Creating an Inter-Generational Duo: an Interview with Duo Avocado

Interview with Ava Vermilya and Alyssa Hellrung, the performers of “Duo Avocado!*” Duo Avocado will be performing with Vuelta La Luna Variety Circus as a part of Kla Ha Ya Days on July 19th – 22th in Snohomish. Get to know this coach/student duo!

*Pronounced Duo Ah-‘vah-keh-doh, like evocative.

How did you start performing together?

Alyssa: Ava was in the Magnifcent 7 and I was coaching Mag 7, so I’d been working with her there for a while. I’d previously been working with another kid and she left circus for soccer. So, I hadn’t been working with anyone for a while, probably a year at least! So I think it was the summer of…oh god.

Ava: I remember it was the summer I was going into 5th grade. I think it was 2015?

Alyssa: So I approached Ava’s mom Elaine, because I have known her forever, because Ava’s sister, Sylvie was in the Amazing Circus 1-ders at the time, and was like, “Hey! I miss doing duo trapeze with a kid and Ava seems great (and bendy!) and I think it would be really fun!”

Ava: Well, I remember you just came up after practice one day and just said you wanted to talk to me so I thought I was in trouble! Then you asked if I wanted to do duo trapeze with you and I had seen Elly do it and was like, that looks like fun!

Alyssa: Ava didn’t have a ton of aerial experience, so we started from the very beginning, which for me was awesome! Because there were no bad habits, so that was really cool. Also, she didn’t have to adjust to me as a new base because there were no previous bases. Our first performance was SASS 2016. You were so tiny!

Who named it Duo Avocado?

Ava: Kind of both of us. It started as a joke because we couldn’t think of a name and people call me Avacado.

Alyssa: We were stretching in Mag 7 one day and people were naming their favorite fruits and I was like, “You know, avocado is a fruit”.  And Ava was like “WHAT?” Then there’s also this funny Scoobie Doo episode where this guy’s last name is avocado but pronounced “Ah-vah-keh-do”. So the Mag 7’s were like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if you were Duo Avocado?” So then we just started going by that name!

What other performances have you done?

Alyssa: We’ve done a new act at SASS every year since 2016.

So you aren’t re-working the same act, you create a new act for each one?

Alyssa: Yeah.

Ava: And I think SASS was the debut for each of those acts.

Alyssa: And then for SASS 2017 we did a piece called “Little Worrier.” And then Amazon needed a gig for the Amazon Family Picnic in 2017 and so we got to do it and we performed with Ben and Rachel [Duo Madrona] and Tanya Brno and that was AWESOME.

Ava: Yes!

How do you come up with your choreography?

Ava: In between each act we have a month or two where we work on new skills and then from there we make little sequences and figure out how to put them together and come up with transitions.

Alyssa: A lot of times it has to do with the music also, like for “Little Worrier” I had the music and was like, “Let’s make an act with this music,” and then for this one we had some sequences we were working on and the song came in later.

What do you like most about working with each other?

Alyssa: I like how we are a lot alike, like mentally. We both are anxious about stuff. We both like to process things. And we both really like to perform. I never feel bad if I’m like “I don’t know, I think we need a spot.” Which is really nice because sometimes you can work with partners who are like, “Come on! Pony up!” you know? And it’s just been really cool to work with somebody for so long who is still growing. Ava is getting stronger all the time.

Ava: I also love that we can do new tricks now that we’re closer to the same size. If I feel kind of nervous about a trick and want a spot, Alyssa is also the same. Neither of us only want to try a trick with a spot one time.

Alyssa: We are both pretty cautious, which is great. We both step up to things which makes both of us feel safer. I also think it’s funny that we have certain sequences that we have learned along the way that were SO scary when we first learned them and then we’ll learn something harder and then that thing becomes not a big deal anymore. Now every time we have something really hard we know, “Well now we just need something harder!” and then that thing won’t be a big deal anymore.

What is it like working together with the big age difference?

Alyssa: She’s in Cirrus and I don’t teach Cirrus. So that’s cool that I didn’t lose Ava! Sometimes people move up and I don’t get to see them anymore, which makes me sad. But I still get to work with Ava now which is really cool.

Ava: We both have other interests, other things we do outside of SANCA, so we talk about that a lot. Just talk about our lives pretty much!

Alyssa: Totally.

What’s the most challenging trick you have in your act now?

Alyssa: Our opening release sequence.

Ava: I agree. It feels less scary now, but that is definitely the scariest thing. We did have a fall with it.

Alyssa: In a show!

Did you have a mat?

Alyssa: Yeah, and a spotter! But that was back when our technique was not nearly as good as it is now.

Ava: And now that we have it completely down and we haven’t had anything close to a fall, I still sometimes feel like, “Oh no, here’s the scary part!”

Alyssa: Same! It’s weird how sometimes I don’t even think about it and then other times I’m like, “Oh no here it comes!”

What have you learned from working with each other?

Ava: I think just how similar we are. I didn’t know you very well before we started working together.

Alyssa: You hadn’t been in Mags that long.

Ava: Yeah, a year maybe? We’ve come to do so many gigs together that we have just gotten to know each other so much better. Like the Amazon gig I was the only kid. And having someone that I know well makes it less scary. Like I know Ben and Rachel but it’s nice to have [Alyssa] there.

Alyssa: It’s maybe not something that I’ve learned but something that’s been solidified from working with Ava is that if you work with a kid who is emotionally mature and you treat them with respect like a peer, crazy awesome things can happen! Like I’m never yelling at her, we are a team. And that is really key. Even if you’re working inter-generationally, if you are working as a team, super cool stuff can happen, and I think that’s really important.

Ava: Working together we collaborate on what we think looks good and what we think needs to change, and I think it works a lot better because we both get to work together and give our input.

Alyssa: Totally, and I would never get better as a base if you didn’t feel like you couldn’t say how, “Oh that transition is totally not working” or “That felt weird.” We can’t come up with a solution if you didn’t feel like you could say how you felt then we would never get any better. We’ve worked a lot with Ben and Rachel, especially Rachel. She has been invaluable in us improving our skills..

Ava: I feel like I can say if something goes wrong, like, “Um, no I think that was you this time.” I feel comfortable saying that you did something wrong.

Alyssa: For sure.

Does it make you want to perform more?

Ava: Yeah. The whole show [Amazon] there was a story and I also like acting. So we got to improv and Alyssa played my baby sitter.

Alyssa: And Ben and Rachel were your parents!

Ava: I definitely like that type of show better than just going on stage for two minutes and being backstage for the rest of the show.

Alyssa: That “go out on stage do your act and leave” is fun, but it’s really fun to be a part of an ensemble. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to in the Vuelta show is that it’s going to be with the same people, doing the same show. I don’t know if there’s any acting, we haven’t heard yet, but I like that kind of show.

Anything you can share about this upcoming show?

Alyssa: I’ve never been to it but apparently there is a fair and it’s super family friendly. It is far, but I’m hoping some SANCA families will make the haul, it will be worth it. Gabby Leiva [another SANCA coach] is also performing, doing fabric. Also, one of the people who owns the circus is Deanna Riley who is a student here, she takes hoop here and trapeze from me.

Ava: And that’s how we heard about it too.

Alyssa: And it’s in a tent! That’s cool.

 

Notes from the Wunderground

SANCA’s Social Circus programs take students and our community on a journey. Fueled by the lionhearted impulse that you can use “circus arts for social change and personal transformation,” this spring, two of our newer Social Circus programs manifested this vision in innovative and new ways for the SANCA community. Let’s take a look at what happened.

We are now in our second year of running the RODA program. In partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Rainier Valley and the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, this work-readiness program uses circus arts as the vehicle to develop important skills for teens to improve their circus vocabulary, AND practice responsibility, accountability, collaboration, and even project management.

In addition to the skills developed during the course of the programs, the culminating project for every session has evolved to have a different format. Our first RODA performance, Beautiful Chaos, started with a standard proscenium-style performance. We quickly began to push the boundaries of performance in our second show, The Breakout, which was designed with elements of immersive performance when students literally broke through a wall to a thrust of space in the center of the audience during the climax of the show. Our third project, Untitled, saw a flash-mob format, where participants spontaneously swarmed areas of the SANCA gym and put on short group acts. This spring, a new impulse guided the fourth and most recent project, “The Goonies’ Carnival.”

The impulse was: How can we move beyond traditional performance to more actively engage the audience in a community-building event?

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After many discussions with the participants, the idea of combining performance with a public community celebration was a natural fit. This time, not only were the participants working to put together a performance to demonstrate their new-found circus skills, but we also planned a parade and carnival to take us outside the SANCA building entirely and bring circus into the streets! After the parade to Georgetown Playfield, RODA participants hosted a free community carnival open to the public, complete with DJ music, food, circus, games, and dancing. During the entire event, RODA participants were acting as hosts and true community leaders, generously sharing a good time with any and all who attended.

Speaking of, the entire Boys & Girls Club Teen Program students and staff — more than 30 individuals— shuttled over to SANCA to join us for this major event. It was truly a special moment to have our two communities togethery. This still feels like only the beginning of our partnering potential and we are incredibly lucky to be able to grow our communities together.

This is circus arts for social change!

 


 

Now for the personal transformation…

 

Another new SANCA program is Transformational Women’s Circus (TWC), which marked the expansion into exciting new territory for us by offering Social Circus programming dedicated to adults. The women participants all came to this program because they believed, like Amber Parker, TWC lead coach and designer of the program, that circus arts can be used to help heal and offer pathways to self-revelation.

Over the course of six months, these women came together once a week to combine circus arts with drama and group therapy practices, all culminating in a spectacular performance that followed the structure of the hero(ine)’s journey. Blending narrative with circus arts, the participants designed self-revelatory performances both as solos and in groups that explored themes of pain, transition, strength, loss, love, overcoming challenges, friendship, and many more.

During the talk-back that followed the performance, multiple audience members reported that these deeply personal pieces resonated strongly, moving many to tears and a healing catharsis for not only those performing but the audience as well.

This is circus arts for personal transformation!

This is only the beginning for TWC. RODA continues to evolve as well, but what is striking to me is how tangibly these programs manifest that vision of “circus arts for social change and personal transformation.” These programs are specially designed to at times go deep in the inner landscape and at other times to bust out of the box, to fill the streets, to expand out into the world bringing vibrant vitality and joy.

By simultaneously stretching outwards and inwards, a massive space is opened up for everyone: for children of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to experience the joyous creativity of acrobatics and new circus arts.

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What will happen in the years to come?

For more information on SANCA’s Outreach and RODA programs, visit our page here.

For more information on the Transformational Women’s Circus Program, click here. 

Note: Applications for the 2019 cycle of TWC will open this fall, check back in September for more information.

Student Spotlight: Director/Actor and Aerial Student Rachel Delmar

Rachel on the aerial silks.

Rachel Delmar has been a SANCA aerial student since 2011. In additional to learning aerial skills, Rachel runs her own Seattle based company, Playing in Progress, producing opportunities for playwrights, actors, directors, & artists to develop new work. She currently teaches at Youth Theatre Northwest.

How did you get into circus?

I actually started doing it back in, 2011, I think? It was one of those things that I had always wanted to do. I’d seen a show, years before, at the Actor’s Gang in LA. They did “Our Town” with aerial silks. In the scene where the two kids are talking from their bedroom windows, they were on silks. As a director and actor, I had never thought of that, and to see a classic piece mixed with this more modern artistry really opened up my brain to the endless possibilities of mixing mediums.”

After seeing the show, when did you start taking classes?

I came back [to Seattle] in 2011, I started taking the beginning aerial at SANCA. Aerial is my happy place.”

What about aerial makes you happy?

When I moved to New York in 2017, I wasn’t really taking care of myself physically, for a lot of reasons, and aerial became the thing that every week I would go to. And I always see progress in some way, whether it’s not being exhausted after climbing twice in a row, or it’s a little bit easier. The cross back straddle has been my kryptonite, and finally when I was in New York, I started to be able to do it. It’s the fact that when I’m not able to do something, if I’m not strong enough yet or I can’t quite process it yet, I still leave happy. I would be doing this every day if I could.”

“It’s a work out and an artistic outlet for me. And it’s something where there is always a place to get better, there’s always more to learn. For me, the workout has been incredible. I have a strong belief, as I’m sure many women and men do, that we are taught a very specific look of what is beautiful, and I love the idea of being (and only recently, honestly it has been a part of my self-growth) of being strong not skinny. The importance of that, that is something that I want showcased in my art, in my life, and in the way that I teach.”

How has it impacted the way you teach?

I teach theatre, all levels. Right now I’m doing kindergarten through second grade at Theatre Northwest on Mercer Island. In warm ups, I always do strength based things. I believe that acting is a full-bodied exercise. You have to be strong to do it. You have to be strong to do eight shows a week on Broadway. Or to get out of the way if something falls! That’s something that I think is important and a good seed to start planting.”

Do you think it’s informed your own acting?

Watching and doing a different kind of art form always influences you. It influences how I use my body, how I put bodies on stage when I’m directing. The capacity of what can be done expands. Recently I saw “Spongebob the Musical.” I was joking with my friend that [it’s not enough] to be a triple threat anymore; you have to be a thousand threat. There were people acting, singing, dancing, and aerial, on skateboards. The art forms all start to cross over and create a really interesting world and play space for all of us.The importance of that, that is something that I want showcased in my art, in my life, and in the way that I teach.”

You’ve had your own company & produced plays. Are you in the process of starting anything?

Not right now, I’m preparing for grad school so I’m mostly focusing on paying gigs and teaching. I am sharing some of my writing at LOUD MOUTH LIT on May 29th. I’m starting rehearsals for the The 14/48 Projects’ Summer Park Show. It’s a show for kids [adult friendly] that they tour around the PNW every summer. It’s new play always written by a local playwright. This year it’s a play entitled, When You Wish Upon a Pizza written by Amy Escobar. Beyond that… you’ll have to stay tuned… I do hope to get a chance to perform aerial for the first time before I head out to grad school so… hopefully I’ll see you at my happy place soon!”

Thanks for sharing with us Rachel! Maybe we’ll see you in the next SASS show!

Check back for more student features! If you would like to share your story with us, reach out to us here.

Thank You for a Wonderful Day of Giving Big!

Your gift for SANCA’s GiveBIG spring campaign brings incredible momentum to expand access to CIRCUS for ALL. Thank you. In just 24 hours you helped to raise more than $17,600 for community circus arts programs.

Your support can be game-changing for our community circus programs. It helps the Social Circus Outreach program, which partners with local schools and community centers — to reach more schools where 40% or more of students receive a free or reduced-price lunch.

And did you know that SANCA’s Hemiparesis Summer Camp works with youth who have partial body paralysis? Through the course of the week-long camp these kids not only learn new circus skills – they learn new ways to work with their bodies while also developing core strength, balance, and grip strength, all in a fun environment with other kids who have similar challenges that they can relate to. It is your support that makes the Hemiparesis Summer Camp possible!

Kids in SANCA’s Hemiparesis Camp use handstand canes to develop core and grip strength.

Kristie, the mother of one of the camp students, shared her daughter’s experience in the camp:

“I can’t thank you enough for offering this camp. It has been an OUTSTANDING experience for Hannah. Last night, she was crying because she didn’t want it to end! She asked if she could take SANCA classes and do SANCA camp every week next summer. I think it was really important to her to be around a whole group (!) of kids with similar physical challenges. Thank you so very much. You will definitely see us in the future!”

Your support also makes it possible to start new programs like Transformational Women’s Circus. Started by Every Body’s Circus coach Amber Parker, this program uses circus as a means to recover from trauma, anxiety, and depression; just as emerging research is showing the efficacy of the use of body-based therapy programs like TWC.

“I have been diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety and standard mental health treatment hasn’t been very effective

“…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 Student

 

 

In addition to these programs, your support makes it possible for more than 800 youth each year to receive tuition scholarships. SANCA has already given $114,591 in youth scholarships to kids who want to take classes during the first five months of 2018. That number will double by the end of the year.

Thank you so much for contributing to support CIRCUS for ALL! We would especially like to thank the SANCA Board of Directors for their inspiring $5,500 Challenge Match, and all our 85 community donors who rose to that challenge and far exceeded it. Thank you!!

Interview with Abigail Munn of Circus Bella!

Starting circus at the age of nine with the Pickle Family Circus, Abigail Munn is the Co-founder and Executive Director of Circus Bella. Recently, Abigail performed several shows at Moisture Festival in Seattle, and coached Giulia, one of the children in La Famiglia Gentile (who were in the spring Artist in Residency at SANCA). I had a chance to chat with Abigail during one of her breaks, and learn a little about her life in the circus.

SANCA: How did you get involved in circus?

Munn: I started when I was nine with the Pickle Family Circus and really I just kept going, studying dance in college [at UC Santa Barbara], I always knew I wanted to come back to circus. I also had a cabaret act and toured with a friend of mine. I always knew I wanted to be a trapeze artist. I remember seeing Wendy [Parkman] on the trapeze, and knowing that I wanted to do that, people also said that I looked like her. Then in high school, I went to the Urban School in San Francisco which also had a circus program.

SANCA: What was it like studying dance in college?

Munn: In college I had the opportunity to do choreography and directing, I always loved putting moving bodies on stage. I still do that at Bella.

SANCA: How did you start your own circus organization?

Munn: It takes a lot of grit and chutzpah! I toured with Zoppe Circus and really wanted to bring a small circus performing company feel back to the Bay Area. My friend David Hunt and I got a gig at a winery and was able to use that bit of money as the seed money to get [Circus Bella] started.

SANCA: You were recently in Seattle for Moisture Festival; do you usually stay in the U.S. or perform internationally?

Munn: I feel a commitment to stay in the United States. A lot of people decide to perform in Europe. For me, I feel the importance of creating art in the United States. We need it desperately. Circus is universal. You can be any age and speak any language but the magic of doing a trick in the ring is something we can all understand. Especially for our circus, the shows are free. It creates this opportunity for neighbors to sit next together at a show, they might not know each other but then they’re laughing together. Circus brings people together.
Also, we just have a really robust company, and it’s expensive to try to pack everyone up for a touring show. There’s so many places to perform in the Bay Area so with the economics of touring, it doesn’t seem viable to do without making it a much smaller show. But we have been able to ravel a little bit. Last summer we went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to perform on the National Mall for a week and a half, representing the Bay Area which was very exciting. We also once got to perform in Japan, but the Bay Area is where we’re based.

SANCA: What advice do you have for people who want to get involved in circus or who have been doing circus but haven’t started performing?

Munn: Stick with your heart and don’t try to copy anyone else. What’s wonderful about circus is the individuality of the acts. My best advice? Make an act! It can change over time, but make an act and live with it over time. It can take years to make a really good act, so be in it for the long hall! Make sure it has a beginning, middle, big trick, and end. Make an act!

I see so many youth programs that give them so much time to roll around and experiment but who don’t get out there with a complete act. It’s ok if you’re uncomfortable with performing at first. Especially when I was starting out, performing was uncomfortable. It takes time; you have to have a lot of stage time.

SANCA: What do you think you’ve learned from your years of developing your acts and getting more stage time?

Munn: You have to take your time. It’s all about timing and the power of stillness. The power of stillness is really something you have to learn. And then, knowing the timing and how to work with an audience and play with them; you’re not alone up there! But still focus, when you’re doing that drop, everything has to disappear and you have to focus.

SANCA: Speaking of drops, you have a pretty impressive knee stand to ankle-hang drop (see video above). Care to share how you got that trick down? 

Munn: Learning that skill [from Elena Panova], I started with a belt, and definitely fell a few times. But you learn your points slowly before working up to a faster drop. I squeeze my butt, twist my hips, and flex my feet!

Thank you, Abigail! We can’t wait to see you the next time you’re in town!

If you find yourself in the Bay Area, check out Circus Bella’s calendar so you can catch a show!

CIRCUS for ALL – GiveBIG May 9th

 

Wednesday, May 9th is the last-ever GiveBIG!

The Seattle Foundation is sun-setting the countywide giving day which has served as SANCA’s Annual Spring Fund Drive for the last eight years. In that time, your generosity to SANCA has been phenomenal.

Your contributions over the past eight years have helped to change many lives. Since 2010, with your help, SANCA has been able to:

  1. Provide 4,430 youth scholarships for circus classes and outreach programs.
  2. Work with more than 40 school and community partners, including YMCA Powerful Schools, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club, and the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.
  3. Create innovative and trans-formative new circus programs such as Every Body’s Circus for people who have disabilities; Circus RODA, which combines teaching work-readiness and life skills with circus; and Transformational Women’s Circus to give a safe space to women who are recovering from trauma and rediscovering how to be fully in their own bodies.
  4. Grown our annual student service population from 693 in 2010 to 2,471 in 2017.

In short – your support to SANCA at our spring GiveBIG fund drive has changed thousands of lives for the better. Will you help us one more time?

GiveBIG Kick Off Party at Salty’s!

This year, we are so excited to kick off our Spring Fund Drive with a bash at Salty’s on Alki Tuesday, May 8th, from 6:30 – 8:30pm! There will be live performances, including live performances including piano-man Victor Janusz & saxophone star Medearis “MD” Dixson, circus, an extended happy hour, AND DOOR PRIZES!

Click here to RSVP!

Doulbe the power of your gift – Donate online for SANCA’s final GiveBIG Spring Campaign! We have a goal of $20,000 and with your support we know we can make it. Our generous Board of Directors has put up a $5,500 challenge match. Meeting this match will put us more than half-way to our goal!

Schedule your gift today! All scheduled gifts will be processed on Wednesday, May 9th.

No Gift is Too Small – Dollars for Change!

The Seattle Foundation will make more than $250,000 in Dollars for Change awards to non-profits participating in GiveBIG.

Your gift to SANCA – of any amount – might be boosted by a $2,500 Dollars for Change award!

The more people who make a gift to SANCA during GiveBIG, the higher our chances of receiving an additional $2,500!

Has Circus changed your life?

Let us know! Join us in celebrating CIRCUS for ALL by sharing your story by using the hashtag #CIRCUSforALL!

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!