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.