Author Archives: Madeline Anderson

Transformational Women’s Circus

I got the chance to catch up with Every Body’s Circus (EBC) coach Amber Parker to learn more about the pioneering work she’s doing at SANCA. Amber, a Master’s degree candidate at Antioch University, is integrating her experience in mental health practice, circus, and her academic focus on Drama Therapy to launch the new Transformational Women’s Circus (TWC) program at SANCA. TWC seeks to utilize the power of body-based therapy via circus as a means of recovering from trauma, anxiety, and depression. Amber and the TWC participants took some time to share more about the design of the program and their experiences so far this spring.

“My ultimate goal for this program, beyond exploring how Drama Therapy can be applied in a circus context, is for the women of TWC to attain a greater level of self-awareness, self-efficacy, and self-acceptance. So far, this is what I am seeing happening within each student. Their growth, as a group and as individuals, has been incredible.”

Meeting every Sunday night at SANCA for three hours, and completing homework assignments in their own time, the women of TWC come together to share their stories, learn circus skills, and engage in creative process, all within a supportive group therapy setting. Amber’s work is supported with the oversight of EBC Manager, Alex Clifthorne, MSW, and supervisors at the Antioch Drama Therapy program.

“I found out about the Transformational Women’s Circus serendipitously on Facebook and knew right away that I had to apply. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety and standard mental health treatment hasn’t been very effective. After struggling to make even tiny improvements over the last several years, SANCA has offered me the only therapy that has truly made a difference. In a matter of weeks, I saw greater improvement than in the years before. TWC has been tough and scary and exhilarating and an absolute miracle in my life. This program means the world to me. Through circus and the support of Amber and TWC, I am experiencing healing that I didn’t think was possible and I am deeply grateful.” – TWC Member

Each class follows a general format of one hour of checking in verbally or warming up with games and activities, one hour of engaging physically and learning circus skills, and another hour of cooling down and discussing what feelings, thoughts, and issues surfaced during the session. Drama therapy, and circus specifically, is unique in that spontaneity and body awareness is key to the therapeutic process. Phones and other distractions aren’t allowed, and priority is placed on staying focused on the present moment and physically engaging the body as well as your mind.

“Even though TWC will perform at the end of their program, drama therapy isn’t about theatre, set design, or acting. It is about externalizing the internal, excavating what is inside and bringing it out through role play, improv, and emotional group processing.” Amber says, “The mind-body connection is injured by trauma and the experience of depression and anxiety, and it can be healed by moving the body and learning how to relate to one another in a new way. By leaving time in our sessions for the women in the group to make meaning of their experience of circus and being a group member, I hope to collapse the distance between their minds and their bodies, as well as increase their awareness of how buried feelings inform how their relationships with others and their self-concept.” 

TWC member Generra says, “My experience with TWC pulled me deep into the core of what’s been holding me back from so much in life. Amber, our coach, has carefully nurtured our troupe to facilitate safety among members. We have grown close and care for each other’s well being. We support each lady in their individual unfolding at whatever pace they are at. I am excited about the collective evolution of our group!”

Throughout the program, TWC has guest presenters attending certain sessions to help the women learn new skills, explore their ideas, and support their group work. SANCA’s Founder, Jo Montgomery, has been a regular contributor to the project, assisting with partner acrobatics. Coach Faye Visintainer shared her experience of how circus has improved her mental health, and Cirrus coach Eve Diamond offered her vast experience as a professional performer to discuss how to builds acts for the stage.

Yet another TWC member states, “TWC is helping me tap in to the root of my being and bring it closer to the surface. I am discovering all of the different sides to my personality and connecting them into one whole person. I am learning how to love each part and the whole. One of the gifts TWC has given me is a connection to some amazing human beings who are bravely discovering themselves and finding the strength to support me in my discovery simultaneously.”

Now in their 13th week of group work, TWC is moving towards a cumulative performance in June. The group is workshopping new acts, using partner acrobatics, Lyra, tight wire, juggling, and single point trapeze to tell their stories of strength, challenge, and recovery on the stage. Amber says, “Creating a show, especially one which focuses on very personal themes, is a huge challenge. The women of TWC are working incredibly hard, particularly in that they are facing themselves. From my perspective, learning to be self-loving and self-accepting is the hardest work there is, far above any physical skill. Self-acceptance is a life’s work, and the women of TWC are doing that work, here at SANCA.”

Interview with Tanya Brno (AKA Tova de Luna)


With over 12 years of aerial performance experience, Tanya Brno is one of the most sought after aerialists in the PNW. She uses her classical ballet training along with burlesque and theatrical experience to produce her signature graceful, dynamic, and dramatic style. Her clients have included Club Med, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, USC Events, Hendrick’s Gin, Pronghorn Resort, Hilton, Sound Spirits, and Aston Manor. She holds weekly residencies at The Pink Door in Pike Place Market and Suite nightclub in Bellevue. She regularly graces the stage at The Triple Door with The Atomic Bombshells Burlesque and appears in the holiday extravaganza “Land of the Sweets” with Verlaine/McCann Productions. She has passed her auditions for Cirque du Soleil, Dragone Productions, and Cavalia, and has instructed the circus staff at Club Med resorts in aerial arts.

Don’t miss her captivating shows for Moisture Festival at Hales in Fremont on Wednesday April 4th at 7:30pm, Thursday April 5th at 7:30pm, and the festival’s closing show on Sunday April 8th  at 7:30pm.

You’ve worked so many different kinds of gigs, from the Atomic Bombshells and Super Geek League, to corporate gigs. How do you negotiate working with such different audiences?

“I love something about every kind of performance I’ve done, but I’d have to say my favorite kind of performance these days is improvisational. I have a couple of weekly gigs that I am very comfortable choosing a song in the moment and going for it. I love being authentic with my audience, and having the freedom to choose my apparatus, costume, song, and presentation as I am feeling it is very freeing and even cathartic. I use my performance as a place to process things quite frequently. It’s hard to do that when you have a set and themed act you have to do every night no matter how you’re feeling.

“I feel lucky that I’ve had so many opportunities to become versatile in my presentation. There’s always something new to learn or something to be inspired by. You also learn to negotiate going between different types of performance because you are getting paid to do so, and hopefully there’s something engaging about the style that you enjoy, although that’s not always the case. Sometimes it is just a paycheck and you have to just go up and do your job. You find something to pull from. I am very grateful that this is my job and I just try and be thankful for the life I get to live. I always love shows at The Triple Door with the burlesque troupes I perform with because it’s such a great venue and you are really taken care of. I joke that the Triple Door is my second home because I spend four months out of the year onstage there in different productions. I love the burlesque community as well. From my experience, it can be a lot less pressure. I like things a bit more laid back in vibe around me, onstage and backstage, because I can get pretty intense in my own world.

“Yes, and no that my presentation changes, I feel like my natural presentation is very balletic, emotional, and somewhat sensual in nature; these qualities tend to play out in whatever role I take on. Sometimes my characters are more playful and innocent, or flirty, or showgirl-like. You don’t find me playing comedic roles very often, although that’s something I’d like to explore as I go on.”

How do you feel your history has a classically trained ballet dancer has influenced your aerial work? 

“I am very grateful for my intense ballet training; it informs a lot of movement choices for me as well as my work ethic. It never leaves my body. I like the way I move; it feels good to be in my body and to be able to use every piece of it for expression. Ballet dancers are very hard workers; hard on themselves and those around them. You tend to have very high standards for yourself and a high threshold for pain and pushing through discomfort. It’s work later in life to let some of those tapes in your head go. That it’s ok to be human and make mistakes, and take a day off.

“I guess that depends on how you define contemporary performance. I’ve dabbled in performance that was modern dance based, with street clothes or workout clothes for costumes and no sets, but I’m at heart a sparkly, graceful showgirl. I try to bring characters to my ambient sets even in the club or for the dinner crowd. I try and pay attention to what my lighting is, my song choice, the vibe and flow of people in the room, my mood, and choose a song that weaves those things together.”

You work on a unique aerial apparatus, coined ‘aerial spiral’. Where did you first see it or what gave you the inspiration to create it? What do you like about it?

“I designed the aerial spiral in 2011 by taking a sharpie on lined yellow notebook paper and making an approximate shape. I did not see that anyone had created one yet. I had to shop the idea to about 10 different welders before I found someone willing to take it on. It was just a fun idea I had that I wanted to bring to life. I never thought it would be as big as it got. I thought it would set me apart in terms of an act to hire, which has happened as well, but mostly people want to build their own. I get inquiries every day.

“It’s a sculptural apparatus, so you are never doing anything at the upper limits of acrobatics, but it lends itself to bendy people, or very expressive people. It is asymmetrical and the bars are on a diagonal line, so you have to pay attention to where all the gaps are at all times. There are no flat bars or verticals to work with.”

Thank you Tanya! Don’t miss her shows at Moisture Fest!

Finding Your Authentic Self in Circus [An interview with Fafa]

Faeble Kievman, visited SANCA in 2016, joining la Famiglia Gentile in the Artist in Residency program. After finishing a tour with Lewis and Clark Circus, Faeble returned to Seattle to perform their juggling-clown opera, “Carman,” at this year’s Moisture Festival. Infusing traditional and contemporary clown with Chinese jar juggling and other circus skills, Faeble has a unique clowning style. First introduced to clowning through a social circus and the Circus Center in San Francisco, Faeble has performed internationally as well as co-founded their own circus company, “Cirque en Deroute.” 


Faeble Kievman’s love of laughter promo. 

When did you discover you wanted to be a clown?

“As a child, I was by myself a lot, so I found this side of me that was very comedic. My grandfather was a story teller and a very funny character; I learned a lot from him. Really, I’ve been clowning my whole life, it’s not like you have to be a funny person to be a clown. If you lived with me, you’d be like this guy’s boring. He’s always got some deep thought process he’s going through.”

Their decision to truly dedicate their life to the pursuit of clowning came after their mother and sister were in a tragic accident in which it wasn’t clear if they would pull through.

At the time Faeble heard about the accident, they were at a spiritual gathering, with other self-identifying “radical queer faeries”. When Faeble returned from the gathering, they learned of the accident and returned to the space of the gathering to pray for them. Eventually, their mother and sister did make a recovery, but Faeble’s sister was left paraplegic.

I realized at that moment that I had a call to continue to make people laugh; that was my path. I wanted to do something that my sister wouldn’t be able to do again. I wanted to carry on with my path in doing clowning in honor of my sister. So there was a lot of tragedy that happened that brought me into doing it. I do believe that without tragedy there is no comedy.

What did you do after deciding to become a professional clown?

I went to school at the [San Francisco] Circus Center. After graduating I created my own clown trio, Cirque en Deroute. We toured around the world for three and a half years, going to circus festivals all over the world like Melbourne [Australia], France, China, Eastern Europe, Central America, and with Le Cirque Starlight in Switzerland. I ended up getting together with my partner and me and my company split up. Since then I’ve worked with Circus Bella (we went to Japan, but mostly stay in the bay area), worked at Zoppe [Circus] as a strong man, and performed with Acrobatic Conundrum in their shows in Seattle.

You’ve been called a philosophical clown, can you share a little bit more about that?

My philosophy [around clowning] is about acceptance. Acceptance of stupidity, of character defects. Acceptance of nature, of reality of the environment around you. So you can actually recognize the themes that are around you, what is happening in the moment. There is an energy between me and the audience, and that energy can be a magic portal. [I] can do almost anything on stage. If I can feel that energy in the audience, that’s everything.”

“…There is this idea of what you think you are, what people see you as, and then what you actually are. Laughter is produced by what you truly are and by what people see you as, but not by what you see yourself as. Being a clown is about being authentic and true to yourself.”

What does being authentic and true to yourself mean to you? 

When I first went to Circus Center, I identified as a trans woman. There’s a reason a lot of trans and queer people make good clowns. Because you understand what it is like to be invisible to the world and still embrace who we are. Which can enable us to be very good clowns on stage. But at the same time, the queer community, just as in the straight world, has its own social paradigm, which can inhibit us as well from being a great clown.

“There is one exercise in clowning where you adopt some kind of gesture as someone else counts off. The numbers go from 1 to 100, and as the numbers go up, you change your gesture to show more and more who you are”: – Essentially exaggerating the expression you originally adopt.

“So we were doing this exercise and I took on a gesture of what I thought felt really natural to me, this really feminine gesture. My hips are out and I’m snapping my fingers. As the numbers go up, I start snapping like crazy, really snapping waving around my hands around, like a bat outta hell. I thought if you had seen this on TV or something it was so ridiculous it would be hilarious. Well, it was dead silent. No one is laughing. This guy yells ‘STOP! STOP! YOU’RE NOT FUNNY! You do realize that no one is laughing right?’ I thought, yes of course I realize that, it is pretty obvious. And he says ‘Look, I know what that gesture means, I know that maybe you felt like it is a gesture that you feel represents you. And in some certain social context, it may work. But in the world at large, it reads as you playing something that is not you.’

“…I was taken aback from that. And it took me a minute to think, ok, maybe that isn’t really funny. For me, what I realized was that I wasn’t being honest. I wasn’t being me. I was being something I thought I should be, which was a huge breakthrough in my life.

“So, I’m thinking of something else to do and for some reason the first song I ever wrote comes to mind. I started choking up as I’m trying to sing it and the guy starts yelling ‘SAY THE SONG!’ I am crying at this point, and he goes ‘you can cry, but say the song! Now do the same thing again, but this time say the song and laugh’. Meanwhile, I’m still crying, in tears. So I start saying the song, and I’m crying.

“…and everyone starts DYING of laughter!

“It was funny, because of the depth, and the emotion was real. It was authentic. It was who I was, and I couldn’t be anything else but that.

“People start laughing, and I get excited and start to perform the song.

“So he yells ‘STOP! STOP! You had it! And then you started PERFORMING.’

“In that moment, I just realized that I wasn’t a woman. It was the first time I realized that and at the same time I was not a man. I was not a man. I am both. I am all of the things…. So I started discovering that when I start accepting who I am, when I can actually accept who I am…THEN I can start to be funny. THEN I can start clowning.”

How did that discovery influence your persona on stage? 

Eventually you want to get to a place that you want to accept the parts that are ridiculous about yourself. Me as a man, I feel uncomfortable in my skin, which made me feel like I was a woman. But that uncomfortability is the very thing we need. In some countries, ego is funny. But for me, when I embarrass myself on stage, that is when I can get to the good clowning; when I am vulnerable.

Any advice to share for beginning clowns?

“I always recommend to people who want to do clowning, go out and street-perform. Once you can get people to stop on the street as a clown, you can do that anywhere. On the street, anything can happen, whereas on stage people are stuck in their seat. But when you’re on the street you have the magic of chaos. A pelican can swoop the hat off your head, or someone could throw something at you, someone can come and start picking a fight with you. Anything can happen. You learn to embrace chaos. You learn to embrace the unknown, the unexpected.”

Thank you Faeble! Have a great drive back to the bay area!

Faeble will soon be leaving their home in Pacifica, CA to perform their one-person clown show in China, and they will also perform with the YiKamen Bros in the Gong Show this May. This Summer they will be featured in Comedy and Common Thread for a show at the Krystallpalast Varieté Leipzig.

Good luck Faeble! We look forward to your next visit at SANCA!

Coach Eve Tours with Circus Monti this Summer!

Eve Diamond on Cloud Swing

Cirrus Circus coach, Eve Diamond, will be joining the Swiss traveling circus group, Circus Monti, as they tour Switzerland for their Summer tour. Get to know Eve and her tips for sticking to what you love, even if what you love doesn’t always come easily.


To do this work you really sacrifice a lot. In my last year of school, a big job came through and I gave up my house, missed birthdays and funerals. You really do give up a lot to be a part of this work, but it is hard to not do it if it’s something that is speaking to you so loudly.

The year Eve was born, her uncle suffered a terrible motorcycle accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down. The impact of this trauma left an impression on her mother, Marilyn, to get Eve involved in as many physical activities as a possible. Growing up in Boston, she took on everything from horseback riding, baseball, softball, soccer, to field hockey, and eventually circus.

At the age of thirteen, Eve’s mother, signed her up for camp at Circus Smirkus in nearby Vermont.

“I didn’t want to go to circus camp. I was like, ‘that sounds really stupid.’ But then I went…and I became obsessed. I absolutely loved it and almost immediately knew that I wanted to pursue circus.”

After the camp, she auditioned for Circus Smirkus tours for five or six years, but was never quite able to make the cut. So, she took to her own living room and continued to train independently as she prepared for college.

“Nothing existed like SANCA to train circus on your own where I was, so I took gymnastics and practiced in my living room. My dad made hand balancing canes, and I taught myself juggling.”

In her freshman and senior years of college she auditioned for École National de Cirque, but was rejected both times. She focused on her studies, graduating Magna Cum Laude from Keene State College in New Hampshire with a BA in English and a teacher certification. But she never quit training, and her passion for circus didn’t subside despite setbacks. Soon after graduating she was contemplating a career in academia when she got accepted into a three year intensive training program at Circus Center in San Francisco.

“I was in school six days a week from 9am to 5pm for three years and working with some of the most famous, well respected, internationally recognized coaches which was amazing.…[school] was really painful and terrible, but you knew that the coaches who were training you had so much information that you would do anything to get.”

Graduating in 2011, Eve started performing professionally in her specialty areas of cloud swing and rope. Cloud swing in particular was difficult to train due to the amount of space it requires in addition to a specialized technician. Deciding to pursue cloud swing further, she moved to Montreal in 2013 to train with Coach Victor Fomine, a world expert in cloud swing, at his studio, École Léotard.

Since then, she’s been working with SANCA and training Cirrus Circus students as she has continued to network and build her own brand.

“My job outside of coaching, which has been pretty full time, has been maintaining my acts – training, eating well, taking care of my body, sleeping well. And networking, emailing people, and researching companies I would want to work for. 

No one in this business is just like here, this is what you do. It takes dedication and curiosity to continue to pursue it. It’s really only possible to do this if you have support because it’s lonely and no one is just giving out information. You have to prove yourself to yourself and everyone around you, constantly, so it’s hard. But it’s also rewarding because you seek out a company you want to work for, you open a line of communication and you keep staying in contact year after year, sharing new work you are doing.

“I’ve been maintaining an email correspondence [with Circus Monti] for the past five years. The Gentile’s did Monti, Ben & Rachel [Duo Madrona] did Monti. It’s important to stalk your friends and follow their path. If your friends have the jobs you want, you have to be good enough friends to have someone vouch for you. This industry is so cut throat and super competitive. Everyone is hungry for the same work. You have to just not give up and be consistent.

It’s my first experience touring and working in Europe. Hopefully it will lead to more work, but you don’t know. So you have to just start all over again. Stay in touch, send updated material, and be someone that people want to be around!

…The good part of working [at SANCA] is that they really support you in doing what you want, especially in an industry with such limited job security. 

It’s cool teaching in Cirrus because it’s important to have people who are working in the industry. I am excited to have this opportunity and come back and share my knowledge with the future generation of circus artists.”

Eve on Rope:



We wish Eve the best of luck on the road

and can’t wait to hear about it all once she returns!

How to Make Your Own Costume

“I really just make costumes with a Frankenstein approach.” – Coach Milla

Milla Marshall, SANCA’s costume guru, shares tips
for creating unique costumes that don’t break the bank.


Her advice? A basic leotard is a great place to start – giving you the basic construction of your outfit to build on from there. If you don’t already have one, you may want to check out Center Stage Dance Shop in the U- District, or Discount Dance online. A black or nude leotard is a good staple to have in your closet, or your act may call for a more colorful choice.

Things to keep in mind as you begin making your outfit. Pay attention to how you need to move in your act and the specific apparatus you’re using. Circus arts require special attention to fabric and costume bobbles, because your safety comes first and you want to make sure the costuming won’t get trapped in your apparatus.

Corde Lisse & Silks  – You’ll want costume fabric that has some grab to it, so higher cotton blends are a good thing to pay attention to. Fabrics which are higher in spandex than cotton can slip more in the apparatus. That doesn’t mean you necessarily need to stay away from those fabrics, just that they require a little more of your own strength to hold you there rather relying on a grippy fabric doing some of that work for you. It is also important to make sure your costume fits snugly against your body to avoid wrapping the costume up in the rope or silks during your act.

You can, check out local vintage and thrift stores and have fun! Get creative with it, and remember that you can always cut out what you like and leave the rest!

And of course Goodwill and Value Village are always your best bet for inexpensive clothing.

Want to learn how to sew?

Pacific Fabrics, is a great local resource to purchase fabric and learn techniques for sewing and garment construction. They have short classes, usually just a couple days, to learn everything from basic sewing to garment construction at each of their locations in Bellevue, SODO, and Northgate. You can check out their calendar for upcoming classes here.


March 1st through the 4th, Puyallup Fairgrounds is hosting a huge sewing expo, with a large selection of fabrics and over 100 sewing classes held every day. Plus, these drop-in classes are just a couple hours and cost between $6 and $50.


Already know how to sew?

YouTube is also a great resource for project specific tutorials. For some acts, you may be able to get away with an elaborate tutu, like the one from this video tutorial Milla recommends:

For Cyr Wheel – wrap skirts can be a good alternative because they are simple to make and show your movement while spinning. Be sure you leave a little extra room above your ankles than in this tutorial so your feet don’t get trapped as you move!

For Trapeze and Lyra – you may want to consider purchasing a pair of trapeze boots, also known as “gaiters,” which are usually made from leather or suede with cut outs for your toes and heels. The material allows you to maintain grip strength for toe and ankle hangs, but protects your actual skin in the process. Each pair is custom made according to the measurements of your arch, ankle, and calf. Because of the materials and custom nature, these boots can run a little pricier, from $130 – $200+, but should last you for years.

Photo from “Classic Black Aerial Boots”

Etsy is a good place to check out multiple shops to find the right trapeze boot for you, but you can also check out, and,  for more information on sizing and fit. Just keep in mind both of these companies ship from Europe so it takes a little longer to get your order and you’ll need to convert the cost to US dollars.

I hope this helps you get started with your costume for SASS or future performances!

How to Create an Act – A Step by Step Guide


It’s almost time for SASS! This year we have over 60 submissions for the four shows in April! But how do you go from learning tricks in class to presenting them on stage in a way that is engaging, fun, and authentic to the story you want to tell? What are the key ingredients to developing an act?

Performing in front of an audience can be a rush, but the journey to make it to the stage can often be a daunting one. There are so many aspects to consider when putting together an act that getting starting can seem a bit overwhelming. But don’t let that dissuade you! The process should be creative and fun. It’s important to remember that it isn’t about perfection, it’s about creativity and connecting with the audience!

Every Friday from now until SASS we’ll be sharing tips covering everything from stage make up, costumes, choreography, and music to prepare and refine your act so you’re ready for the stage.


Step One – Brainstorm


Contemporary circus has so many interpretations of what an “act” can look like. It can be minimal, with little in the way of props or costumes, or it can be as elaborate as Cirque du Soleil (Canada), Circus Oz (Australia), Archaos Circus (France), and Plume Circus (France).

For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume you don’t have a magical garden of props and costumes and focus on the more DIY ways to create an act.

Performing is more than showing off cool tricks you’ve learned. It’s about engaging with the audience, connecting to people, and inviting audience members to suspend their concept of reality and buy into the one you’ve created.You may want to start with the music and build around that, or you can start by creating your character or story and building your costume, music, and choreography from there. So don’t let the sequence make you think you have to do these steps in any particular order, it’s just a framework to help you to start thinking about what inspires you. This process can be done individually or with other performers if you are creating a group piece.


1. Find inspiration – Check out other performances in person or online for inspiration.

  • Which performers inspire you? Why?

Once you begin to articulate what you like it will be easier to play with different aesthetics and create your own style.


Photo by Scott Foster.


2. Identify your theme –  It can be easier to get started if you have a theme to go on, but for creating an act for something like SASS, a good place to start may simply be creating your own theme. A theme can be any concept which gives your creative expression some direction.

  • Themes can be the environment, or world, in which your act takes place.  Are you in a forest? In outer space? The future?
  • Or it can be an abstract concept such as a feeling or shared experience like heartbreak, persistence, or longing. Do you want to explore what growing up is like?  Catharsis? Is there an event or experience you recently went through you want to explore through your art?

Run through some of your sequences with a different concept or emotion and see how it changes the way you move.


Photo by John Cornicello

3. Story –  The most interesting performances to watch are those that have a story to them. This can be told through movement, through the song you choose, and your choreography. For now, just start by thinking generally about what kind of story you want to tell.

  • Do you want something silly? Inspiring? High drama?
  • Is there a perspective or point of view you want to share with your audience?

As you develop your act you’ll want to fill out the story more so that there is a beginning, middle, and end, or at least some kind of challenge and resolution.



4. Environment – There is so much creative freedom in creating the environment that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. If you have identified a theme, this can help you begin to create your environment.

  • What concept or theme are you exploring and how does this influence the kind of environment you want to create for the audience?


Photo by John Cornicello.

For variety shows like SASS, environment can be created with minimal props, lighting, music, or use of space. You don’t need a huge elaborate set in order to give a sense of time and space for the audience. Just have a solid understanding of your own concept and let that influence the colors and choices you make. If you choose to embody a childhood doll, then let your lights or costume colors reflect that. If you have a more moody piece in mind, you may want to consider darker colors like blues and purples for your creative direction.


5. Character –  You may find inspiration from icons, fairy tales and folk lore, or from an emotion or concept.

  • How does your character move in the world? Are they slow and methodical? Do they know where they’re going? Or, are they more manic and scattered?
  • How does this character engage in the story you’re telling?

Character doesn’t need to be as specific as Goldy Locks or a peacock, what’s important is that you let your character or persona influence the way you move and engage with the audience and story.


Photo by John Cornicello.



Start by brainstorming and engaging with content. Talk to your friends, start a pinterest board, collage, or list to start collecting your ideas in one place. Then as you start to formalize your concept, you’ll have direction to move towards when choosing your makeup, hair, and costumes.


Photo by John Cornicello.

Secrets of a Modern Circus Family

In a time when so many people are considering downsizing, learn how one family makes their silver trailer work for a family of six as they travel the world, one circus tent at a time.


Parents Orlene & Carlo met in college as he was studying Italian and she studied Biology. Both shared a passion for travel and performance, so they decided to go all out as traveling performers. Then along came the G’s!


Known for their awe inspiring foot juggling feats, La Famiglia Gentile perform all across the country.


They also have their own bay area base circus camp, 888 Monkeys, which they started 14 years ago with a friend from college (Jennifer Devereaux-Ellington). This summer, the family rehearsed with  Circus Bella, a free, open-air circus in San Francisco– reminiscent of the early Pickle Family Circus – which performs in parks on weekends in June and July. At the beginning of August, the family drove from the SF Bay Area to Denver, Colorado to meet up with the Zoppé Family Circus.


As seen in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 Oscar-winning film, The Greatest Show on Earth, the Zoppé family has a long family tradition in equestrian circus arts. 

 In an effort to recreate one of the human pyramids on horseback from that era, Carlo agreed to be a base. After an emergency jump down from the horse’s rump, Carlo broke both his fibulas.

“Fortunately, I have 5 wonderfully talented, fun-loving, flexible people who could take over in a pinch. So, for the last 3 months, Orlene has been doing a single mother version of our act, while I’ve been watching my family function just fine without me. Orlene drives our truck and trailer like a pro, Gianluca helps set up and tear down the tent in my stead.” – Carlo



What advice do you have for traveling performers?


1. Orlene – Have fun no matter what, and remember that it all works out in the end. Anything is possible, the impossible just takes longer.”

2. Carlo – If you want to work in the circus (or most other) business for that matter, it’s much more important to be a good human and act with integrity than it is to have a great act. And, be prepared… an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure…

…The first, I say because the majority of our work comes from people we know or referred to by people we know. The people we have worked for on and off for the last 15 years, have been friends for 30 years. I’ve probably celebrated more holidays with them than with my birth family. I’m closer to people on that show than my own brothers. As I reflect, I’m pretty sure that just about every show or project we do is just our family working with our friends to create work that we are passionate about.

What are the best and hardest parts about being a traveling circus family?


Being together all the time.” – Orlene & Carlo


“I love the fact that I’m around my kids more than not, but sometimes, I just want to go to bed… before they do. And, since that’s the largest, bounciest patch of flat space in the trailer, it’s often filled with wrestlers, ninjas, Pokemon, dragons, fairies, Quidditch players, and the like. Even when these rambunctious characters are not playing in the (one, big) bed late at night, they are, at their farthest, 20 feet away. The mid-trailer accordion door does little to muffle sound…

…Maybe it’s not so much being together as much as being together in a tiny space. When I’m tossing and turning in bed – waiting for Thing One, Thing Two, and Thing Three to calm down – I’m usually dreaming of more space: table space, divided space, adult space, counter top space, quiet space. And other little things that bigger than 200 sq. ft. brick and mortar home dwellers may take for granted: all-you-can-eat internet access, unlimited fresh water, more than 6 gallons of hot water, water that drains directly to a sewer, enough power to run a space heater and a vacuum at the same time. But, mostly, I’m dreaming of a double-decker bus with space for all of us to eat at the same dinner table and spread out the sleeping a bit.”      – Orlene


“Two of my favorite moments on any given day are just before going into the ring with my family and when we are in that tanbark circle together. But, that’s about 21 minutes of my day. The rest is filled with prepping for those minutes among the sawdust, washing dishes, changing diapers, rebuilding every major appliance in my trailer, and sweating with people who make ephemeral art. I’d much rather do that with people who will gladly lend you a tool, a hand, or a cup of sugar than with a bunch of folks who don’t talk to each other or, worse, argue all the time…

…A close second best is the commute, or lack thereof.” – Carlo 

Gianluca (11) –  Best – Traveling. Hardest – Answering peoples questions after the show. Lesson learned – Have FUN!

Giulia (9) – Best – Traveling. Hardest – Answering peoples questions after the show.  Lesson learned – Always have a book to read in the truck!

Gioia (6) – Best – Circus! Hardest – Driving. Lesson learned – Pancakes.

Favorite Acts


Orlene – “Any act where the artist connects with the audience heart to heart —whether a person or animal I love to witness the joy that comes from sharing one’s art, heart and performance with others.

Gianluca – Foot juggling.

Giulia – Foot juggling.

Gioia – Suitcase manipulation (like Justin Therrien).  


I think that we have learned from La Famiglia Gentile to have fun, take a deep breath, and be good to the people around you. You just might need to borrow a balding tire from them one day.  That, and we all could use a little more pancakes…


You can also see them at the upcoming Moisture Festival! Check out the schedule here.

Keep up with the Gentiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Spotlight: New Social Circus RODA Coach – Monte Britt!

Make your End-of-Year Gift today to support youth circus programs like Circus RODA!

*RODA – A term used to describe the participatory circle in Capoeira, roda literally means “wheel” in Portuguese. All caps RODA is the name of SANCA’s newest youth program!

From dancing and poetry, to gymnastics and basketball, Monte Britt has always had a love for the arts and being active. So, when he saw an internship advertisement at the Rainier Boys & Girls Club for Circus RODA, a new teen program at SANCA, he thought, “Why not?”

Now, two years later, Monte is starting a career as a SANCA coach and youth mentor in the same program, sharing his love of flips with other students and encouraging them to break out of their shell and not to be afraid to try new things and be themselves.

Get to know Monte Britt!

In high school Monte experienced bullying from other teens and issues with his family because of his sexuality that made him feel like he didn’t fit in. For Monte, the arts and physical activities were an outlet where he could get away from those problems and find avenues of self-expression.

Monte (bottom row, center) supports other students as they learn to build a human pyramid in the Circus RODA project.

SANCA’s Social Circus RODA is a school-year long project for teens to learn circus and performance skills, and create an original show, while also learning life and job readiness skills like time management, collaboration, public speaking and presentation, and leadership.

At SANCA, Monte found a place where he could be himself, and the Circus RODA project gave him an opportunity to gain confidence, and discover a feeling of belonging.

Monte says, “It’s just amazing how you can just come into [SANCA] and be treated like you’re just normal …. You don’t have to be scared. It doesn’t matter what you are, who you are, what color you are.”

For Monte and the other teens in Circus RODA, it was an important discovery to realize that they didn’t feel pressured to do everything perfectly. Instead they were encouraged to get up and try again, or try something new.

“[At SANCA] you could do one bad flip and all you hear is the coach clapping and cheering you on and just saying OK we can do it again, or if you don’t want to do it again or feel comfortable, then we can do something different. They’re not going to pressure you to do something that you don’t want to do. And that’s why it kind of, I think, that’s what kept most kids here; because they feel like they didn’t have to be pressured to do something and it was always something they can look forward to doing.”

We know it kept Monte coming back! He came back for the second pilot version of the project, and quickly became one of the leaders of the group.

A favorite moment in the program for Monte was when the group got the idea for their showcase. “The Break Out” was RODA’s spring show in 2017, covering topics from mass incarceration and institutional racism to the Black Lives Matter movement and the participants’ dreams for their own future. Shortly before the show’s scheduled performance, police shot and killed local resident Charleena Lyles in her home. After the show, students and attendees participated in a community discussion to discuss the topics the show addressed.

“One of my friends she did the spoken word and it was basically based around shootings that had been happening, issues that are just happening politically. And it really touched me and most of the audience. Basically, it was it was the first program that touched me to do The Break Out and other kids also had the same vision because there was a lot that happened that year.”

For Monte, Circus RODA also became a means of personal transformation. By working hard in Circus RODA, Monte realized that “It takes a lot a lot of preparation. A lot.” He started to feel more comfortable with being social, and as the oldest teen, he discovered he wanted to be a good role model and leader to the other students in the program. Monte says he feels like he went from the “terrible two’s” as a high school student, to feeling like a leader as a youth mentor and coach.

Monte started working at SANCA in October as our newest coach at the beginning of the third year of the Circus RODA project, and he has a lot to share with the teens who are just getting started. “You don’t have to come in with confidence because once you start you’re going to want to do more and more, because you’re going to see this, and see that, and you’re going to be like I want to do that.”

“SANCA is inviting because they’re a big family. They just have a big heart,” says Monte. “One of the dreams I have had is about going in circus professionally … like acrobatics and back handsprings, flips, back flips, a double backflip in the air! Like just stuff like that. I have thought about that a few times and I’m like really thinking about pursuing it, and I really, really, really want to be a contortionist.”

You can support our Circus RODA students by making a gift during our end-of-year campaign. No amount is too small, every contribution can make a difference! You can give online or even set up a monthly giving plan for ongoing support.