Boundaries, People! Do You Know Your Performance Parameters?

Posted by: on November 25, 2014
Rose Laura Ellie

Rose Bonjo, Laura Witwer, & Ellie Steingraeber get ready to make some circus magic!

Angela and I have been asked to perform in some weird places. I mean weird. We’ve been asked to hang off fire escapes (no), hot air balloons (maybe), over fire cannons (suuuuuure), and atop shark tanks (just making sure you were paying attention). We are routinely asked if we can levitate (I wish I was kidding), if we will work nude (ain’t nobody wants to see all that), and if we can do our aerial act with 8 feet of height (floor-ials!). If you’re a young professional, one thing you’ll want to really get clear about is this: what are my TRUE performance parameters?

Ideal Conditions

Everyone has ideal conditions for their act spelled out in their tech rider (you DO have a tech rider, don’t you?). Your tech rider details the specific needs for your act, including spacing, safety concerns, rigging, etc. (**More on this in the coming weeks – it’s a post all it’s own.) When you’re working in great conditions, it’s lovely!!! I would say we get close to our ideal about 50% of the time. So, what happens the other 50%?

Make it Work

Chris wheels down the hall!

Chris wheels down the hall!

This past week, we had a lovely performance at St John’s University. It was a show for the students, acts scattered over two hours, free standing rig, in the common room, no stage lights, music run off an iPod. For three of us, this was a perfectly fine set-up. For Chris Delgado, our German wheel artist, the space was particularly challenging. For one, it was carpeted (German wheel + carpet = crazy hard spiral). There was also not enough room for him to do much in “straight line” – flips and swoops and rolls and such. His solution? Spiral in one part of the room, and straight line down the hall! No kidding. I’ve seen Chris trot his act out on uneven stages that made me hold my breath, pocked cement floors, and now – a hallway. THIS is a performer who knows his parameters!

In the early stages of your career, the parameters will be very tight. It takes time to learn to adjust your work for a wide variety of situations. Here are some things to think about:

  • lighting – what do I really need? Balancing acts, for example, often need a “quiet” stage (no fast spinning gobos or strobes). Jugglers have to make sure they’re not being blinded. Silk and rope artists often prefer a lit floor to ensure they’ve placed drops correctly.
  • stage space – everything from the kind of floor you need to how much space. You will eventually have several versions of your act for less-than-ideal stages.
  • ceiling height – varies WIDELY! This is where having an A, B, and C version of your act ready to go comes in handy.
  • costuming – need something tight fitting? No hangy-downys? Shins uncovered? Play with what you can work around.
  • music – have Cirque-style, holiday, kid show, etc versions ready at all times so you’re not scrambling a week before hand when the client or coordinator says, “By the way – this is a HanukkahKwanzaChristmasYule Spectacular. Send me your music by tonight.”

Get creative! They want you to hang off a fire escape? No bueno. BUT, you have a free-standing rig that would work great! Or, you can bring in a rigger to set points on the roof and make it LOOK like you’re hanging from the fire escape. OR you have an awesome ground act that would work better for this event. You get the picture.

Nope Nope Nope

Sometimes, it just won’t work. German wheel doesn’t work in 10 square feet. Hanging off a water pipe is not an option. Sometimes, we have to say no for safety reasons, or because an act just won’t work or look good in a certain space. Knowing your true parameters gives you the confidence to make those calls, so the client gets an awesome show, or doesn’t waste their money on something they won’t be happy with.

Do you have a parameter story? A crazy place you were asked to perform, or a fantastic “make it work” moment? Please share it in the comments below – we want to hear about it! Dare to imagine, Laura

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Please Don’t Make Me Slappy: the Right Way to Approach a Pro for a Favor

Posted by: on November 18, 2014
Miss Hannah is ALWAYS a pro!

Miss Hannah is ALWAYS a pro!

Each week, we receive 20+ inquiries of all sorts: training questions, career path questions, rigging questions, will you watch my video questions, the list goes on and on. The engagement we have with our audience is awesome!!!! …. most of the time. But ya’ll – seriously – some requests and questions are just downright inappropriate. So, what is the right way to ask a pro for a favor or advice? Are you shooting yourself in the foot and souring a potential connection? Are you giving the right impression? Maybe. Let’s dive in!

5 Do’s

  1. DO offer to pay me for my time. Many teachers and professionals have consulation or career coaching rates (you can see mine here). In fact, when I was a wee aerialist just learning to rig, I paid for several hours of a riggers time. Some of the best money I ever spent! He was well compensated, I got a great foundation and learned a lot, and everybody went home happy. Winner winner chicken dinner!
  2. DO offer to take me to lunch. Are you friends or close acquaintences with the person? Don’t assume that you still get free info. Ask to take ‘em to lunch so you can pick their brain! It’s the classy thing to do.
  3. Suggest a reciprocal gesture – cultivate a connection. Do you have skills that could be useful to them? For example, we have an amazing rigger friend (shout out, Bill Auld!) who comes to us when he needs aerial input or performers, we go to him when we have rigging questions, and try to get him on every gig we can. Everyone wins!
  4. Consider not asking! Is this a question that could easily be answered by google, a teacher, Facebook, etc? Do your homework!!!
  5. Be considerate and polite. Acknowledge that I may not have time to respond, etc.

3 Don’ts

  1. Don’t pester me. Unless I’ve promised to get back to you by a certain date, don’t follow up unless a month has passed.
  2. Please don’t ask us to watch your video and give you feedback. Nothing positions you as an amateur faster than sending me your video and asking me to critique it. A) I have a to do list that is 10,000,000,000 miles long – please do not add to it if you want to be on my nice list. B) Unless we have built some sort of professional relationship, it’s just not appropriate to ask us to basically “fix” your circus resume. Inappropriate in ANY business – the arts not excepted.
  3. I wish I didn’t have to put this one in, but….. here we go! Don’t act like I owe you something – I am not your bitch, I do not work for you, and we are not your personal career councelors. Mind your tone, friend.
  4.  

All in all, remember that the arts are a business too. If you wouldn’t send your resume to Apple and ask them to critique it, then please don’t consider sending it to a circus company. It’s still a weirdly small community, so keep it professional until you’re besties (and even then…..). Dare to imagine, Laura
 

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Just Take the Next Step

Posted by: on November 3, 2014
Killian - our latest Big Thing! Photo by Kenneth Feldman.

Killian – our latest Big Thing! Photo by Kenneth Feldman.

Are you trying to do a Big Thing? Create an act? A show? Start a program? It can be so daunting, especially if this is your first attempt at whatever Big Thing you’re trying to drag into the world. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a planner. Nothing unsettles me more than embarking on a journey without a map, 10 years worth of extra provisions, my GPS, my compass, my atlas, an umbrella AND a backup umbrella, you get the picture. Recently, I’ve learned a little something: sometimes, you don’t have to have the whole thing perfectly mapped out. Sometimes, you just have to take the next step.

Find the Next Step

Now, I’m not suggesting that you don’t plan. Far from it! Plan away. But, if you find yourself in unfamiliar territory (“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or how to do it!!!!”), let me suggest the following.

  1. Stop. Breathe. You are not the first person to be here, and you won’t be the last. You are not a fraud. Everyone has to figure stuff out for the first time. Whatever you do, don’t pretend to know what you don’t.
  2. Google it! Every time I’m stumped with a question, my first stop is my trusty friend, Google. No question is too stupid for the Googles…..trust me…..
  3. Take stock of your resources. Who do you know? What do you know? What do you have? Who owes you a favor? ;) See if there’s anyone who may be able to point you in the right direction.
  4. Stumped? Overwhelmed? Try to identify just the next step. Just one. Then one more. You don’t have to have a start to finish vision of exactly how it all works! It’s like a puzzle – add pieces as you get them.
  5. Do you know what needs to happen but OH MY GOSH IT’S WAY TOO MUCH AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE TO START???!!!!! Try a flow chart. It’s like splatting your brain down on paper.

 

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca

 

Be prepared. Do the work. BUT, keep your eyes open – the next step might be right in front of you – and not at all what you had imagined! Happy manifesting. Dare to imagine, Laura

 

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“How much for a contorting midget?” And Other Inquiries

Posted by: on September 16, 2014

I’d like to say we help dreams come true. Heck, our motto is “Dare to Imagine..” Bringing an exciting vision together is definitely part of what makes this job fun and 99 percent of the people we actually work with are really great clients.

Let’s face it though, circus attracts some serious crazy. And we get quite a few amazing emails and requests.  Sometimes, I think what I do in reality is stomp on dreams, smack people in the head with a hard dose of reality, and then either cry or laugh or both simultaneously. The acts we perform are definitely on the extreme ends of what is physically possible for humans to do. Therefore, some people think we can defy gravity, walk on water, or live on air.  For those curious about what it’s like to run circus events, and/or for those that also do events and just feel the need for a little comedic camaraderie, we made a list of the types of inquiries we get (which is honestly not far off from some actual inquiries we’ve gotten). Enjoy.

“I need three fire performers, two giants, and a midget that can contort. How much is that?”

“What can your performers do in saris?”

“How much for a show?” (No other details like city or date or what they might like provided)

“Our ceiling is 7 feet tall but we’d like a doubles aerial act.” (Rug burn..)

“What can I get for $150?” (A nice pair of shoes)

“The acrobats will perform in skin tight non-stretch skinny jeans and body paint.”(So you want to suspend fashion models)

“We’d like only females and need the acrobats to stay and serve the gentlemen guests.”

“We need acrobats for a custom routine on a giant Mercedes hood ornament in Singapore the day after tomorrow. Can you please send all the CV’s and pictures of every acrobat so we can approve them. Please send them by this afternoon.”

“We’d like aerial bartenders who can serve for three hours straight.” (We aren’t bats)

“We don’t have a ladder or anything, can you just stand on each other’s shoulders to rig?” (That’s another act)

“We’d like the acrobats to perch on the walls then jump onto the tables as people walk in to the space.” (I don’t know if Spidey is available)

“We’d like the performers to drop from the ceiling and land two feet above the audience’s heads.” (You go get the insurance to cover that)

“Here is a link of what we’d like.” (a link to Cirque du Soleil’s “O”)

“We’d like 15 acrobats for an event in San Diego. We have no money, but it’s great exposure for a great charity.”

“We’d like three acrobats for an hour and a half show.”

“Our theme is Marie Antoinette meets Ghost Busters meets Urban Grunge, can you send us pictures of your costumes in that style?”

“We’d like to attend every rehearsal leading up to the event, would that be okay?” (No)

“Slight change. It was going to be in my grandmother’s backyard w a freestanding rig but now it’s going to be at Madison Square Garden. I’m assuming I can just pencil that into the contract and initial it?”

“We’d like an acrobat to flip down the center of the dining table to start. Of course it will be before the appetizer is served.” (phew, you had me worried)

“Can she perform to ‘Wind Beneath my Wings’?”

“Can you fly the bar mitzvah boy in and have him land on the top of an acrobat pyramid?” (No)

“We’d like 24 acrobats for a six hour show that will really make people go ‘wow’.”(wow)

“Can the acrobat just jump off the trapeze to the floor at the end of their act?”

There you have it! Please feel free to leave any silly typical ones I may have left out or the craziest one you’ve gotten.

written by Angela Attia

Don’t Be a Jerk – Say Thank You!

Posted by: on July 29, 2014

 

Oh - the ways I humiliate myself for you people.

Oh – the ways I humiliate myself for you people.

The following is a PSA, sponsored by The League of Old Curmudgeon Circus Folks.

If I had a nickle dollar for every time we dispense advice, look over someone’s materials, inquire about availability, etc and never hear a thank you, I would…. well, let’s just say Dr Tummy Tuck and I would be overnight besties (simmer down – that was a joke, save your hate mail). Are you coming off as rude and not even knowing it? We’ve been there, and learned the hard way. Don’t be a jerk – say thank you!

 

When a Thank You is In Order

When in doubt, it never hurts! The following are examples of when a thank you is just plain good manners:

  • when someone has hooked you up (or even if they tried) with something or someone, be it a gig, a rigger, a space, etc.
  • when someone inquires as to your availability for a gig (“Yes! I’m available – thank you for thinking of me!” or “No, I’m sad to say I have another event that weekend. But thank you so much for thinking of me!”)
  • when someone answers a question, particularly if they took time out of a busy schedule to give you career advice, look over your materials, or address concerns.
  • After a gig, a thank you note makes you stand out! It’s gracious, and acknowledges that they didn’t have to book you. Email is fine, it doesn’t have to be messengered over on embossed, perfumed stationary!

 
Good manners are, well, good manners! The person who goes the extra mile really shines, and it makes us want to work with them again and again. We’ve definitely forgotten our manners on occasion, and trust me – people remember. So, when in doubt, give a little gratitude! It makes you look good, and makes others feel good – everyone wins. Dare to imagine, Laura
  

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Killian Rides Again!

Posted by: on July 15, 2014

This past week, we had the pleasure of taking “The Bizarre and Curious Quest of Killian Cog” out on the road again! We played to over 5000 (!!!!!) enthusiastic theater-goers at Lakeside Chautauqua and Springfield Arts Council’s Summer Arts Festival! Here are some of the amazing pics taken by photographer and web designer extraordinaire Kenneth Feldman from KPF Digital (if you need a website designed, HE’S YOUR GUY!). Just click on the thumbnail to view a larger image or start the slideshow. Enjoy!

Dress Rehearsal/Tech

 

Lakeside Chautauqua

 

Springfield Arts Festival

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Sparkly Banana Hammock??!!! When Show Costumes Do NOT Work for Your Act

Posted by: on June 24, 2014

futurechicken.jpegP1010267_editedIf you’ve done any sort of touring or joining up with shows (or hope to), you’re bound to encounter some costume dilemmas that make you nervous. Really nervous. What happens when someone wants you to wear something that won’t work for your act? Step awaaaaaaay from the sparkly banana hammock….

Storytime….

futurechicken.jpegAngela and I toured for many years with a sassy duo trap act which included a roll around the bar. Any duo who has incorporated this move into their act will, at some point, become incapacitated with laughter (and sometimes just incapacitated) when your leggings or unitards entwine around the bar, and you are stuck stuck stuck in the most indelicate of positions. Your only options are roll backwards (sometimes nearly impossible depending on how your costume has become wrapped), take your pants off, or have someone lower your point.

We were performing at the Casino Estoril , and the show was providing our costumes. We sent a list of our needs, and arrived to find costumes that needed some adjustments. The one we REALLY pushed for was the tightening up of the material in the midsection. They did this for us, and our run went off without a hitch. HOWEVER. We were replaced by a lovely lyra duo, who also had a roll around the bar. They were more petite, and consequently, our costumes were a bit looser on them. When they asked to have them adjusted, they were told (wait for it….), “The girls before you never had a problem.” So, they left it. Guess what? During the show one night, they became so tangled that the lyra had to be lowered, and they had to scoot offstage still attached. Want to keep this from happening to you? Read on.

From Your Employer’s Point of View

 

Medieval Angels

Medieval Angels

As a pretty DIY company, we make all our costumes in house. We have a vision for how we want a show or event to look, and how your act will fit into it. As aerialists, we also have an idea of what may be a no-go (you are not usually working with people who understand performers needs). Sometimes, making adjustments to a costume may require taking the entire thing apart, or re-designing from scratch. So, it’s in our best interests to only make changes that MUST be made, and put the onus on you the performer to make the rest work. We also may be going for a specific look – it may be a bit of a pain in the tush, but the result is worth it.

Fcostumeor example, this is the Angel Statue costume from our Killian Cog show (it’s not usually wet – it’s in the process of being dyed). It’s long and flowing, and was created for the duo Spanish web act. Let’s be clear: no performer looks at a long, flow-y costume goes “Oh goody! Tons of fabric to work around!” But, these beautiful performers made it work, and the visual impact in the show was stunning.

 

Negotiating Your Costume

First, determine your needs. If you have a single shin to shin, you need shins uncovered. Period. Roll around the bar? Tight costume mid-section. You many need head/neck free, nothing hanging off, the list goes on and on. Determine those needs, and fight for them if you have to. If you get a lot of push-back, explain to your employer WHY this is so important (they often have no idea why one might not want slippy fabric when you’re hanging by a toe….).

Is the costume just kind of a pain to work around? Do you have to make small adjustments to your act to accommodate it? This is where you have to suck it up and be the pro you are. If it’s a few weeks or a month, really try to make it work. If it’s a long tour, see if you can partner with the designer to come up with a compromise that suits the show, and doesn’t require too much sacrifice on your end.

Bottom line, safety is a non-negotiable. Also, as a performer, you want your act to look amazing (trust me – your client does too). Really try to work with designers and employers to find that happy medium between what the show requires and what you need to look spectacular. Dare to imagine, Laura
 

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Call the Waaaaaaaaaa-bulance! How Whining and Complaining Equals Less Work for You

Posted by: on June 10, 2014
Laughter keeps shows & rehearsals light!

Laughter keeps shows & rehearsals light!

Truth be told, this lesson is one I wish I had figured out earlier in my career. Much earlier.

Ask respectfully and clearly for what you need. DON’T whine, bitch, complain, kvetch, gripe, grouse, grumble, moan, bellyache, fuss, nag, or snivel.

We have needs as performers, and when show day gets hectic, sometimes it feels as if those needs may not get met. But here’s where you get to ask yourself: is this something I really NEED to perform safely and well? Or is this something that would be nice to have, but is not essential?

Needs

  • Try to handle this yourself. If necessary, bring it to the attention of the stage manager, or appropriate person. State your needs clearly and respectfully. Ex: “After they set lights, I just need 10 minutes to double check my rigging. Will that be a good time?”
  • Be patient. There is a LOT that goes into setting up a show, and you may have to wait a bit before getting what you need.
  • Remember that bad behavior almost always gets back to the folks in charge, resulting in less work for you. No bueno.
  • Examples of needs – time to check rigging, time to check lighting levels, time to do a quick jump onto your apparatus to check the “feel” in a new space, etc.

Wants

  • Wants are the “gravy” of show day – nice, but not essential. By all means request them, but don’t get your panties in a bunch if they don’t magically appear.
  • Examples of wants – time to run parts of your act (beyond what you need for safety), time to work with the music, ample warm-up space (sometimes, you’ve just got to use the hallway), etc.

 

I have definitely done my share of kvetching (and still do), but I assure you – it doesn’t endear me to anyone. It doesn’t endear you to anyone either. If you whine, complain, or (worse) pitch a hissy fit when you don’t get what you want on show day, folks will hear about it. You will be labeled drama whether you actually are or not. And – true story – drama doesn’t get hired (unless you’re Lady Gaga). Let’s work on this together! Have you struggled with complaining? Any tips for keeping it to a minimum? Share it in the comments below! Dare to imagine, Laura

 

  

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“I Have Ebola and My Arms Fell Off!” How to Back Out of a Show

Posted by: on June 3, 2014

Hey friends! Long time no chat. We’re getting Killian all spiffed up and ready to head back out to Ohio in July – whew! But, we figured that a little quality time was long overdue.

No one wants to back out of a show (particularly a paid one!), but sometimes stuff comes up! The way you handle this is what separates the pros from the noes.

 

Something Better Came Along

I’ve been there, you’ve been there. You say, “Sure I’ll perform at your All Nude Showcase Cirque-Stravaganza!” Then, you book paying work. Or, you commit to a gig, and book a tour. It happens! And, when it does, you have your work cut out for you.

  • We understand! This is a very real part of our business. Call (DON’T EMAIL) the person or company who hired you ASAP and explain the situation.
  • Be prepared to replace yourself. One of our very favorite acts once accidentally double booked himself (yep – that was fun). He immediately offered a list of potential replacements, checked their availability, and offered to personally cover any extra costs associated with transportation or differences in artist fees. That made our lives much easier, and saved the professional relationship.
  •  You may have to suck it up and stick with the original contract if you have a very unique act, or if there simply isn’t time to bring in a replacement. Contracts are legally binding, so don’t even think about being a no-show unless you want to end up getting the pants sued off you (also? It’s a small business – shenanigans like that get around). It’s also a matter of integrity – you want to be known as someone who honors their commitments.
  • Paying work always trumps free showcases – don’t feel too bad. Give as much notice as you can so as not to screw people over, and don’t make a habit of it. If you book a ton of work last minute, don’t sign up for showcases!

You’re Genuinely Sick or Injured

This is a reality in our business. We watched half the cast get felled with infectious diarrhea once in Venezuela – it was a party. If you are too sick to perform, or an injury happens that you cannot work around, try this.

  • Try to make the person who hired you’s life easier (replace yourself, give as much notice as you can, etc).
  • Be honest with yourself about your limitations. If you have any questions about whether you’ll be able to perform (you’re pregnant, you’ll be recovering from surgery, you badly sprained your wrist, etc), you owe it to yourself and to your client to alert them to the situation to avoid last-minute drama. They may take a wait and see approach, or they may need to replace you. Either way, they’ll be glad you fessed up.
  • It’s pretty obvious when someone is truly too sick to go on. Some things come on very quickly, and there’s truly nothing you can do about it. If you won’t spread ebola to 20 people, and it’s possible for you to safely get there, it’s worth showing up so the client can see you making an effort. If you truly cannot leave your sick bed, you’re going to have some repair work to do when you get better. We saw this handled nicely once: an artist we were working along side of was felled with the flu the morning of an event – sick sick sick. When he was better, he called the company, apologized again, and offered to do a free event to make up for the drama. It was a nice gesture, and much appreciated by the company. They still work together to this day! However you handle it, definitely follow up and do whatever you can to make it right.

You Have a Personal Emergency

  • Make sure you are being scrupulously truthful here! Honesty is always the best policy. People can be perceptive, and you do NOT want to be caught in a fib. Also, people are more understanding than you think – we’ve all been there!
  • Above rules apply. Do everything you can to take good care of the professional relationship!

 

Best Video on Backing Out Ever

Applies mostly to non-paying commitments, but I found this super helpful. I hope you do too!!!!!  Have you ever had to back out of a gig? How did you handle it? Tell us in the comments below! Dare to imagine, Laura

 

 

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Aerial Wheel

Posted by: on April 25, 2014
Aerial Wheel

Aerial Wheel

What is Aerial Wheel?

This act consists of three artists performing stunning aerial acrobatics on a single-point metal “wheel”. This is a perfect act for performances “in the round” (audience on all sides).

 

What Does Aerial Wheel Look Like?

What Does this Act Need to Perform?

Don’t worry – we have rigging options to suit nearly every venue! This act requires a single rigging point (exposed beam, sky hook, truss, theatrical grid, etc.), and a ceiling height of at least 16 feet. Free-standing rigs are also available. Email us atus@imaginaerial.com or call us at 212-252-3131 – we’re happy to answer your questions!

FAQS

  •  This act is 6-8 minutes long.
  • This act does not swing, but it does spin.
  • This act is perfect for performances with audience on all sides.
  • This act requires at least 16 feet to be safely performed in its entirety.
  • This act is appropriate for all audiences.
  • There are multiple costumes and music choices for this act.
  • Floor must be completely clear (no tables,  chairs, sets, etc.) Performer must be at least 3 feet from the edge of a stage or platform.
  • Performers may not perform directly over audience members. All necessary precautions must be taken to prevent audience from walking underneath the aerialist.
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