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 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!

 

Coach Eve Tours with Circus Monti this Summer!

Eve Diamond on Cloud Swing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eve on Rope:

via www.eveontheswing.com

 

We wish Eve the best of luck on the road

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