Pregnancy and First Time Motherhood as a Professional Circus Performer

How becoming a mother changed one circus artist’s perspective on performing

You may know Wendy Harden from her mystifying A Unicycle Built for Two duo act with her husband, Nick, or as one of the incredible coaches of Cirrus Circus. Recently she added mother to her list of identities (coach, circus performer to name two). She sat down with us to talk about what it’s like to be a circus performer while pregnant and then being a new mom, and how that experience has changed her outlook on performing.

A Unicycle Built for Two (Nick & Wendy Harden)

What was it like performing and touring before having a child?

Wendy: Before Felix, Nick and I would have 4 or 5 hours every day to train and everything was geared towards a performance in our act. After Felix, we train about 45-60 minutes a few times a week. So our training times have really decreased. Luckily, we are at a spot where it’s pretty easy to maintain our unicycle act. So, instead of putting a lot of time into new skills and act creation, we’re putting a lot of time into healthy bodies and maintenance.

Has your performance changed since you had Felix?

Wendy: We’re putting a lot more time into solo acts so that I can work out and Nick can take care of Felix, or Nick can work out and I can take care of Felix.

What was it like training while being pregnant?

Wendy: Being pregnant and training was strange and very hard. You are essentially going through a sped up puberty and everything is changing almost daily. I feel like in regular life if you keep your output the same, you’ll get stronger. But it was clear that if I did the same workout every day it was just going to get harder and harder. It was weird to have your body change so much on you. Especially for me since I came into circus with my adult body, I never did circus through puberty or any growth spurts.

But logistically being a pregnant circus performer worked out fine because we still had a contract, and Marta Brown [former SANCA Coach] was able to step in and do my role with Nick. This was really great, so he could keep performing and keep the contract, and I could be pregnant.

Did you feel at all sad when Martha took your spot in performing with Nick?

Wendy: Not really. I didn’t because my pregnancy was something I really wanted. If it had been an injury and I had been replaced, my feelings would have been different. But because it was something I was fine and it was great that Nick could keep performing.

How did your obstetrician respond when they found out that you are in the circus for a living?

Wendy: The first doctor I went to said, “you can just continue your normal activity until about 5-6 months.” I’m like, “that makes me feel uncomfortable because you don’t totally understand what I do. I’m doing stomach slides on a Chinese pole.”

I tried to explain it to her, but she couldn’t really understand it. I didn’t end up going back to that first doctor that we saw, but I felt pretty in tuned with what I could and couldn’t do. Nick and I made the call that I wouldn’t be performing after 5-6 months pregnant, and that was the right call. It would have made his job very hard, if we were still performing then.

How so?

Wendy: Just because the balance is way off! I couldn’t be tight and standing on his head when I have fifteen pounds of weight sticking out. It is so much different than when my center of gravity is actually inside my body, and every week my center of gravity was growing and changing and getting farther out.

How is performing different now that you are a family of three?

Wendy: The actual running of our act is such a small part of doing shows. Getting on stage and performing is the easy part, life all around the performance is the harder part. Making sure Felix is fed, then putting on makeup, then putting Felix down for a nap, then getting in costume and making sure Felix doesn’t spit up or rub avocado all over my costume. Oh, and not forgetting to warm up or take my glasses off before I go onstage. It’s much less focused on us. And also, it makes the stage time feel even more special because it’s just Nick and I and it feels like before we had kids. We are giving all of our attention to one another and that feels really special.

What is it like to be a coach and a mom?

Wendy: SANCA is a really great place to have kids. It’s a really baby friendly place. People are always willing to pick him up and watch him so I can train. I’m really grateful that I don’t have to put him in daycare for nine hours a day to do what I want to do.

Is that the same for the circus community at large?

Wendy: Yes, there is always someone backstage who will hold him while we go and do our act. And everyone we’ve come across is more than delighted to have him backstage with us.

Do you think you’ll be able to keep the same lifestyle as he gets older?

Wendy: This is something Nick and I think a lot about but don’t have a clear pathway yet. Our goal right now is to continue to perform. I think we will know what the right choice will be as we get there. We have thought of a lot of options anything between travel and homeschool to regular school and just performing during the summers.

Are there other performing parents you’ve been able to talk to?

Wendy: Yeah. There are the Gentiles who perform with their kids and homeschool them and then there are people who work at Teatro ZinZanni and have their kids in regular school and just drive to work. We also know some people who just travel during the summer, so I think there aew examples of every different kind of situation.

Have any of your plans changed since you were pregnant? Is there anything that has come up in actually having the baby with you that you didn’t plan for?

Wendy: Our plan has always been to perform as long as we can and want, and that hasn’t changed. There is just a new set of challenges and things to consider. Being a mom is way more fun than I thought it would be! I feel so connected to another person in a way that I have never felt before. I’m not religious at all, but this is a very spiritual journey.

Whenever we do shows and tent set ups and I have to set up with him strapped to my back, it makes me feel strong and powerful, like I have this strange mom-power that lets me do anything. Training is definitely harder. It’s pretty surprising to me how little we train and can still keep everything up and improve. We are just really focused.

What do you think Felix will get out of growing up in the circus?

Wendy: It feels like he will grow up in a world where he feels safe and he knows that people love him. Also, hopefully, he’ll just know that the world is a really creative and playful place. You know, I try not to have too many high hopes about him being an acrobat, or when he’s going to join the unicycle act because I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. But I’m sure he will develop some sort of athletic skill, just hanging out in a place like this. Since he’s started crawling and standing, it’s been really nice that we have a big, soft place to bring him to and let him play.

Has having a kid changed your coaching at all?

Wendy: Yes, I take much more note of the tots the come in here and wonder what it will be like when Felix is that age. My favorite thing about bringing Felix in is to see Cirrus (and other kids) connect with him. A lot of them don’t spend time with babies and it’s been fun to watch them watch Felix grow. Some of them have really bonded with him. Felix goes to all the gigs and just hangs out backstage with the kids. They take turns holding him and making sure he doesn’t put anything dangerous in his mouth. That’s been a really sweet thing to watch.

Another thing that has changed is the amount of social time I have at SANCA. Before I was able to come in and spend most of the day training and chatting to community members. Now, I come in and often only have an hour to get my workout in and so I spend that time training rather than chatting. And sometimes I miss the casual feel of spending hours at SANCA.

I love what you said about teaching Felix that the world is a creative and fun place. I feel like in general that’s not what we really teach kids – we tend to grind the creativity out of them.

Wendy: Yeah. But that is one of my goals as a parent is just to keep this bubble of love around him for as long as possible, and SANCA is a great place to do that. Even moms that come in and people I don’t know are like “Oh, do you want me to hold him? Do you need a hand?”

Anything else you want to add?

Wendy: [Having a kid] has really realigned my priorities. I used to feel a lot more pressure with performing. My day would be terrible or great depending on how I felt the show went. Now that that isn’t my only priority, so I feel like there is a little bit more freedom. I feel like my value isn’t just in how well I perform on stage, but how present I am for Felix and Nick.

Be on the lookout for more stories in our parenthood series.

If you are a parent in the circus, or you just have a circus story to share, we would love to hear from you

 

The Circus Doc Created a Book for Aerialists

Our very own resident physical therapist, Emily Scherb, has written the first ever aerial anatomy book: Applied Anatomy for Aerial Artists, published by North Atlantic Books. You can get a your copy early at the book launch August 21 at Third Place Books Ravenna.

Emily shares how she convinced the publishing world that the circus community is a thing and that we need anatomy books! No one else has really laid out the physicality of the work we’re doing, so she took it upon herself to prevent injuries and help us all become better students, instructors, and performers.

How did you originally get into circus?
Emily: Well, I was a competitive gymnast as a young kid and when I was eleven I found circus summer
camp. That was it! I loved it. By the time I was 16 I was teaching at the camp and trained independently with my trapeze rigged up at a gymnastics school throughout the year. When I finished high school, I moved to Portland and joined a local aerial dance company, Pendulum Aerial Arts Dance, and interned with Do Jump! Extremely Physical Theatre. After spending some time in Portland, I went to college in St. Louis where I worked with Circus Harmony during the year and in the summers taught flying trapeze. I interned with Elizabeth Streb as a dancer after my sophomore year, and after graduating I moved to New York City and became the Assistant Manager of the Trapeze School of New York and worked at the Espana-Streb Trapeze Academy. Then, I went to
graduate school back at Washington University in St. Louis where I was able to continue training and teaching throughout my studies. When I heard SANCA had just opened a flying trapeze rig the timing was perfectly coordinated with my graduation, and I headed to Seattle.

Clearly circus is an integral part of your life! How did you get the idea for writing a book?
Emily:
In 2012 SANCA was hosting what was then called the AYCO Educators Conference (now ACE). Jo Montgomery asked me if I would create a four-hour long anatomy course for the educators who were attending. The questions they had and the deep interest everyone expressed about the topic really inspired me to start thinking about writing a book. It took a few more years and quite a few more workshops until I felt knowledgeable enough to approach the logistics of actually making it happen.

Once you had conceived of the idea for your book, how did you start the process of getting it published?
Emily: I did some research on publishers who have published similar things (anatomy, sports textbooks, etc.)
and with a friend’s guidance, I wrote up a book proposal. Circus has been growing exponentially so it was a great opportunity for a book like this.

My book is really focused on injury, injury prevention, self-care and building a training plan. It includes exercises for aerialists and education on what injuries they prevent.

Was it hard to get publishers to listen?
Emily: Definitely, I really had to make the argument that there is a huge community out there that is hungry for this information – about how the body works and how it allows us to do the things we do. No one has really broken down how aerialists are moving!

How long did it take to get a book deal?
Emily: I sent out the first proposal to a publisher in the summer of 2016 but didn’t get a contract until April of 2017.

What was your incentive for creating the book?
Emily: I hope it’s going to be a resource for aerialists and instructors to increase safety and awareness in their training. I hope it helps people have a better understanding of the body mechanics behind [aerial] so we can all be better students, instructors, and performers.

Muscles are made to work together either in pairs, or dynamically with other. Often when there is pain, it means there is over use of one group instead of balance.

What are common injuries in aerialists that you are hoping this book will help prevent?
Emily: The most common injuries are over-use injuries, especially in the shoulders – then hips and backs. The most common acute injury is sprained ankles and back.

What do the exercises focus on in order to prevent those injuries?
Emily: Muscles are made to work together either in pairs, or dynamically with other. Often when there is pain, it means there is over use of one group instead of balance.

 

Did you work with anyone to get the book done?
Emily: I worked with medical illustrator, Tiffany S. Davanzo, photography by Danny Boulet and used
aerialists from the community as my models.

You can find Applied Anatomy for Aerial Artists at your favorite bookstore and online at Amazon. Are you interested in working with Emily as your physical therapist? Check out her business website, Pure Motion Physical Therapy, for office locations and booking an appointment.

The Creative Life of Miranda Troutt

It should come as no surprise that for many SANCA coaches, circus is just one of many creative endeavors. To celebrate the artists who make up our hardworking staff, we’d like to introduce you to some of their lives outside of SANCA.

We’ve been having such a great time with our camp coaches this summer, so it’s sad to know that our time with many of them is almost done (for now). Before she’s whisked away to her next adventure, we wanted to share with you a peek into the creative life of one of our camp coaches, Ms. Miranda Troutt.

She is a singer, aerialist, costume designer, and self-proclaimed Sci-Fi nerd, who has managed to find a way to make it in Seattle as a working artist.

Meet Miranda!

 

How did you get involved in circus?

Miranda: I took a silks class at Emerald City Trapeze and then got involved with athletic/dance pole. A friend connected me to Teatro ZinZanni and I was hired to teach in their camps. I learned as I went. I came to SANCA a few times because I worked with Amanda (Thornton) and she gave me a few private lessons – it was really fun. When the Teatro ZinZanni camp program was on hold last year I really missed being involved with circus. I was very excited to find out that SANCA also offers summer circus camps… so here I am!

What are your hobbies outside of circus?

Miranda: Ha! Well really almost every one of my hobbies has turned into a job, so, I guess I just do everything that I love!

What is one of the things you do that people might not know about you?

Miranda: My career is musical theatre, which I studied at Cornish. But I do a lot of types of singing. I’m a professional Christmas Caroler with the Dickens Carolers. I sing opera at a restaurant downtown, Pasta Freska.  I sing at weddings and have been featured on several albums. I also do burlesque, perform at the Washington Midsummer Renn Faire, and design/sew.

Tell us more about your sewing and clothing design!

Miranda: Wedding gowns are my most popular commission, but I also make burlesque, Renn Faire, and other costumes. Really anything someone asks for. The past few years I’ve really gotten into alterations and Frankenstein clothing and making full garments from recycled materials. You can find her custom costumes and gowns at Miranda Antoinette Designs on Facebook and Etsy.

How did you learn to sew?

Miranda: I taught myself. I started sewing when I was 12. My grandma helped me with my first project to make a costume for a character from a fantasy book series. I love fantasy and sci-fi; Star-Trek, Star-Wars, Firefly. I also love the Abarat Series, and Weave World (both by Clive Barker). I love Cloud Atlas. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss.

So how did you get into musical theatre?

Miranda: I always loved musical theatre, Gilbert and Sullivan, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire. So, my parents one day said “Hey, Seattle Children’s Theatre has a summer program for kids to do musical theatre do you want to do it?”

I auditioned singing “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera, not realizing that Footloose was more of a rock opera. So I sang it, and they asked me to sing it again, but angrily, and I got cast! I’ve pretty much been doing musicals ever since. [See her sing here]

What is something you did recently?

Miranda: I just did Silhouette which was a world premier science fiction acapella musical at the Annex Theatre. Before that, I worked with Village Theatre understudying several parts for Into the Woods. I also did some stuff with Seattle Children’s Theatre and I’m excited to start working with them again in 2019.

What are you working on right now?

Miranda: I’m collaborating on an album right now, kind of poetic new age, but a lot of layers of sound. The composer calls the genre electronic dreamsong. Classical choir, string instrumentals, synthesizers. Very cinematic. I’m also doing some music for new musicals coming out.

Do you have a favorite composer?

Miranda: Picking favorites or one big thing I’m inspired by doesn’t really work for my brain. I’m a huge fan of traditional Irish music. One of my favorites is Carrickfergus. I also love Mika and Queen. And I’ll expose my stereotypical musical theatre nerd by admitting that I love Llyod Webber and Sondheim.

Photo Credit:
RAW SEATTLE PHOTOGRAPHERS | Jared Ribic & Memphis Ribic – Identity Crisis Studio & Framed for Life Photography

Did you learn how to read Gaelic?

Miranda: No, but I can listen to it and pick it up by sound.

I’m also really involved in dance. Socially. And I taught for a time too. I dance salsa and bachata (another Latin dance) as well as fusion.

Where do you dance?

Miranda: Century Ballroom  and Om Fusion.

 

Thank you for sharing more about you, Miranda!

Nick and Rachel Hit the Road

Coaches Nicholas Lowery and Rachel Randall are Duo Straight Up, an energetic, light-hearted Chinese pole duet, and they’re off in their new trailer to perform with a traditional traveling circus!

The last time we checked in was 2015! What has been happening with Duo Straight Up since then?

Nick: That was when our act just started out! We were still doing the original version of our act, with different music, which we performed in Up, with a Twist that year.

Rachel: We performed at two fairs in Hawaii , at “Ciudad de Las Ideas” conference in Mexico, and with the Venardos Circus for the Greater Gulf State Fair in Alabama.

Nick: Yes! We also were Tweedledum and Tweedledee for the Venardos Circus at the LA County Fair, which was an Alice in Wonderland-themed show.

What’s next for you?

Nick: We just got a giant truck and trailer and we’re ready to live the traditional circus life! We’ll be performing with the Zoppé Family Circus.

 Have you been wanting to do full time circus performing for a while? This is your first major traveling show, right?

Rachel: Yeah, we’ve been wanting to perform full time. It’s tricky staying in shape and keeping your act current when you have three weeks of work and then nothing.

How do you feel about living in the trailer for six months?

Nick: I lived in a trailer [which belonged to the show] for six weeks doing the first leg of their tour and it was fine! Honestly, the trailerhas more space than our current room in Seattle and we’re excited to have our own little house on wheels.

Was it hard for you guys to be apart for the six weeks Nick was touring with Zoppe?

Rachel: Yes! I was directing the P3 show at that time so I had a lot going on, and it was hard to not have Nick there.

Nick: Of course. I think it will be much better to travel and perform together this time!

What has changed in your act?

Rachel: It’s sexier!

Nick: And the skills have improved! But older versions of the act were more comic and whimsical and now it feels a little more adult. Still PG-rated! And we’ve had to rework our act a bit to get it to fit with the theme and new music for the show.

What’s the theme of the show?

Nick: It has a traditional Italian circus vibe. All the costumes are period-looking, less modern

Rachel: Think ribbons instead of sparkles

Photo by John Cornicello

How has your act and style changed over time?

Rachel: Initially we wanted to make a playful act (our first idea for a name was “Duo Squirrel”).

Nick: It’s a simple story that we tell with the act. It’s a love story, kind of messing around with each other. There’s always little adjustments to go from one show to the next.

Rachel: But there will still be flirting! I can’t not be flirty on stage. Before it was more silly, almost slapstick. It’s gotten more and more refined, more streamlined, elegant.

Nick: Definitely our skills have gotten better.

Rachel: We have a release move we call the “princess bomb,” and I do a handstand on his head on the pole. We still have the jump-over, where I slide down and Nick jumps over me.

Photo by John Cornicello

You guys performed at Twist this year, how was that? 

Rachel: Twist is always really fun.

Nick: It’s cool to do a show where there’s so many friends in the audience. The Teatro Zinzanni tent is awesome to perform in. I love that show.

What were you doing before performing and coaching was your career? 

Rachel: I was a professional dancer. I’ve always coached circus as my day job. I got a catering job in January this year (that’s my first ‘real’ job).

Nick: I started working at SANCA pretty fresh after getting my bachelors degree in math. My plan was to hang out here for a year and then apply for PhD programs, but then I had so much fun doing circus stuff that I never did that.

Any advice to others who would like to get more involved with performing and possibly who want to follow in your footsteps? 

Nick: Try to have a good idea of what kind of show you want to be a part of. Go see shows, try to get an idea of what kinds of opportunities exist, talk to people who are doing different kinds of shows. When I started I didn’t really have a good idea of what kinds of shows were out there as possibilities.

Rachel: It’s a little bit of a complicated question. Do you want to make a living at it, or do you want to just perform? It’s really hard to break into the full time performing, in any field. Circus does pay better than dance! Even if you do want to perform professionally in the future, you have to go out there and start performing, with the skills that you have today. Don’t think, “I’m not good enough yet, I can only juggle six balls!” You are good enough!

Nick: Yeah, get on stage! Then you learn what works and doesn’t work. You learn a lot from being in front of an audience. When you find a discipline in which you want to perform, it’s then really important to find a coach that you can work well with and trust them. Then be dedicated to practicing.

How do you stay motivated to have such a dedicated training schedule?

Rachel: We have a constitution. The Constitution of the United Forces of Duo Straight Up!

Haha, that is amazing. Can you share anything on it?

1. If you aren’t barfing, you have to train.

2. Don’t be too grumpy in the morning.

(Rachel: I hate training in the morning).

3. Push each other.

4. Stay positive.


Those are some great guidelines!

Bon voyage! Merde! and we’ll see you down the road!

 

Terry Crane on “The End of Rope”

Terry Crane, the rope expert and Artistic Director of Acrobatic Conundrum , is joining us at SANCA as our Artist in Residence for the end of July. He will prepare for and workshop his new show, which will debut at the San Francisco Aerial Arts Festival in August. For the residency, Terry is creating aerial and floor choreography for a new piece, “The End of the Rope,” which features six rope artists and a live musician.

“The End of the Rope” uses a large pulley with a rope threaded through it, a new apparatus that builds on movement research developed while using the “counterweight loop” featured in previous Conundrum shows — “Love & Gravity,” “The Way Out,” and other collaborations. For those unfamiliar with the counterweight loop, it is made up of 12-strand rope threaded through two large wooden pulleys, with the ends spliced together so it forms a vertical circle. In order to climb one side, the other side needs to be counter-weighted, which makes it an apparatus that is inherently relational; two or more people are needed to operate it. Tickets available here.

The new apparatus operates with similar principles but also a unique property — the rope has two ends.

The “End of The Rope” is a constellation of suspended stories, with the ending of each acrobat’s vignette hinting at the beginning of another. Loftily dancing, speaking from their aeries, and descending to dance, the circus artists of Acrobatic Conundrum share glimpses of their interior selves even as they defy gravity. The world they create is equal parts grace and humor, aerial acrobatics and careful mise en scène [a visual theme; or “telling the story” in a visually artful way]. Spectators are beckoned into the plot to pursue trails left by poets-in-motion, and the fourth wall fades away as audiences and performers share moments of wonder together. Terry is performing with Yuko Hata, Kip Jones, PJ Perry, Sommer Panage, and Xochitl Sosa, with musical accompaniment by Kip Jones.

In describing the aerial ensemble work that Terry creates and choreographs, he shares his perspective on the importance of collaboration and how he imbues this symbolism into his art:

“In the context of the moment, a symbol’s meaning shifts. On stage we’re a microcosm of humanity; a small ocean in a bottle. And in every show, in every moment, we need to be attuned to each other. We need to pay attention and rely on each other.

Terry Crane & Xochitl Sosa on Corde Lisse. Photo by Marc Hoffman.

“I’ve fallen in love with, and been dear friends with, and collaborated with talented artists who have been denied entry to the U.S. As well as being bad for art, a wall designed to exclude hurts the needy and puts one more division in our own hearts. I categorically oppose this symbol.

“It’s vitally important, now more than ever, to share our art, ideas, and stories across cultural, linguistic and national lines. Touring work to other countries means flow of information both ways. We inspire each other. Perspectives broaden, the perception of diversity grows. We discover new ways [for] people to navigate the same questions: of how to get along, create home, [and] build community. Places on maps become places we have lived, people we meet while teaching, [and] audiences who react in unexpected ways. These places become part of our own stories. We cross-pollinate. We see how it’s possible to live otherwise than we do. Long distances shrink and we become closer.

“Much as it might temporarily satisfy our angry, aggrieved selves, there can be no denying we are one thing. One species. Sharing one planet. In my mind, inclusion and exclusion are two answers to the wrong question. Something like, ‘How can I belong?’ They both stem from the illusion of our separateness, from each other, from what’s around us. I think because we are here, belonging is implied.

“I’m dedicated to holding up a mirror to our community, to reflect as accurately as I can the fact of our interconnectivity. I encourage all my fellow U.S. circus artists to do similarly; it’s time to put all that training to some use. Now is a moment for truth. Let’s make some art that means something.”

To read more about Terry’s process of apparatus creation and symbolism, visit the Acrobatic Conundrum blog .

Diavolo Comes to SANCA!

Jones Welsh and Anne-Marie Talmadge, who were formerly co-artistic directors of Diavolo and now help run LA’s physical theatre company Not Man Apart, are offering a workshop in Dynamic Partnering and Kinetic Storytelling: 360°FLOW.

As the name suggests, 360˚ Flow is a practice of having a 360-degree spatial and body awareness, a three-dimensional system that focuses on transitional movement in dance and tumbling. Practicing inversion, balance, shape, and rhythm into a fluid use of the body in space and time result in a level of mastery and control of the force of gravity. Jones and Anne-Marie Talmadge have developed this technique that draws on influences of all styles of dance as well as martial arts and gymnastics to approach dance and tumbling on a visceral and anatomical level, facilitating the body’s natural alignment, coordination, and expression. Movement exercises and combinations focus on expanding movement potential, environmental awareness, and breaking through fear and mental blocks. The class also includes strengthening, flexibility, partnering, and improvisational components traveling in and out of the floor.

This day long workshop will be held Saturday 8/11 and Sunday 8/12 from 12-6pm and is for students ages 16+. There are no pre-requisite skills or experience.

Jones and Anne Marie are on their way to China to be part of the new Cirque Du Soleil show, so this will be your last chance for this workshop for a while!

Diavolo was a finalist on America’s Got Talent last season.

Please contact the office to register for this incredible workshop.

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.