Circus Everywhere

Going to the circus is an amazing experience. Audiences are always blown away by all the talent. However, when you buy tickets and plan out your night at the circus, you are expecting to be impressed by the spectacle. Running across circus when you aren’t expecting it can be a completely different experience.

The circus used to be somewhere you’d go to see strange and amazing things, and usually wasn’t as common in everyday life. However, circus artists don’t have to just “run away with the circus” anymore, and live on the road. Although that’s still an option, many performers are finding new ways to make a living with what they can do. Circus artists can be found touring with singers and appearing in their music videos, in advertisements, and even as internet memes.

Music Industry

Circus in the music industry is becoming more popular. For example, the famous singer Pink is known for performing aerials while singing. She was inspired to learn circus arts at a Cher concert, where there were backup dancers performing aerial silks. She met with one and asked her to teach her how to perform while singing. The aerialist had Pink first learn how to sing while being punched in the stomach, to show how difficult performing while singing would be. Now, Pink performs aerial arts while singing quite regularly when performing.

Pink performing aerial sling in concert,Image from Popsugar.com fitness, ‘How to Get High Like Pink’

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Another unusual place to find circus is in advertisements and music videos. For example, there’s a juggler in an advertisement for the Apple Watch. Many other advertisements include circus disciplines – I’ve also seen acrobatics, tightwire, and teeterboard!

Music Videos

Many music videos also include circus, such as the new Jason Mraz song, Have It All.

Moment from Jason Mraz’s Have It All music video

Memes

Some circus videos have been shared with a funny caption and shared on the internet. Although it’s common for amazing circus skills to be shared through social media, it’s usually only on circus accounts that you’ll find it. However, this image from a teeterboard video can be found on several relatable comedy accounts that have nothing to do with circus.

Image from Me.me, https://goo.gl/images/fxgLss

Museums and art events

Contemporary circus can be super popular as a visual art experience, not just through the skills but through the creativity of the apparatus and performance put together. For example, Yoann Bourgeois’s tramp wall performance called The Mechanics of History at the Pantheon in Paris includes an interesting mechanical apparatus that rotates.

Using technology to share skills and creations is easier than ever, which allows circus artists more and more opportunities for performing – and not always in the ring. It’s incredible how technology has been able to make the circus community even more inclusive and rewarding than it already was.

– Annika

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The Art of Flying: What It’s Like To Be On The Flying Trapeze

“Gliders, sailplanes, they are wonderful flying machines. It’s the closest you can come to being a bird.” – Neil Armstrong

Flying is one of the few things humans aren’t able to do by ourselves. We have figured out how to create machines that will carry thousands of pounds and hundreds of people across the sky, and we’ve even learned how to jump from those machines. But unlike a bird, we still can’t fly on our own. However, in the mid-1800s a young French man named Jules Léotard created a miraculous invention. He created the flying trapeze. (His name didn’t stick to the trapeze art he invented –  instead it attached itself to the costume he flew in – the leotard.)

The flying trapeze has evolved since the day of Jules Léotard. It no longer swings over a pool, like when it was first invented, but instead over a net.

Jordan swinging out of lines for the first time. Video by Jordan’s mom, Melanie White

To get up to the board you jump off of to start swinging, you first have to climb up a long ladder. This always feels as though it takes longer than the actual flying, but that’s just your imagination! The board on many flying trapeze rigs tends to be pretty small, but some boards are much bigger, almost double in width – closer to the size of a park bench.

Then comes the trapeze bar, which is bolted into an overhead beam via cables, somewhere in the front third of the rig. The trapeze bar is hooked from where it hangs straight down and is swung up to the board by a thin PVC pipe with a hook on the end called a ‘noodle’. The distance from the board to the trapeze varies from rig to rig, but generally, an adult-sized person should be able to reach the bar by standing on the edge of the board and reaching out. At the far end of the rig is the catcher’s bar. This is what the catcher will climb up to and then swing from in order to catch you.

The flying trapeze rig I fly on at SANCA looks like this:

 A flyer doing a ‘heels off’ trick to the catcher. Photo by Kevin Ruddell

After you’ve flown your trick a couple times without fail, you get to the most exhilarating part: catching. This is where your catcher will climb up a rope to reach the catcher’s bar, hang upside down, and swing toward the board (although they’re still pretty far away). At the top of their arc, they’ll say, “Ready… hup!” You then do your trick, and at the end of the trick, right when the arcs of the two swinging trapezes line up, you’ll let go of the bar, and get caught by your catcher. It’s one of the most magical moments in flying trapeze. It was that moment of the catch when I realized I could fly forever and never get bored.

Jordan doing a ‘pullover shoot’ to catch. Video by Jordan’s sister.

I’ve been flying for a little under a year now and I love the freedom you feel when you’re in the air. It’s something that you can’t really understand until you’ve felt it yourself. The feeling of coming down after a successful catch and the world flaring back into life when you come back down to earth. Flying is something that empties your mind and fills your soul with all that it could possibly need. Flight.

– Jordan

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Character Creation

Lyra in character. Photo by Doug Hara

You might have an act that’s beautifully choreographed, but sometimes you want a charismatic personality to go with it! However, character creation can be hard – I face this challenge often when creating acts. Here are the steps that I go through to bring my character to life, and the questions I ask myself:

Music & mood

How does your character feel? My inspiration for acts usually comes from a song. Some music just feels like you need to perform to it. Once I choose a song, I think about the mood of the music. Is it a happy song, or a sad song? Angry, or hopeful? That gives me insight on how I want my character to feel and act.

Goals & purpose

What does your character want? Are they trying to get somewhere or do something? What are they doing here? Your character’s goal could be part of your act, and communicated to the audience using actions or props. The story could be centered all around this goal. Or, you could ignore the goal. It does not have to be important or conveyed to the audience in any way during your act. It is still good for you to know what your character’s goal is because it will help you act their personality.

Action!

How does your character move? What will they be doing? You should know how they walk, talk, and carry themself. How will they carry out their actions during your act? Perhaps they walk slowly, with long strides, or maybe they leap lightly on their toes. What do they do when they feel exited, or scared? What expressions do they make? You want the audience to know how the character is feeling so act, act, act!

I hope this helped you in developing your character. I find these steps very helpful and I hope you do too. Good luck!

– Lyra

10 Steps to Creating a Great Circus Act!

Photo by MAKO Photography

For many of us in circus arts, the majority of our time is spent training and building strength, so when it’s time to create an act it can be difficult to know where to start. Here is my ten step process for piece creation. It’s made up from my perspective as an aerialist, tips from my favorite coaches, and lessons I’ve learned through trial and error. While it works for me, it might not be just right for you, so feel free to blend it with your own creativity and experiences, and advice from your favorite coaches and mentors.

  1. Document Your Training: This step comes before you know even know you need to create an act! Building skill sets and strength is important, but spend some training time just messing around with your apparatus or props. Try to just flow for a few minutes and MAKE SURE TO FILM IT! Filming this creative time will allow you to look back on it and keep skills or pathways that you think are pretty or pleasing. Filming also helps you see how fluid your transitions are and where you can improve. You may also want to purchase a training notebook and write down these sequences, so you can delete some footage from your camera.

  2. Evaluate the Mood and Character of the Event: When you are asked to perform, think about the purpose and tone of the event. Is it a party? A fundraiser? Is there a theme? Who will be in the audience? What is the venue like? Write down any information and thoughts you have about the event in your training notebook.

  3. Pick Music to Set a Mood: Look back at your event evaluation. If there is a theme, such as Halloween, then pick something spooky or foreboding, and not a feel good pop tune. If there is no particular theme but you know the event is an elementary school fundraiser, there are probably going to be a lot of kids, so choose a song with family friendly lyrics. Finally think about what you want to do. Do you want to do a fast-paced piece or something slower? How do you want the audience to feel during your piece? Taking all these things into consideration will help you choose music that fits your goals, as well as the mood and character of the event.

  4. String Together Sequences: Using sequences you saved from training documentation, and your music, start stringing together sections you like. Use the music to help you find out what goes where. If there is a speed up in the music, maybe choose an easier sequence and save more difficult moves for a slower section. Remember to think about your personal strengths and what you can do safely and beautifully. Also consider the space you will be working in before you add large moves like swinging, orbiting, or spinning.

  5. Do It Through a Few Times: Look for timing weirdness, awkward moments, and places that are difficult, or things that you just plain don’t like. If possible film it and mark these moments in your notes so you can remember them.

  6. Revise and Polish: Use your film and notes to find the parts of your act that are the most rough, unpolished or difficult. Make your revisions and do the piece again. Film it so that you can look at it later, and repeat Step 6 as needed!! I usually do separate “revise and polishes” for tricks, any music cues, and cleaning up transitions.

  7. Make It Shine: Film the last iteration of your piece and pay attention to small details such as facial expressions, hands, toes, or any frilly fancy bits. Go back to Step 3 and ask yourself, “Does this fit my character/ mood? Is there something I should change so this more accurately transmits the mood or theme?”

  8. Pick a Costume: Although it’s not the most important part of a piece, a costume that makes you feel super secure and confident is a real benefit. When considering a costume also consider lighting, the color of your background, the mood of your piece, and the event. Once you have it, do the piece a few more times to make sure the costume fits well, and helps you feel confident on stage.

  9. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat: In the days leading up to your performance try to do your piece a few extra times in full costume and with music if possible, this can help reassure you that you know what you are doing and that you look great!

  10. Mark Through the Final Minutes: Before you go on stage, mark through your piece at least twice on the ground. “Marking through” means to move as though you are on your apparatus, this helps jog your memory of the act. Right before you go on stage, take a few deep breaths and stand confidently. Then, get out there and show ’em what you got!

– Zoe

Toes to Nose: Hula Hoop Tutorial

Hello! My name is Eva Lou and I created a special hula-hoop tutorial for my fellow AYCO youth member: Toes to Nose! I’m so excited to be sharing some of my tips for all of you to use in your future hula-hooping.

I’ve been hula-hooping for around five years. I started by taking a fun class with my mom, and it eventually evolved into performing all the time at different events. I’ve had so much fun learning cool moves and am glad to share some of them with you. There are tips for everyone, including beginners who just know how to waist hoop and more advanced hoopers who want to learn to nose hoop.

Thank you for taking the time to watch my tutorial. Just remember: don’t get frustrated with your progression, and always keep trying to improve your skill set!

– Eva Lou

Work Behind the Spotlight

Chelsea performing jump rope

What does it take to put on a circus show? A lot of hard work, commitment, and time. Circus performances are beautiful and full of entertainment for the entire family. The music matches the motions perfectly, and everyone performs amazing tricks, but these beautiful tricks take months of hard work. All circus shows take work, whether you are a performer in a massive theater in front of thousands of people like Cirque du Soleil or you perform at the Aronoff Center (a large performing arts center in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio where my circus troupe, My Nose Turns Red (MNTR), performs in front of our close family and friends).

Hard work is the most important aspect of circus. If you don’t work towards your goals, then you won’t be able to achieve them. When this hard work is put in you will achieve perfection on your trick faster. Persistence goes hand in hand with hard work. Part of the work is consistently attempting the trick at hand. Working hard on the trick for one class will do nothing for you. If you combine work with persistence, then you will have the trick faster.

Hard work also goes along with commitment. There can’t be a good show if performers miss rehearsals. If this happens, then they won’t know what to do and may not be able to perform. Commitment is another key component to work behind the spotlight because if you aren’t fully committed to what you’re doing and you don’t care if you miss classes, then you won’t be able to perform on stage. Everyone has to stay committed or the performance will fall apart.

Not only is commitment required for circus, but you will also need to put in a lot of time. Even in youth circus performances, students will spend hours at their circus studios every week. Some students will spend many days there as well. You must be prepared to spend a lot of your time working on your skills and perfecting your performance outside of class. After the act has a basic outline, the performers need to start learning the routine. Depending on the skill level and difficulty of the trick, the performer may need a while to learn it. This has to be put into consideration when planning for a performance. No good performance can happen in a day. At least a few weeks will be needed to create a good routine and then a while longer to perfect the work.

I had to put all of these key components to work when I was learning how to jump into jump rope. When MNTR was training for our end of year show we were working on our teen piece. We have a group called “Circus Youth in Action” also known as CYA where teen students work on their coaching skills along with advancing skills that our whole group works on. This year we decided to create our own act for the end of year show which we call the “Extravaganza.” This year CYA decided to create a jump rope piece, but I had never tried jumping in before and that was the main part of the piece. I had to work hard every hour we practiced during class time and I also had to practice at home. After I worked on it many hours for a few days, I could do it! This is just one example of many times I have had to put in the commitment, spend a lot of time practicing, and use hard work to achieve one of my circus goals.

Circus is very rewarding, but you have to work for it. Some of the many benefits include getting to meet new people, being physically active, and having fun. This makes all of the work, commitment, and time well worth it. It takes a lot to put on a circus performance, but it’s just all part of the work you have to do behind the spotlight.

– Chelsea

Backstage at The Teatro ZinZanni Circus Cabaret

Circus has been mesmerizing people for centuries with its raw beauty, and promise of the new and strange. When walking into a circus tent, you know that no matter what happens next, it’ll be an adventure. A circus performer can take something as simple as two straps or a piece of rope, and somehow manage to tell a beautiful tale from which no one can look away. A little piece of who the performer is always shines through.

Plenty of people have experienced large-scale circus, and it’s often what comes to mind when thinking of circus. You think of shows like Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros., where the performers are 50 feet away and most of the viewing tends to be from afar. Far less common is the opportunity to experience circus on a smaller, more intimate scale, as is the case in Europe, or in Seattle’s Teatro ZinZanni; a circus cabaret. Even fewer have been lucky enough to see what happens backstage.

Cartoon by Roz Chast, The New Yorker

When I was little I always looked forward to the days where I could visit Teatro ZinZanni and watch my mom work. Teatro ZinZanni takes place in a 100-year-old Spiegeltent with a multi-course meal, and the circus happens all around you. My mom was the stage manager there and called the cues for the show every few nights. The show was pure magic. It didn’t matter what the show was, as it changed every few months, but the feeling was always the same. Watching the dimly lit circus tent come to life, being on the edge of your seat, being drawn into the bright lights and stunning figures, unaware of anything else in the world that might be happening around you. The acrobats would perform near and at your table. Leaping off the center lift in order to spin high above your head, before gently touching down and bringing you back to Earth, but still not quite. None of it ever felt real until it was over, and even then you still weren’t sure what you’d just seen. I would walk around in a daze for weeks afterward, never able to stop thinking about the show.

I was lucky enough to go visit Teatro Zinzanni again last month, to see the show Love, Chaos, and Dinner, through the current stage manager, Jordan Muller. I shadowed the backstage managers John and Liana, watched them work, and saw the planned chaos that happens backstage every night. Here’s a rundown of the hard work and mayhem that takes place backstage to bring the show to life every night.

4.15 – I get to the tent and meet Jordan.

4:30 – The presets (getting props ready, checking lights, steaming costumes) are almost done. John’s presets last until almost the start of the show at 7, even though they can be finished in about an hour or two with no distractions. This is because John likes to draw them out so he can be around Jordan, the servers, and anyone else working on getting the show ready so that he’s there in case anything needs to be done or anything goes sideways.

5:15 – The server meeting. Along with the show, Teatro ZinZanni serves a four-course meal every night, so as well as performers and tech people, there are also servers and cooks. At the meeting, the servers gather on the floor in the lobby to hear about the details of that night. They sit like attentive grade schoolers waiting for their favorite teacher to come in; some are alert, others lounging and talking. The restaurant manager talks about new assignments. Because there are only two stagehands, the servers help with moving stuff like the crash mat, Chinese pole, and dessert slide. She also talks about new items on the menu, and tonight’s seating chart: no touch tables (tables that don’t want any of the performers to interact with them) and which tables are VIPs or friends of the cast.

One of the servers backstage

After that are more presets, and I watch Liana stack Zingo cards (like bingo, but better), and one of the servers shines silverware.

6:30 – Servers file out of the house (so the audience can come in) and high-five all the tech people. Jordan plays a game where he’ll try and leave the house right before the audience comes in, and sees how close he can cut it. After that, Jordan goes to the cast check-in in the green room trailer, and introduces me to the cast I don’t already know from previous shows. He puts the no-touch table number on the whiteboard, while one of the performers, Svetlana, a contortionist, stretches on the floor and everyone else gets ready.

We head back to the tech trailer where we hurry up and wait, for the next 20 minutes. We play mini-basketball above the doorway and discuss beaning people in the head as they walk in. We also discuss socks. When it gets closer to showtime, everyone changes into their blacks and puts their headset on before heading back to the tent. The headsets have 2 channels, one for Jordan’s cues, and the other an isolated channel just for John and Liana so it doesn’t interfere with the cue calling. I’m given my own headset as well.

7:00 – The show starts. I watch the start with John, standing in one of the voms outside the producer’s bar (where two-three Teatro Zinzanni staff, cast, or tech guests can sit to watch the show without being at a table on the floor). There’s a small box outlined on the ground with tape that we stand in. It has been deemed small enough to not be in the way of the performers rushing through. However, after standing there for the first bit of the show, I might disagree.

I follow John around for the first third of the show and then switch over to following Liana during soup service (one of two breaks in the show to serve food to the guests). I watch John set up for a magic trick involving a wine glass that floats through the air, and talk to Svetlana about circus school and the classes I’m taking.

I go to the green room during main animation, the second food break, where I talk to Rachel (one half of the trapeze duo Duo Madrona) and Elena (who does contortion and lyra), who are stretching on the ground. We mainly talk about the weather, but we also talk about our families and schools. Many of the performers have children and manage to integrate it into their circus life. For example, two of the performers have young children who are frequently backstage with them during the show. On some nights there are as many as six kids backstage. Svetlana and her partner (Voronin, an illusionist, also in the show) have older two children, one of whom performs in the show alongside his father now that he’s a teenager.

The green room on the right, with one of the entrances to the tent on the left

I come back to the tent just in time to watch John and Liana set the 24’ long Chinese pole, an activity that requires four servers, Jordan, both backstage managers, a performer, and a hydraulic winch to raise into position. It takes about one minute to put up and about 30 seconds to take down, in full view of the audience. After that, I hang out backstage and talk to the performers. The most exciting moment by far is when John and Liana are setting for the train’s arrival. They take 2-D wooden train cars stashed all around the outer ring of the tent backstage, piece them together, and line them up on the outside wall (filled with smoke), before rushing them into the darkened tent. Assisted by 6-7 servers, it races around the outer ring of the tent, blowing smoke and whistling, before exiting again. It is very important in this instance to hide in the corner so as to not get your toes run over.

After that comes dessert service, also known as Chaos, in which 287 desserts are served in 3 minutes, while the show continues on at a frantic pace. It is here where the performers fly on the winch, do back handsprings off the table, and sprint through the tent. While this is all happening, dessert is also being served via the dessert slide. This is a contraption that pedals like a bike to race the desserts on plates up a conveyor belt, and down a slide with a jump at the end, so the servers and performers can catch them and put them on tables. It is also here that Eleanor the bright pink sparkly baby elephant is wheeled through, wearing a tutu and with the show’s diva perched on her back.

Eleanor waiting backstage for her turn.

At the end of the show, everyone lines up to watch the bows, the crew is thanked, and the audience heads home for the night. Everyone returns to their trailers to get changed, cleaned up, and put everything away, and then returns back to the tent for the crew meal. After the show, the kitchen makes one more meal so the cast and crew can eat together as a circus family before heading home.

The tent after the show, with the tables and chairs up for the night

The circus is spectacular, inside and out. To someone who never sees the chaos backstage, it all seems impossibly magical. However, after watching the show from backstage, it’s even more so. I spent a lot of my time figuring out where people were going to be rushing next in order to fling myself out of their way, and I spent a great amount of time smooshing myself in the corner. But to me, that’s just part of the fantastical beauty and mystery that makes circus so exciting.

-Jordan

One of the backstage voms organized for the night

If you want to see more of what it’s like at ZinZanni, backstage or in the audience, check out these videos:

Onstage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGxsauIXvhw

Backstage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWAOwDcSN6Q

*All photos in this article were taken by and remain the property of Jordan.