your audience. They’re the time for you to flash a beaming grin to the little girl in the front row, flow to the music you spent so much time choosing, or show off an extra skill. They are the piece of your act that tells your audience, “I spent time thinking about this, and my act is not just ordinary, it’s EXTRAORDINARY.”

Photo by Andrew Fulton

This is a trick that I invented and used as a transition at the end of my act!

8. Practice, Practice, Practice

I know you’ve been told this a gazillion times, but I’m going to tell you again; you need to practice your act…a lot. Make a point of practicing it at every opportunity you have to use your apparatus, even when you’re a little bit tired, and especially when you think your routine is as good as it will ever get. Play around with all of the different variables at play in your performance; music, costume, lighting. Be sure to practice without these things too, because you never know when there will be a tech problem during your performance. Believe me, your act can always be polished and buffed up by a few extra minutes of training. With enough practice, performing your act will feel like second nature, so you can perform with confidence and poise. Even professional performers are constantly practicing and looking for ways to improve their acts, so you’re in good company 🙂

9. Don’t be afraid to add new tricks into your act as your skills and confidence increase

As you spend more time with your apparatus, you will surely learn new tricks that you will want to incorporate into your act. How awesome! Your hard work and practice are paying off and you now have an opportunity to make your act better than ever before. You might be wondering, however, how you would go about adding these awesome tricks into your act. Personally, I like to add any new tricks straight into my sequences. For example, if I am trying to incorporate a new split on the bottom bar of my lyra, I would add that into my already made bottom bar sequence. You can also look for moments in your act that are lacking a certain skill set and add your trick in there. When I see a section of my act has three different splits in a row, I often try to break them up by putting a new strength trick in between. This not only adds in your new trick, but it also makes your act more interesting for the audience!

Photo by Andrew Fulton

This is one of the tricks that I am hoping to add into my lyra act soon!

10. Consider Your Ambiance

Lighting, sound, costume; these details create your ambiance. According to Oxford Languages, ambiance means “the character and atmosphere of a place,” so naturally, this is an essential concept for you to consider as a circus performer. The message that your appearance, props, and environment send to your audience is way more significant than you would imagine. Try to think about how your costume, sound effects, lighting, props, and other details can (and will) transport your audience into your character’s world. But remember, this is YOUTH circus! Don’t get too caught up in creating ambiance quite yet in your journey, but it is still a good idea to spend a few minutes considering the atmosphere that you would like to create for your audience.

I hope that finding the space where your creativity flows, choosing the right music at the right time, going internet spelunking, using notecards, getting inspo from prompts, seeking out constructive criticism, considering your transitions, practicing, adding new skills, and considering ambiance will take your act to the next level. If you only remember one thing from this article, I want you to remember to have fun. Yes, it can get stressful, especially when you are working with deadlines, but act creation should be an exciting process to develop a piece that you can truly be proud of. Give this process the time and respect that it deserves. You never know who your act will inspire.

Opening our Doors After the Pandemic

By Tessa Wallington

The circus community felt the effects of COVID19 just as many other industries did. As the world continues to move closer to beating COVID19, and restaurants and shops begin to open up to full capacity, circus schools have begun following suit. The tricky part about schools opening again, is that currently, each state is at a different part of the fight against COVID19.

Each school must follow different guidelines, and since we’ve never seen such a large issue be so different on a state by state basis, there’s not one concrete answer to reopening. Opening up for one circus community may look completely different from another.  Schools like Trapeze Las Vegas in Nevada (TLV) started with minimal socially distanced classes with mask wearing and increased sanitation and as State guidelines have switched so have TLV’s, the school is now able to offer classes to more people. Although Trapeze Las Vegas was lucky enough to never fully close their doors, and were able to switch class setup every step of the way, the safe opening up of the city has drastically changed the way TLV runs and operates on a day by day basis.

The pandemic has also given schools a reason to remember important sanitation. There doesn’t have to be a global pandemic for students and coaches to remember to wipe down their equipment after use. There may be some positives as we trek this uncharted territory together, and  luckily as we see light at the end of the tunnel, we will be seeing more lights on stages soon. 

The Aerial Angels of Trapeze Las Vegas performing in some of their first gigs since the pandemic safe, and masked up. 

Interview with AYCO Board Member Dan Roberts

By Stacy Gubar

Dan Roberts has been the Treasurer of the AYCO Executive Board since 2018. In that time he has worked closely with the Executive Director, Tara, to oversee and manage AYCO’s finances and keep this wonderful program running as it should. 

His journey towards this respectable position started in 2004 when he began working as a coach in CircEsteem in Chicago. He has since become the Executive Director of this existing program. Additionally, he founded a social circus in Indonesia called the Red Nose Foundation. 

Dan Roberts

He connected with AYCO after attending an AYCO-fest in 2005 as a chaperone. He greatly enjoyed the event and decided to contact the Executive Director of AYCO to see how he could get involved. Dan Robert’s extensive experience allowed him to eventually land the position of Treasurer. 

Despite this high achievement, Dan continues to dedicate his time and energy to his other commitments. Consequently, his decision to resign from his position at AYCO is very understandable since even the most dedicated individuals have only 24 hours in a day. 

Dan expects to still remain involved with AYCO due to his work in other social circus programs and as a member of AYCO. He hopes the program continues to gain support and momentum and he is excited to see what the future holds for AYCO. 

He states that it has been a pleasure to work with the other dedicated circus enthusiasts that make up the AYCO Executive Board. He adds that he is very honored to have been part of this organization. I feel I can speak for us all when I say that the members of AYCO have also been very honored and grateful to have such a wonderful and responsible Treasurer for the past three years. Dan Roberts will be very missed by members of the organization, but we thank him for the hard work he has put in while being an active member of the board and wish him the best of luck in his other endeavors.   

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part 3, by Stacy Gubar

I also had the honor of interviewing circus enthusiast, V. V is a student of the Voice Project in Portland which is a program that uses the Circus Project’s studio and focuses on youth who hold marginalized identities. 

What part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym do you identify with?

I identify with queer in general because I am both genderqueer and have a queer sexuality. I have taken no medical steps to transition, but by some definitions I may also be considered transgender.

How has that affected your circus endeavors? 

Yes, the company I am a part of, the Voice Project, is specifically for youth who hold marginalized identities. 

What are the pronouns you use?

I use they/them pronouns. 

Have you found your specific circus studio to be an accepting environment?

Yes, at the Voice Project we all accept each other as we are. Even in public classes at the Circus Project people are always encouraged to share their pronouns and names and everyone is respectful of each other’s wishes. 

Have you found the circus community as a whole to be an accepting environment? 

It’s hard to say because I did not have access to circus arts before the Voice Project.

Do you know any other circus enthusiasts who align themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community?

Yes, about half of the Voice Project identify as LGBTQIA+

Have you been able to relate to their experiences or do you find they vastly differ? 

Some experiences are similar, but some vary greatly depending on people’s identity. I have, unfortunately, heard from others that they have been in studios or groups far less accepting than my own. 

Have you participated in/do you know of LGBTQIA+ support groups within the circus community?

I don’t know of any groups specifically designed to support LGBTQIA+ individuals, but the Voice Project acts as a support group because everyone is encouraged to show up as they are and build safe relationships.  

Do you feel the geographical location of your circus studio affects how people at the studio view the LGBTQIA+ community? 

I think it could. Being in Portland can affect how the LGBTQIA community is viewed because there is a high queer population here. People can gain more exposure and education living in Portland compared to other places which creates a more welcoming environment. Even beyond the circus world, Portland is pretty inclusive as a whole in my personal experience. 

What is some advice or encouragement you would like to share with other LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiasts? 

Unapologetically be yourself no matter what and have courage to be your authentic self because everyone deserves that. Seek out inclusive environments and have the courage to create those spaces as well by authentically being yourself. I think that having a supportive environment has made a world of a difference in my life. My mental and physical health has really improved. 

Anything else you would like to share?

Having supportive, inclusive environments is crucial for people’s safety, wellbeing and health. I want to stress the importance of creating these environments. The Circus Project has a mission of being an inclusive environment, but the circus world as a whole could use a call to action to push for more inclusivity and acceptance. We must create and provide supportive environments. They truly can have a huge positive impact on the lives of those who need them. 

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part 2, by Stacy Gubar

I had the pleasure of interviewing Oriana from the Wise Fool New Mexico circus program in New Mexico about the experience of an LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiast. The following is an excerpt from that informative conversation. 

What part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym do you identify with

Queer works best for me because it is the most accurate way to describe my gender expansive, nonbinary, and genderfluid identity. 

What are the pronouns you use?

I use any and all pronouns, but I prefer my name. 

How has that affected your circus endeavors? 

I am part of an organization founded by people who identified as queer, so being queer  has not affected me in circus much because I have been very well received. 

Have you found your specific circus studio to be an accepting environment?

Wise Fool New Mexico was founded by queer individuals, and has been very accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community since its founding days, so I have felt accepted as well. Wise Fools is often the model for other circus groups including AYCO and ACE when it comes to diversity, acceptance, and progress. 

Have you found the circus community as a whole to be an accepting environment? 

I have found that me identifying as queer does not come into play much in the broad circus community. Any discrimination I have faced has been more for race than gender identity. 

Do you know any other circus enthusiasts who align themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community?

The presence or lack of LGBTQIA+ circus members varies based on circumstance and location. Select circus groups do have members who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community, but when considering circus as a whole I feel it is not very common or widespread. 

Have you participated in/do you know of LGBTQIA+ support groups within the circus community?

My studio offers an intensive for women and transgender and nonbinary individuals called BUST! which offers workshops to address LGBTQIA+ social issues. AYCO and ACE also offer classes at conferences that inform those who take them about LGBTQIA+ issues within and beyond the circus. 

Do you feel the geographical location of your circus studio affects how people at the studio view the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Absolutely! Santa Fe, New Mexico is very progressive when it comes to gay rights, so people are more accepting of others being unapologetically themselves. Even the last mayor was gay and no one treated it as out of the ordinary. However, Tennessee, where I used to live, was much more conservative and less accepting, so the circus programs in that area and other parts of the South are less accepting than Wise Fools. 

What is some advice or encouragement you would like to share with other LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiasts? 

Find a community if you don’t have it because a support system is very important. When you fall into feeling alone, a community, or even one person, there to support you can mean the world. It is not always easy to be unapologetically yourself, but that is what moves the world and creates growth.

Anything else you would like to share?

It is very important for people to understand that these pieces of identity must be respected, but it is also important to be conscious of the fact that the person comes before the set label. Nobody is just one label, so be careful to maintain the human aspect of the individual rather than letting the label overtake the complex identity. 

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part One, by Revely Rothschild

I was lucky to have the opportunity to interview Autumn Wheeler (from The Circus Project in Portland, Oregon) about their experience as an LGBTQ+ circus coach, student, and performer.

Autumn Wheeler

So, first off, if you could just introduce yourself? Specifically, what pronouns do you use, and what circus experience do you have? 

I use she pronouns or they pronouns. I’ve been doing circus for a really long time, actually– I started at a summer camp when I was twelve or thirteen, and I’m twenty-six now, so I’ve been doing it for like half my life. I started with fabric and hoop, and then I moved into more tumbling and hope and more-ground based stuff. And then I did a training program with The Circus Project, which is an organization in Portland… I did rope, hoop, again… and then prior to the pandemic I was doing the pro-track program at NECCA and I majored in Chinese Pole and minored in hand-balancing. So I’ve really been all over the place. 

So, what do you do now, are you teaching, or coaching, or studying, too?

Throughout the pandemic I’ve continued training handbalancing, just cause I didn’t need to go anywhere to do it, doing online lessons, or on my own… I’ve been coaching, I coach sling, which is kind of random, I haven’t trained it a lot… Chinese pole, hand balancing, “slumbling,” which is something I think is just something made  up at NECCA, it’s kind of dance-y tumbling, not like power tumbling, just linking moves together. Oh, and I totally forgot to mention, I have my undergrad degree in theater, like clowning, so I also coach theater. 

That’s super cool! So, you were mentioning that you’ve worked with some different circuses, and I was wondering how you’ve seen different studios interact with LGBTQ identities in different ways? And also, because you’ve been a part of the circus world for so long, whether you’ve seen those interactions change with time?

I think yes to all of those things. I remember, when I first started circus, I didn’t even know I was queer, or really identify as queer in any way. I remember I had one queer coach, but it was very different than it is now. It was very under-the-table, and we didn’t talk about it. I’m sure it’s different there– it was also a small town, and I’m sure it’s changed a lot. But looking back, it… didn’t feel super inclusive.The Circus Project, in Portlamd, in my experience has felt very welcoming of all different kinds of queer identites. I was able to train with other queer people who were really open about their identities for the first time, and that was super awesome. I also coach there for a program called Voice Project, which is specifically for youth with different marginalized identities. So that is awesome and has been so rewarding for me to coach queer youth and make a space for them in ways that I don’t really like I really had– although, like I said, I wasn’t really identifying as queer at that time. And then at NECCA, I don’t know, I think it sort of depends. I had some trans friends at NECCA that really struggled with people getting their pronouns right or… understanding them and their experiences. But then I had some gay friends, more on the spectrum of sexual orientation than gender identity, who felt really included. 

Yeah, for sure. That leads really well into one thing that I was wondering about– do you think there’s a difference between how circus approaches gender identity versus how it approaches sexuality, and if so, why is that? 

That’s such a good question. I feel like – at least the coaches that I’ve had who don’t themselves identify as queer – it’s been much more easy for them to be more accepting of different sexual orientations, and gender… it’s really been hit-or-miss. And I feel like maybe that’s just cultural, in terms of people still getting on board with pronouns or transgender people’s experiences more broadly. But I don’t know! I wish it wasn’t that way. I have noticed a difference in terms of gender and sexuality. 

I totally know what you mean. Recently, I was reading a book about the history of circus for this blog, and there were female circus performers whom men would describe as having really big muscles, but those women still had to act very feminine in certain ways. I think in some ways, circus is so geared towards working beyond the normal limits of what we think is possible, but then in other ways it’s rooted in some strict history– for example, the tradition of having a male person as a base and a female person as a flyer in an act together. I don’t know if that’s exactly a question, but I’m curious what you think about that, generally?

Yeah, that’s something I’ve thought about a lot, especially since I’ve done a lot of basing as a woman (though I identify as nonbinary and a woman, because of the way I look I’m often viewed as a woman). But as a woman, basing, I feel like that’s something that’s been encouraged as a way to resist stereotypes. But then I don’t know… at one point I shaved my head and was looking a lot more “masculine,” and I felt like there was more uncertainty around that in certain ways, versus if I was being perceived as a woman doing things “outside of the norm”, if that makes sense. Also I’ve thought about, like, I was saying that there’s been a lot of inclusion of people of different sexual orientations, but I still notice the disconnect in the acts that are being performed. Like I had two gay guy friends at NECCA, and they did perform together once, but much more often they would perform with a woman. So even if the people were queer the acts weren’t. 

Mhm. I think it’s so interesting to think about how circus is for you as a person in the community, versus how audiences perceive it– and not only in terms of sexuality. So I was also wondering whether you think people perceive circus as welcoming or not so much, towards the LGBTQ community?

Yeah, I think about this a lot. I think that on a surface level people really assume that it is really inclusive of all sorts of different people, whether that’s race or gender or different ability– I think people assume that because circus is so creative and out-of-the-box, it will be. But then as I’ve gone deeper into the industry, and this could be just my experience, I’ve noticed that it’s still pretty strictly adhering to norms, if that makes sense?

Yeah, I’ve totally noticed that, especially in terms of body positivity, for example– like yes, to an extent circus is for anybody and any body, but then at the same time there are so many prejudices, but also the reality that your physical abilities do affect how well you can “succeed” in circus, because the idea of “success” is still overwhelmingly present in circus. 

Yeah, totally! 

Can you think of any times when you’ve noticed that sort of contradiction come up, in regards to any LGBTQ stuff?

I think sometimes, in the ways that circus schools advertise themselves as super inclusive, even when that’s not people’s actual experience in terms of microaggressions or daily interactions that make you question whether that message of inclusivity is really true. 

And then on the flip side, are there any really positive experiences that you’ve had? I think we’ve talked about how circus can be a bit contradictory, but I’m also wondering what some of your positive experiences have been?

I’ve had realy positive experiences with queer people leading circuses. For example, I’ve worked with Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus– which, I don’t know if you know what that is, but it’s a circus that’s run by Jack, a trans circus artist, and he brings together people with different queer identites and we make stuff! It’s really fun, and I feel like having someone in leadership who’s familiar with the queer experience is really awesome. Yeah, I really think that by doing circus with other queer people– whether that’s a student or a coach– it’s really great to have that shared experience with other people in the room. 

Totally. This might sound too personal, which I don’t mean it to be, but if it is, you don’t have to answer at all of course, but are there any specific stories of people or things that have helped you along your… for lack of a better word, your journey as a queer person? Specifically, in terms of circus?

Yeah, I think specifically working with Jack and Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus. I didn’t meet him through that, we were part of my same training company at The Circus Project, so he was just my fellow student. But I think that seeing him be so forward about that part of his identity, made me feel really encouraged to bring that part of myself forward. And I think that that inspired me to be the same person for other people– like when I started at NECCA, I was really forward about that part of my identity as queer, and not many other people were at the beginning, but at the end of the experience a lot of other people were coming out as queer as well. I’ve gotten a lot of people saying, like, “You really encouraged me,” and I was like “Oh I had no idea, that’s awesome!”

That’s so inspiring. Do you notice that same sort of thing happens, either between you and the students that you teach, or within the groups of students that you’ve taught?

Hmm. Well, I actually struggle with this, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, because I never know how to out myself to students, because right now, with how I look right now, with  long-ish hair, people might not perceive me as having a queer identity. And I don’t want that, because it’s not my experience, and I also want to be a queer person in leadership for other people. What do you think?

I don’t want to go too in-depth because this is my own experience, but I’ve done circus camps since I was about six, and I’ve had a couple of circus friends throughout that whole time, and by now, almost all of us identify as queer in some way. And I think that one thing that has made us all feel so comfortable is that we’ve had a couple of nonbinary coaches. Especially, I work with one coach right now who uses they/them pronouns, and whenever we work with little kids, we explain to them what pronouns are and have them share their own pronouns. So I think that sharing pronouns can be a good way to both share your own identity in a very open way, but also help younger students understand more about gender fluidity. And like you were saying earlier, I think that’s something that has sort of changed with time, as well. 

Yeah, for sure. That’s something we do as well, I totally agree. 

Unless there’s anything else you’re wanting to come back to, I think my last question is sort of related to that– we’ve talked about how circus has improved some, and now I’m wondering how you think circuses can continue to improve in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusivity?

Yeah, one of your other questions is making me think, too… I feel like as a queer woman, doing Chinese pole was a very affirming experience because having a circus school like NECCA, and my coach there, Sandra, was amazing because her experience learning pole was that she was told she couldn’t do it… and she did it anyway and she was in Cirque du Soleil. But it was awesome to be supported to learn a discipline that was typically more men, and have a space where that wasn’t the expectation. So in terms of improving, I think there needs to be a lot of attention given to trans experiences in circus, like in terms of using the pronouns that people ask for. I think there can also be more coach training, and also learning how to include different bodies, in terms of spotting or the language that we use to refer to different body parts. 

Another thing that I’ve heard you mention a bit, and this is just my re-phrasing, but the idea of “paying it forward”? Like, there’s kind of the institutional level of coaching and the organization’s goals, but then there’s also the individual level of personal relationships that we form as LGBTQ+ circus artists, and those can be really empowering and formative, too. 

I think so, yeah. And that’s part of why I wanted to do this interview– other queer circus people have been so important to me, and I want to help to share that with other people, as well. 

Would you be open to me including your email at the end of the interview, just in case people have further questions or want to reach out to you to talk?

Yeah, totally! 

For anyone who is interested in reaching out to connect about Autumn’s experiences as a queer person in circus, their email is autumn@thecircusproject.org. Thanks for reading, and Happy Pride Month!

The First-Ever Circus International Film Fest

Emily Fulton

Last February, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to be the Festival Assistant for the first-ever Circus International Film Festival (CIFF). This was a volunteer position where I was a key team member in the inner workings of this revolutionary festival. Let me just say, it was an amazing experience.

CIFF was founded by Marisa Diamond in early 2021. Marisa is an inspirational circus professional and filmmaker, on top of being one of the first youth to hold a leadership role at AYCO. She founded the Circus International Film Festival because she felt strongly that circus films deserved proper recognition by the film industry and they were simply not receiving the attention they deserved at other film festivals.

In February, I started my duties as Festival Assistant. In the beginning, my main responsibility was to review the 95 submitted films. This was a mammoth task because we needed to make sure that only films that met our criteria were accepted. It was incredible that, in our inaugural year, films were submitted from 25 different countries!

Next, I helped notify the creators’ of the accepted films. I really enjoyed this part because the filmmakers were all so thrilled when they were notified of their acceptance! Then I had to upload the 84 selected films to our official YouTube channel. I was surprised that this took me a super long time to do because many of our awesome films were quite long and very high quality. It took me what seemed like forever, but I did finish the task in time for each film to be screened!

Next came the actual screenings. These started on March 14th and ran until World Circus Day, April 18th. Each film was screened for 24 hours via a private YouTube link sent out to our ~1,100 audience members each morning. I was amazed at how many people watched the fantastic films we were showcasing each day!

There were four competing categories this year; Under 18, Shorts – Documentary, Shorts – Performance, and Full-Length. To allow even more filmmakers to participate, we also had an exhibition only category this year. CIFF had 12 total jury members who selected the winning films in each category, and we even had audience choice voting!

And the 2021 Circus International Film Festival’s winning films are: 

**drumroll please**

Jury Selected Awards:

Roses and Thorns by US based youth circus creator Izzi Kessner (Under 18)

New Horizons by French based circus professional Antoine Menard (Short – Documentary)

Wake by UK based circus professional Tamzen Moulding (Short – Performance)

Cirque Du Cambodia by US based film professional Joel Gershon (Full-Length)

Audience Choice Awards:

Isla Bonita by Puerto Rican youth circus company ENC Puerto Rico (Under 18)

Fer Sumundo by Mexican based circus professional Arelly Cantellano (Short – Documentary)

Zéro Vulnérablité by French based circus professional Antoine Menard (Short – Performance)

TEN by Canadian based circus professional Katelyn Ryan (Full-Length)

Next came my favorite part: Interviewing the creators of the winning films! We hosted four Instagram Lives on April 17th. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Joel Gershon, the winner of the Full-Length category. It was awesome to hear about his inspiration for and experience creating his film Cirque Du Cambodia! That was definitely the highlight of my CIFF volunteer work!

CIFF is always looking for more volunteers! If you are interested, shoot an email over to circusinternationalfilmfest@gmail.com. We love volunteers of all ages and I would encourage you to reach out if you are interested. I assure you that it will be a rewarding experience, and who knows what great opportunities you will get through your volunteer work!

Circus is a Chosen Family

Revely Rothschild

Our hands were linked wrist to wrist, pulse to pulse, as I held my trapeze partner in the air. The stage lights illuminated the contrast between dark and light skin as we moved through our act in unity. As our feet touched the ground, we took a bow and joyfully scampered into the wings, where a dozen friends fell upon us with jokes and hugs. Like squirming puppies of the same litter, we all collapsed into a laughing dog pile on the polka dotted floor.  

Those friends are my circus family. Though we come from different backgrounds, we love each other deeply and openly. When we hold each other up physically while practicing circus arts, we learn to lift each other emotionally as well. In an unparalleled and nearly breathtaking way, our mutual trust and shared vulnerability reinforce each other to build bonds stronger than the aerialists who form them. 

So when members of my circus family are hurt because society marginalizes them in some way– whether that be their race, gender identity, religion, or mental health– my blood boils for them. I want to support them, so I listen. I make myself available and willing to hear and validate their stories. And when they trust me with their perspectives, no matter how greatly these differ from my own, I honor their experiences and use them as motivation to educate myself. My circus family has made me aware of my privileges, but I have also learned that privilege is not an excuse for me to blindly disregard discrimination. Rather, it is a cause for me to defend others, love them fiercely, and lift them up with me.

The Media Behind the MainStage

By Tessa Wallington

The phrase social media may be a little different for everyone, but we all know that today, it’s the leading source of the spread of information. Whether it’s a cat meme on Instagram, or a breaking news story on twitter, we rapidly spread information through our social networking pages. Luckily enough for the circus community, social media has increased the knowledge of the art dramatically. Circus has been around a whole lot longer than social media, but not everyone was aware of the modern practice of aerial arts and acrobatics before the convenience and ease of socials. The dramatic rise in TikTok challenges, Instagram reels, and snapchat spotlight stories allows for people to spread their work at a dramatic rate. Modern circus and traditional circus are very different, and one of the large differences may be that modern circus relies heavily on social media. The last twenty years there has seen a large increase in awareness of the circus community, and the access to which beginners can get involved in recreational circus. Hashtags such as “circuseverydamnday” have become a universal bond that brings posts from across the world together into one explore page. The rapid increase of posting of new tricks or upcoming circus festivals has also created a stronger bond within the circus community. It is easier to connect with people who live far away, with the modern forms of social media. The social network phenomenon has changed a lot of things this past decade, and one of the most unexpected may be the new light being shined on the art of circus. As always, follow the American Youth Circus Organization on social networks.

AYCO Festival Review

This year, the American Youth Circus Festival was a two-day virtual event April 17th and April 18th! Online activities include workshops, social events, youth-led activities, and more.

Emily Fulton:

Wow! This year’s Virtual AYCO Fest, equipped with a scavenger hunt, panels with circus professionals, a performance showcase, and lots of other great opportunities, was so much fun that it is hard to choose a favorite activity! If I had to choose, though, I think that my favorite activity would have to be the afternoon hangouts lead by my fellow Hup Squad Representative Carleigh. Now I have to admit; I had my doubts when I signed up for the hangouts because I was nervous that I wouldn’t have anything in common with the other attendees. Gosh, was I wrong! I enjoyed getting to chat with circus youth from around the country, and it was really interesting how much we had in common. I can’t wait to get together with my new friends at the next AYCO Fest!

Another really cool opportunity that I had at this year’s AYCO Fest was moderating the From Youth Circus To Professional Performance panel. I loved asking professional circus artists Kia Eastman, Tristan Nielsen, Spencer Mathey, Ariana Ferber-Carter, and Kerren McKeeman questions about their circus journeys. They all had such interesting stories to share, and I especially enjoyed their answers to “What is the weirdest circus creation that you have been a part of?” I made that question up on the spot, and I was super impressed with all of the unique experiences that had been made available to them through their circus careers!

Carleigh Saberton:

The American Youth Circus Festival looked a little different this year, but it was still a great time! We got to do circus with people around the U.S. from the comfort of our own home which I though was pretty cool. I hosted the hangouts and they were really fun! We had a lot of great conversations about our favorite things inside and out of circus and how our circus community is wonderful in so many ways. My favorite workshops that I attended were probably both of the juggling ones. I love to juggle; I’ve been working on numbers which is why Sean Petric’s 5 ball juggling was super helpful. I also learned cool 3 and 4 ball variations and partner tricks with my mom from Eva Rowland’s workshop! Thanks to everyone that made the festival possible during these crazy times!

Lyra Gross:

The AYCO festival was amazing! I got to meet so many new people! I learned so much from it and thought it was a great experience for circus lovers!

Sounds like the Festival was a great time and hope to see you at the next one!