With a magician, anything is possible, including reappearing at SANCA just in time for the school’s annual Staff Show – The Circus Animal: A Nature Documentary.
SANCA is delighted to welcome back Scotty Walsh – one of our earliest circus students and coaches. Scotty is visiting SANCA from Cork, Ireland during the month of August, working in collaboration with Kelsa Dine. Together, they will debut a new act called “The Smiths.” Scotty and Kelsa took time out from their busy training and performing schedule for an interview with SANCA.
SANCA: Scotty, you’ve been a performer for some time now, how did you get your start?
Scotty: I was eight when I saw my first magic show. It was Mike the Magic Janitor. He was the janitor at Pomeroy Elementary School in Pomeroy, Washington, but he also did magic shows for the school at Halloween and for the town’s Tumbleweed Festival and County Fair. I was really inspired and started inventing magic tricks to show him, and I pestered him constantly about learning more magic.
At one point Mike had a gig at the town Vaudeville Show, but he was unable to attend and asked me to do a magic show in his place. He helped me choreograph a show and taught me how to do it. That was my first magic show – for 400 people – when I was eight.
That’s one of the reasons that I love to do shows for kids, because Mike the Magic Janitor had such a huge impact on me as a kid.
SANCA: What came next in your magic career?
Scotty: The Market Magic Shop at Pike Place Market had been an annual pilgrimage for me for years when visiting Seattle from Eastern Washington. I started working in the Magic Shop and also working as a street performer at the Market when I came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington for a degree in Political Science.
SANCA: Political Science seems a far cry from magic and performance, what sparked that interest?
Scotty: I lived in Kosovo for a year and I’d become really interested in humanitarian issues, and Political Science seemed a natural fit for that kind of work. I was also very active in the performance and circus community in Seattle at the same time – busking at the Market and juggling with the Cascade Jugglers. I also founded the Emerald City Circus as a student club at U.W. to create more community on campus for circus.
SANCA: You were one of SANCA’s first adult students, and later even coached classes for SANCA. How did you discover SANCA?
Scotty: I saw the Cirque du Soleil show “Dralion” and was very inspired – especially by Joe de Paul’s clown act in that show. I wanted to go to the École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), and started teaching myself dive rolls from Hovey Burgess’s book, Circus Techniques.
At about the same time, Jason Williams and Evelyn Bittner (Dr. Calamari & Acrophelia of Circus Contraption) attended one of my shows where I was recreating Houdini’s Water Tank Escape. They told me about SANCA and I started taking classes to prepare for my audition at ENC.
SANCA: After your time at SANCA you went to study physical theatre in Italy. What took you there?
Scotty: I didn’t pass my audition at ENC, but SANCA was giving me everything I wanted to learn about how to perform acrobatics. There is a painting by Picasso which depicts the acrobat/clown Harlequin who descended from the Commedia dell’Arte – a copy of this painting, The Family of Saltimbanques, is hanging in Chuck and Jo’s [SANCA’s founders] office. That painting was always very inspiring to me and I felt my next step as a performer was to train in physical theater and the commedia. I discovered a school called the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo – in the Tuscany region of Italy. I was accepted to their 2-1/2 year MFA program in Physical Theatre.
SANCA: Kelsa, how did you get started as a performer?
Kelsa: I had an interest in theatre from an early age, and did performances in grade school, but the High School I went to didn’t have a drama department so I took voice lessons and sung in the choir. I went to college in Baltimore for a degree in Acting and Playwriting, and it was there that I also took classes in single-point trapeze.
SANCA: What took you to Italy to study at the Accademia?
Kelsa: During college I had the opportunity to do a one-month intensive at the Accademia dell’Arte. It was a really amazing experience that stuck with me. After college I decided to continue my studies at the Accademia.
Scotty: Around that time I was planning my next degree – a Doctorate in Drama and Theatre with a focus on performance in mentalism. After graduating the Accademia I went to University Cork College in Cork, Ireland to begin my Doctorate.
SANCA: Why mentalism? And what is mentalism?
Scotty: Mentalism is a performing art that uses, or seems to use, highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Mentalism is traced back to tales of the supernatural – clairvoyance in Greek myths or legends of second sight and witchcraft which emerged from the Scottish Highlands.
I was very interested in the intersection of mentalism and physical theater because physical theater can develop heightened nonverbal communication to the point where it might be said to resemble “telepathy.” I want to reinterpret mentalism through the lens of physical theater.
Kelsa: Much of physical theater is the study of proprioception – total body awareness – understanding the space surrounding your body and where you are in that space. It’s a type of sensitivity training. It’s this type of heightened sensitivity that often connects to acts of mentalism, which people can confuse with ESP or supernatural ability.
SANCA: What brings you back to SANCA just in time for our summer staff show?
Scotty: Last year, Jo invited me to perform at SANCA’s 10th Anniversary Circus Festival, and I had such a great time returning to SANCA and performing last year that I wanted to do it again. I was on summer break from UCC, so I called and asked if I could come back for the month of August, and if I could take part in the staff show and they said yes. Working at SANCA is such a positive and rewarding experience. I knew I wanted to find collaborators for a new act and SANCA seemed like the right place for that.
My proposal to Jo was to have training time at SANCA to create a new act, and in return teach workshops for the SANCA community and the youth troupes. It is really important to me to give back to the community that has given me so much. Participating in the staff show is a bonus and I’m very grateful that they are letting us take part in the show.
SANCA: You’ve been training at SANCA for a couple weeks now. What’s that experience been like?
Kelsa: I’m really inspired by the collective circus groups you have training here – IMPulse and The Acrobatic Conundrum. Watching them create new work and how they are developing their acts through a group devising process is really exciting.
Scotty: SANCA is an incredible place. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s changed my life immeasurably. I am always astounded at how the school enriches the people that come through its doors. For us, it’s been a positive and welcoming training environment. We’ve been able to get feedback on the act we’re working on, and that’s a really important part of the process – having constructive audience feedback in a safe environment while creating new work.
Kelsa: Thank you for welcoming us. This is a fantastic place to work and train.
SANCA: What can audiences expect from your new act, “The Smiths?”
Scotty: A show equal parts comedy and mentalism leading to an unexpected and inexplicable moment of truth.
SANCA: How does it relate to the show theme – The Circus Animal?
Scotty: There’s been some interesting research recently about telepathy in animals, examining the potentiality of animal telepathy, or really, methods of nonverbal, nontraditional communication that we are only just starting to understand.
Kelsa: We’ll be representing that most unusual of animals: The Human Animal.
SANCA: Is there anything else you can tell us about the act?
Scotty: We’re liars, cheats, and frauds, and by the end of the show, you’ll wonder if we’re even telling the truth about that. You be the judge!
Scotty Walsh and Kelsa Dine will appear as “The Smiths” for two weekends, Fridays through Sundays in SANCA’s Staff Show – The Circus Animal: A Nature Documentary, August 21-23 and 28-30.
They will also appear at the family friendly August Vaudeville Revue at Kenyon Hall on Tuesday, August 25th at 7:30 p.m.
7904 35th Avenue SW
Seattle, WA 98126
You can visit Scotty at his web page and learn more about mentalism at http://scottywalsh.com.