Ways to develop good technique in the circus.

By Lyra Gross

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit,” – Deb Peters. When progressing in new circus acts, it can often feel burdensome to keep your toes pointed, or make sure your legs are straight. Over all, maintaining good technique is HARD and can be frustrating. To present your talents with competence you must develop good habits. This article will provide you with examples on how to develop clean skills and sequences as well as sustain your polished tricks for future needs.

Option 1, the physical approach: This strategy when learning new skills can be harsh but effective. The physical approach is when you temporarily force yourself to keep good form by creating physical drills and or obstacles. I, as an aerialist, personally found this option to be quite helpful when trying to keep my toes pointed. I was working on a new sequence, but no matter how hard I tried I would always sickle my toe when getting into a specific position. 

Therefore, I decided to google some tips! After a while of searching I discovered this girl who used toothpicks to keep her ankles in place. She would tape a toothpick to the side of her foot, causing her to feel a little prick every time she sickled. At first I thought it was quite a severe approach to the problem, but then, because I was desperate, I tried it. It worked spectacularly! I tried it once and after that I never had a problem with sickling my toe in that skill again. This tactic works well because it triggers a fear instinct in your brain, causing you to act quickly. This approach, although it isn’t for everyone, can give you fast and clean results.

Option 2, the visual approach: The next approach to be explained takes time and patience, but will give you helpful, long lasting results. The visual approach is when you either practice in front of a mirror, video yourself, or find another way to see yourself when you are training. This tends to be helpful when adjusting even the slightest details in acts or sequences. For example, I found this strategy useful when I was creating my hand balancing act. I had the strength and flexibility to create an act, but when it came to clean transitions I wasn’t sure where to start. It might come as a surprise to you, but it’s very hard to know how you look when you’re upside down and your legs are above your head. I was stumped, so once again I decided to google some tips! I was scrolling for ideas but nothing I found seemed to help me. I then realized from watching videos, that videotaping myself might be a solution. I tried it and after a week’s worth of practice I had a clean, fully developed hand balancing act! This circus tip takes time, but it will overall help you not only make your sequences look better, but also help you develop your own style when creating an act.

Option 3, the social approach: This process is a difficult habit to start, but is consistent, easy, and will help you gain better performing and physical skills. The social approach is all about finding the right people and environment to train in. This strategy truly varies depending on what type of person you are. I find that training with people more advanced helps me stay motivated.This is because I work well under pressure and function better when I’m trying to catch up to everyone else.  Meanwhile, a friend of mine feels more comfortable and willing to train when he’s with less advanced people. This is because he feels more confident in this type of environment, causing him to work harder to create a good example for others. Therefore I advise you to really branch out with this strategy and try training with a wide variety of people. See what works for you!

Remember, I’m basing these techniques off of my own experiences, but my story is not the only one. Feel free to use these concepts and make them your own! Experiment and enjoy the learning process! I hope you found this article intriguing and helpful.

The Amazing American Circus Game Review

By Emily Fulton

The Amazing American Circus game is a video game about YOU inheriting your father’s Big Top circus. You then perform shows, compete in circus contests, capture bad guys, and do all the other interesting things you do in a virtual circus world. It’s awesome and fun and surprising and exciting. I think it definitely fills a void that has needed filling for a long time in the youth circus community. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I enjoyed reviewing it!

Would I recommend this game to another youth circus artist: Yes! 100%!

My overall rating: 9/10

My age rating: 13 and up (because of mild language and other thematic elements not appropriate for children)

It took me a while to really master this game, but it was super fun once I got the hang of it! I am guessing it took me so long to figure it out because I don’t really play video games, but it would probably be easier to learn for those of you that do. I love being able to complete challenges and perform shows. It is also really fun to have my artists perform tricks in their shows that I can perform in my real-life shows. I had way too much fun writing and “researching” for this review! I am sure I will be wasting lots of time playing the Amazing American Circus this fall!

Nitty-Gritty “Boring” Technical Info:

The Amazing American Circus was developed jointly by Klabater Sa and Juggler Games and was just released on September 16th. It is available on Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. I played the Steam version, so that is what my review is based on, but I know the other versions are very similar if not identical. It normally costs $19.99 to purchase, but they are running a 10% off sale on the Steam version right now. The sale continues until September 23, allowing you to buy it for only $17.99. You can also purchase the more expensive Ringmaster’s Edition of the game, or the Circus Symphony or Ringmaster’s Essentials for additional fees to add more fun goodies to your gameplay!

My Favorite Bits:

Honestly, my favorite part of the game was not actually the performing. What I liked best was hiring new artists and preparing food for them, and especially catching bandits! I especially enjoyed when I could hire an aerial hoop artist, just like me! This game is about way more than just performing, it is also about all of the other hard work that goes into putting a show on the road, and I absolutely love that they have included those aspects. And no, I am sure it is not actually this easy, or fun, to run a circus, but it is definitely fun to pretend 🙂

It is obvious that its creators spent countless hours pouring over all of the little details in this game, and it definitely shows! There are so many fun places to explore and activities to complete. In the few hours I have spent playing the game so far, I know I still have many, many more places to explore, and I can’t wait to explore them!

My Not-So-Favorite Bits:

Obviously, this is just a game, so lots of stuff happens here that would never happen in real life. Like I am definitely not planning to travel 100s of miles to catch a runaway gangster, but I will happily do it in this virtual world. Also, I have never encountered an audience as rowdy as the ones I have entertained in this game, but this is not real life! I think having to work really hard to impress the audience just adds to the experience.

I think this is just a me thing, but I found it difficult to figure out how to play the cards. I think I have figured it out now, though, so far so good!

Also, language is definitely something you should be aware of before you buy this game, but it was personally not a big problem for me. There are also some other thematic elements that are definitely not appropriate for children, but I personally feel that most teens would be fine with them. If you are at all concerned about any of this, I would definitely suggest talking to a parent or other trusted adult before purchasing.

Below is a quick overview of how the game works (with pictures!)

First, you get to design your character. I chose to keep it simple and use a picture of myself for the avatar and my name as my character’s name, but you could also be way more creative and name your character whatever you want!

Then you are taken to your first performance location. There are all different interesting places you can visit here, like the Recruitment Wagon (where you can hire new performers) and the Training Wagon (where you can “train,” or level up your artists), the Cookhouse Wagon (where you buy and prepare food for your circus troupe) and many more fun wagons and tents. Depending on the city, you can even have conversations with visitors which often result in fun challenges that, if completed, earn you rewards. When you are ready to start your performance, head into the Big Top to get the show started.

Now you design your show poster. You get to pick three artists to perform in each show, one or two “Misfits” (depending on the location), and a Finale act.

Then you have to take care of the “business” side of things by arranging for the show’s promotions (parades, posters, and advertisements) and revenue expectations. After that is taken care of, you are ready to really get started!

You start out with a few audience members standing up with full green bars below them. The goal is to make each green bar go to zero, effectively forcing the audience member to sit down. You complete this by playing cards to “impress” the audience, cards to keep the artists focused while they are performing, and other cards to perform specific tasks.

When no audience members are left standing, you have completed a successful show! Then you get to collect the revenue earned from the show and add that to your overall balance that you can use to buy food, supplies, and other necessary items.

You can have dialogue with visitors, Uncle Jack, or other interesting people you meet!

This is the Cookhouse Wagon, where you buy and prepare food for your performers! You can make fancy dishes like Apple Bread or simpler meals like Red Bean Stew.

You can check the “journal” for quests for you to complete, tutorials about how to play the game, information about your audience members, and more!

You travel from city to city and complete fun quests along the way…

…And even capture bandits and gangsters!

You can learn more about the game and purchase on their website, here: https://www.theamazingamericancircus.com/

Enjoy playing!

AYCO Board Member Interview: Kristina Wicke

Interview by Revely Rothschild

Board member Kristina Wicke has long been a part of what she describes as “circus and circus-adjacent” communities. Involved with school plays and theater productions since elementary school, she later studied theater at the University of Dallas. At school, she felt a strong connection to the theater and performing arts community– “I found my people there, and I just kept finding them,” she recalls. Kristina also remembers that “performance was fun, being onstage was fun, but it wasn’t what made [her] tick, and that [she] was much happier supporting other people in pursuit of their performance.” 

Called to work behind the scenes, Kristina graduated with a degree in Drama and took a stage management internship at the Seattle Repertory Theater. There, she met the Flying Karamazov Brothers–a traveling troupe of “essentially jugglers, but vaudevillians at the same time.” They combined comedy, theatrics, and juggling to “upend traditional theater and add something interesting,” and Kristina, drawn to this innovative approach, took a position as the touring stage manager for the Karamazov Brothers! She recollects producing incredible shows– including a Carnegie Hall combination of juggling, vaudeville, and symphony orchestra– that she can only describe as “whoa, mind blown– incredible.” After touring for several years, Kristina continued to work in production in the Seattle theatre community and in New York. 

Though Kristina’s work covers a wide variety of performance art styles, she finds that she is drawn to her work because of several common themes that all performances share– collaboration, community, support, and accountability. She loves “finding the right combination of people and trying to fit them together in a way that makes the sum bigger than the parts of the whole” and recalls that “what I found when I stayed open to just finding my people, and when [those relationships] were reciprocal… that’s when there’s an opportunity for transformation in your life.” 

Across all of Kristina’s successes in the world of stage management, she has seen a prevailing theme that success is built on strong communities. Even now, as Kristina is getting her masters in Education, she finds an interconnectedness between stage management, teaching, and community. All of them, she explained, rely heavily on the idea that “community=support+accountability.” As she studies how to teach, she is simultaneously exploring “what it means to be accountable [to a boss], and at the same time looking at [the question of]  ‘what responsibilities do we have to take care of the people who are in our care?’” She believes that in both performance arts and education, it is incredibly important to value people for both how you can teach them, and for what you can learn from them in return. From the theater to the classroom, mutual respect, curiosity, and support drive Kristina to truly facilitate community–and the magic that comes with it.

AYCO Board Member Interview: Anne Boock Miller

Interview by Carleigh Saberton

Photo Credit: Jenna Guzman, Lowery Photography

How did you get into circus?

I got into circus as a modern dancer, vertical dance became an extension of the ground based performing I had been doing at the time.

Are you an active circus artist yourself?

I am the owner of a circus studio, and I also coach and perform. 

What are some of your favorite skills to do and what skills do you like to watch others do?

I love spinning, and working on keeping an even spin while on an apparatus. I enjoy watching anything where the performer looks like they are really enjoying themselves, and doing it for the joy of it.

If you could learn any new circus skill what would it be and why?

I have had several individuals work very hard on teaching me to juggle. I still struggle to juggle with 3 balls. I’m going to keep working on it!

What inspired you to get involved with AYCO?

I wanted to be more actively involved in the broader community, outside my local area.

What are your roles and responsibilities being a board member?

I don’t have a specific position that I hold on the board, currently. I am the board member who sits on the Health and Wellness and the Safety committees. 

What kinds of things do you like to do outside of circus? 

I enjoy spending time with my kids and my partner. We like to hike, watch anime, and visit new places together. 

Are there any circus artists or people in your life you find inspiring? 

Jesse Alford, the former president of the board, always serves as a great inspiration for me.

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. 

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!

Interview with AYCO Board Member Jens Larson

By Lyra Gross

“When given the choice to join the circus, I automatically took the opportunity.”
-Jens Larson, circus performer

Jens Larson is a circus coach and AYCO board member. He performed in the circus from 1981 – 2000, taught math for 14 years, and then decided to return to circus as a coach. He has been teaching circus ever since. He specializes in hand balancing and aerial rings, but is also always willing to try new forms of circus arts. I was lucky enough to be able to interview him and hear about all his amazing experiences as a circus artist. Here are a few of the questions that led to some incredibly inspiring stories.

What is one of the craziest things you’ve done or witnessed as a circus artist?

I’d say maybe the easiest one to describe is Roman riding on two Percheron horses through Cortlandt Park in the Bronx! Roman riding is standing astride two horses that are bridled together, and Percheron are a type of draft horse so they’re really big and easy to stand on, but also very imposing and quite noticeable when going by women with strollers! Now, of course, the people most likely knew the Big Apple Circus was in town, so they probably put two and two together, but we were not right next to the tent either, so that also added to the peculiarities of the situation. 

Have you ever made an act that you felt emotionally connected to?

Well, when I joined my first circus I got to see Dali Jacobs perform on the rings. When I watched her I was thinking, “that’s a beautiful act.” But I was in men’s gymnastics at the time and they did the rings totally different. So I decided to create a whole different act. It took every, every last bit of energy out of me each time I did it. It was my own creation, and it was scary, because I was swinging very high in the air. But the effort it took made it even more meaningful.

Have you ever had an act with animals in the circus?

I helped out with some of the animal acts, and I helped get the animals ready for shows at times. I also substituted in Circus Flora as a patron who was served things by an elephant. I had to be sure that I wasn’t too goofy, though, when I performed the act. If I was, I would lose control over the elephant, which could be really dangerous. I also at one point had to introduce a bear act and move props around during the act!  I also remember one time I was getting this horse all bridled up and ready, and then just as I was supposed to bring the horse out it ran in the complete opposite direction! So as the curtain drew back to present the horse the audience just saw me chasing after the horse out the back.

What is your favorite act that you got to do in the circus?

The chair balancing act with my wife was my favorite act. It allowed me to do my full on hand balancing skills, but it was also part of a comedy act, and just worked really nicely. My wife got to be my assistant because she was also really funny. It was a fun act to do because we got to be a little goofy, and I still got to show off my hand balancing skills.

Do you have any hobbies outside of the circus?

Well, before I started Phoenix Youth Circus Arts I got back into juggling . . . as a hobby. There was a local juggling club that met in the park and I would just show up with them and juggle for fun.

How do you motivate / push yourself in Circus?

I guess it is just part of my personality that I always want to get better. Doing the same old thing isn’t as much fun, so I am always pushing myself and asking myself what I could do to get better.

Do you have any advice for a circus performer like me?

Shoot for the very best training available. There is a constant balance between having kids explore many different acts, because versatility is always valued in the circus. But also not spreading yourself too thin so you don’t hurt yourself. It’s also good to have a backup plan if you end up not being able to perform as you get older or are out due to injury. 

I had so much fun interviewing Jens Larson and hearing about all his amazing stories! He shows us that really anything is possible if you have the determination and bravery. He  inspires us to live a bold and fearless life!