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

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