Pro vs Hobbyist: Aerial Smackdown, Part 2

Posted by: on June 3, 2015

should i donate

Not sure what this is about? Click here to read Part 1! 

Unions, Guilds, and Industry Standards

Do you believe people should be paid fairly for work? Do you regularly champion raising the minimum wage? What about when it comes to artistic work? (did you catch a little voice in your head saying, “but that’s not really work”? See “The American Attitude Towards the Arts” section in the next post).

Circus professionals are engaged in a constant battle to educate up-and-coming artists, clients, producers, etc about appropriate working conditions, safety standards, fair wages, and the general realities of what we do (as well as trying to convince people that it is, in fact, work). We do not currently have a union, though we seem to be headed in that direction. Consequently, it’s up to us to police our own community before a) some insane regulatory body does it for us (read: everyone’s performing in helmets) or b) the bottom falls out of the industry, and no one makes a living. Some will call it “shaming” – OK. I call it educating – protecting my industry – and I encourage every professional who cares about what they do to speak out whenever you see everything that you’ve worked for being thoughtlessly undermined.

When non-professionals accept work at a professional level, and do so without pay, they reinforce the idea that art/entertainment is not “real” work, or at least not valuable work. A) I assure you, it is real work (I do more pencil pushing than I had ever dreamed possible) and B) there’s a reason people who do choose to work free or cheap don’t do so for long: events and shows are really, really involved. It’s not usually a matter of just popping into a venue, quick rig, quick show, take it down, post to Insta-gram. For a better idea of why we charge real money for real work, CLICK HERE.

Performers Only Want to Make Money

Yes – we DO want to make money. Just like you do when you go to your job. We would very much like to be fairly and adequately compensated for our work. Because when the glamour and glitter wears off (and it does – surprisingly quickly), it IS work. Work. Not play, work.

Professionals Should Just Be Better – Up Your Game!

I will only accept this argument from card-carrying free market capitalists (that’s probably not you).

For the rest of you, once upon a time, this was how the industry worked. You started your training young, apprenticed through your middle years, put in your time, and maybe – just maybe – made a career out of it. You had to know somebody who would vouch for you to move up in the ranks. What’s changed? The inter-webs. The internet has leveled (some would say destroyed) the playing field, since anyone can hang out their shingle and call themselves whatever they want. But where does that leave the consumer?

… Bewildered. Let’s be very clear: the consumer is not informed. They have very little basis for comparison, and have no idea what questions to ask, what to look for, how to tell a good aerialist from a green aerialist. When the consumer has no idea what “good” really looks like, and is unaware of meaningful standards, how can they possibly make an informed decision? They can’t.

Take a poorly informed consumer who is TOTALLY WOWED by an inversion mid-air, and combine it with !!!FREE!!!, and you can see why this is such a losing battle. Professionals can be as great as they want to be, but it’s hard to compete with free or dirt cheap when the consumer doesn’t understand what they are (or should be) paying for. It’s why Walmart still exists.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this marathon post! Whew! Dare to imagine, Laura

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Pro vs Hobbyist: Aerial Smackdown, Part 1

Posted by: on June 2, 2015

should i donateTruth? I’m writing this, and then fleeing the country for German wheel world championships in Italy. See ya, suckas!

Actually, I started writing this all as one post, but it got tooooooooo looooooooooong. So, I’m carving it into 4 easily digestible parts! Stay tuned for 2-4.

What is the difference between a professional and a hobbyist? Recently, I posted this meme on the F-books (click it to make it bigger). Most responses were positive, but a couple brought up some commonly held (if not voiced) opinions:

  • the only difference between a pro & a hobbyist is that the professional accepts/demands payment
  • I shouldn’t have to turn down a performance just because someone else wants to make money at it
  • performers should focus on being better, thus edging out amateurs
  • me performing at events (charity and otherwise) for free does not “take away” a gig from a professional

Hear that sound? It’s the sound of a hundred professionals grinding their molars in frustration. Why? Because these questions so boldly illustrate the misunderstanding and lack of awareness surrounding our business, it’s enough to make a gal want to hang up her sequins for good.

This is a HUGE topic, so I’ve included several links to additional posts so as not to reinvent the wheel.

Is There Really a Difference Between a Professional & a Non-Professional?

Yes. Yes there is. First, I would like to direct you to this awesome blog post by Allison Williams, which is aimed at individuals interested in pursuing a professional career, who may or may not be ready to call themselves pros yet. This post details many aspects of the work that laypersons don’t consider.

Second, let me tell you The Tale of The Ceiling Fan in My Bedroom. A few years ago, the Mister and I decided to install a ceiling fan in our bedroom to combat the misery of NYC summers. We went to Home Depot, picked out the perfect fan, dragged it home and … wondered how the hell to install it. We considered calling in a professional electrician/handyman, but wait! The guy down the hall said he could – and would – install it for us! It would be a breeze!! WIN! He brought over all his tools, and hammered and sawed around in the bedroom for a while. Three hours later, he came out and proclaimed it done! “The plaster is a little bumpy, but I’ll be back in a few days with some more plaster to smooth it out.” Long story short, the plaster was A LOT BUMPY, looked awful, there’s a small hole in my ceiling, and he never did come back. We also can’t put the fan on the highest speed or I’m pretty sure it will just fly off the ceiling. Sigh – should have hired someone. See where I’m going with this?

Being a professional is more than just being good at something; it reflects a level of dedication, experience, and investment (emotionally, financially, physically), that the layperson simply does not have. It involves expertise – something Americans seem to pooh-pooh in our age of WebMD, Pinterest, and YouTube. Thing is, expertise is a real thing, and my expertise trumps your hobby. Every time.

Let’s have a look at a few of the myriad ways pros and hobbyists differ. In addition to Allison’s substantial list, hobbyists are:

  • unlikely to have invested sufficiently in equipment, costumes, rigging, rigging training, and insurance
  • more likely to leave questionable safety practices or situations unchallenged, often simply because they are unaware that there’s a problem
  • unlikely to have a well-informed understanding of the nuances of event work, and are thus less able to anticipate common missteps or snags
  • often invested heavily in their own experience, and less interested in maintaining professional standards and working conditions

On the artistic side, there’s this.

What is a Professional Gig?

For the purposes of this particular discussion, it’s any event for which the client wishes to hire a professional. Does the person who is asking you to perform know that you’re not a professional? You may not think they’ll care, but trust me – even when they’re asking you to “donate” your talent, they care. In fact, people tend to get reeeeeeeeally uncomfortable when they find that the person they want to have rigging and dangling from the venue’s (very expensive) ceiling isn’t a pro.

Prior to any sort of agreement, if you do not clearly convey to the client that you do not do this for a living, you are misleading them; as in, “I do want to make sure, before we move forward, that you understand that I am not a professional aerialist. I (insert qualifications here), but I do not make my living doing this.” Does saying that make you uncomfortable? You should ask yourself why.

Click here for Part 2! Dare to imagine, Laura

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Dyeing Aerial Fabric – the Fabulous T Lawrence-Simon Guest Blogs!

Posted by: on May 26, 2015

T Lawrence-SimoneIf you don’t know T Lawrence-Simon, I’m very sad for you. In addition to his aerial and coaching awesomeness, he is a GENIUS with a sewing machine. Here is a recent post he put up on the F-books, which he has generously agreed to allow me to use as a guest blog. Thank you, T!!!!

“How Do You Dye Aerial Fabrics?”

T: I get asked this a lot. When dyeing aerial fabrics, start with “What is my fabric made of?”…most likely nylon or polyester (I am not familiar with other fabrics if used, but keep reading anyway). There are many types of dye out there because different fibers need different processes and chemicals to accept pigment into/onto the fiber. This is where your average neighborhood grocery/pharmacy store screws you over…if they carry any dye at all, they’ll have RIT dye.

RIT dye is the Voldemort of dyes. The dye that must not be used…

Here’s why.
RIT Dye is what is known as a union dye. It is meant to “dye” any fabric you throw it on. The way this works is that the dye product contains a little bit of as many types of dye as they can. If you throw cotton in, the cellulose fiber dye will kick in and do the trick, if you throw silk in, the protein fiber dye will kick in…etc. Raise your hand if you’ve thrown an entire bottle of RIT in the washing machine with an aerial fabric, and out comes a fabric WAY more subdued in color than the bottle seemed to advertise. This is because, while the amount of liquid in the dye bottle seems to be nice and opaque and saturated in color, you’re only gonna get a reaction from SOME of that, but the amount of water stays the same…dilution=less saturated color=sad aerial fabric.
Let’s put it this way, I have a dance company, I have 100 people in this dance company. In my company, 25 of them are trained in tap, 25 others are trained in hip hop, 25 others are trained in ballroom, and 25 others are trained in ballet. This event hires my company to perform because they see my website with 100 people and they’re like “wow, that many dancers will really spice up my event”…they ask us to present a tap number…sadly only 25 dancers show up to perform at the event… womp womp.
That, my friends, is RIT dye.

  • If you are trying to dye cotton spandex for a costume, cotton is a cellulose fiber, use cellulose dye (hint, you can’t really DYE spandex itself, so just focus on the blend fibers).
  • If you are trying to dye nylon spandex fabric for a costume, or nylon fabric for aerial silks, you’ll want a “protein dye”/acid dye (nylon reacts in the same category as silk and animal fibers).
  • If you are trying to dye a polyester aerial fabric, (tricky but doable) you must use a special dye JUST for polyester (it really is a b*tch).

Also, note, each of these dye processes needs other things to work, so make sure you bone up on the process (or hire a fiber artist with experience if you want a top notch job – ya know, so you can call it hand dyed because it is pretty and not as a euphemism for patchy). Also, some of these dye processes involve not-so-healthy chemicals, so don’t dye in enclosed spaces if possible, or at least open doors/windows, fans…etc, also keep the wee ones away, babies don’t need that in their lives.
Over and out.
T
www.FlyingStitchLabs.com

If you haven’t visited T’s website, get on over there! And if you haven’t taken a class or workshop with him, keep your eyes peeled for the next time he’s in your town – he is utterly fabulous in every way. Dare to imagine, Laura

As always, if you like this post, share it on your blog, the F-books, Twitter, and wherever else you crazy kids are sharing things these days.

 

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What Every Performer Should Know About Ambient Work

Posted by: on May 20, 2015
Nico

Nico Maffey is always phenomenal!

Some call it atmospheric, some call it walk-around, some call it ambient. Whatever you call it, if you’re a circus performer, you’re going to be asked to do it – a lot! Clients are often conditioned to think more is better (“15 minutes versus 6? Give me the 15!!!!”), and some events just don’t support a surprise lyra act. So, what should you keep in mind when booking and performing atmospheric work? A lot, it turns out.

What We Wish You Knew

  1. It’s ambient, not main stage. Think slower movements, atmosphere, blending seamlessly into the theme of a room. When four artists are doing ambient and one is hurling herself around as if there was a Cirque du Soleil talent scout in the room, the dynamic gets disrupted and things look… weird. Slow your roll, Sparkle Panties. Be awesome, but blend blend blend. There’s a time to bust a move, this isn’t it.
  2. Respect traditional set times. Every event has it’s own flow, so I’m speaking generally and not as a hard and fast rule. BUT. Traditional lengths for ambient sets run from 10 minutes (strength-intensive acts like hand balancing) to 20 minutes (less-intense like hammock), with an equal amount of rest in between each set. Each artist usually completes 4-6 sets depending on the time frame. You also need to factor in whether you will be confined to one area such as a stage, or whether you’ll be walking around the event space. It makes me insane when I’m contacted by a client, and someone has promised that one artist will do 45 straight minutes of silks; this tells me they’re dealing with a company who a) has an over-eager aerialist who likely has never completed 45 minutes of straight silks and has no idea what she’s promising and b) a company who hasn’t done their homework on industry standards. No bueno.
  3. You’re always on stage. Always. When you are doing a set, I do not want to see you stretching, warming up, picking a wedgie, chatting, etc. You are always doing one of three things: a fabulous move, locomoting from place to place, or “noodling” (non-intense transitional movement). If you wouldn’t do it on a stage in front of the President, the Queen, and Simon Cowel, don’t do it in an ambient set.
  4. Have your ambient sets “choreographed”. Well, not exactly, but kind of. You want to have at least five sequences appropriate for ambient work in your back pocket to avoid too much noodling. For example, when Chris and I do partner acro, we have four sequences of about 8 moves that flow nicely, and allow for natural breaks. It’s amazing how all your creativity deserts you by set number 3…. plan ahead.
  5. Work on your personality. Ambient work, aerial bartending in particular, often requires interaction with the guests (welcoming them, BS, patter, etc). Are you a wallflower? Nervous talking to people you don’t know? TOO BAD. Make sure you know what “personality” your host wants for this event. Mysterious and silent? Welcoming and fabulous? Ask if you’re not sure.

 

When polled, most artists will tell you they’d much rather do an act than an evening of ambient. Why? Ambient work is challenging – physically, mentally (it can be mind-numbingly boring), and the glamour wears off quickly.

What do you wish artists knew about ambient work? Write it in the comments below! Dare to imagine, Laura

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ImaginAerial Serves Some (Upside Down) WOW at the University of Pennsylvania!

Posted by: on May 13, 2015

ImaginAerial had the pleasure of providing the cirque-style wow factor at the University of Pennsylvania last week – check out some of the early pics! Champagne aerialists, hand-balancing magic, and one helluva silk act. BOOM!

 

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ImaginAerial Had the Best Tasting Gig Ever!

Posted by: on April 15, 2015

Kate editImaginAerial just did the best tasting gig ever! Food and Wine named the best new chefs of 2015 at Edison Ballroom, the beautifully restored art deco event space in midtown Manhattan. We presented a tightly choreographed group synchronized silk number with some serious acrobatics and jaw-dropping splits for Stella Artois.

Afterward, we got to try some luscious food by such chefs as Stephanie Izard of the Girl and the Goat and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. I may or may not have personally devoured two bacon wrapped hot dogs smothered in Gruyere cheese, black truffle mayonnaise and celery relish. And truth be told, I don’t even like hot dogs, but these were no pigs in a blanket!

It was fantastic on every front. We got to speak with some of the proprietors and I’m happy to say we impressed the chefs as much as they impressed us. Thanks to Brenna, Lani, and Kate for all their hard work! Dare to imagine, Angela

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Excuse Me…. Your Feet are Filthy.

Posted by: on February 25, 2015

“Black socks, they never get dirty,

The longer you wear them the blacker they get!

Someday, I’ll probably launder them,

Something keeps telling me don’t do it yet…not yet… not yet….not yet….not yet!

Admit it – you miss summer camp sometimes! Anyhoo, this week, the incomparable Ray Pierce gave the internet a GREAT reminder:


If you’re an acrobat or aerialist on stage, your feet need to be clean!!!!!!


Shoes can even extend the lines of the feet! Performer: Nico Maffey

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you: I have absolutely looked down in horror mid act and realized that I was on stage in front of thousands of people with dirty feet. They were clean when I walked out on stage (I swear!), but after the walk between the wings and my trapeze, it looked like I had walked through Mount Vesuvius. *face palm*

Keeping Your Feet Clean in Circus – A Primer

  • Keep a packet of baby wipes in the wings. If you need to go out barefoot, give them a quick wipe-down before you head out.
  • If the stage is filthy (and in some cases, particularly abroad, it may be), ask if the stage can be mopped down prior to the show (be willing to do it yourself if you have to). Not possible? Wear your shoes to and from your apparatus, get carried out gracefully by a beef-cakey hand balancer, etc. Whatever you’ve got to do!
  • When performing in a sawdust ring, have an easy-to-slip-on/off pair of shoes that you can wear on stage, slip off to do your act, and jump back in at the end (** make sure you don’t need your hands to do this!!!!). I have a little black pair of crocs – NOT the clog kind – that work nicely for this.
  • Consider performing in shoes! If it’s just not practical for your act, fuggitaboudit. But many performers wear tan jazz or dance shoes while they work.
  • Make sure your pedicure is intact! Many companies prefer no polish at all for just this reason.

Thanks, Ray, for a great reminder! May your feet be fresh (and clean) as daisies! Dare to imagine, Laura

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I Just Can’t Take You Seriously With That Email Address

Posted by: on February 17, 2015
New Years Eve, Times Square. Photo by Kenneth Feldman

New Years Eve, Times Square. Photo by Kenneth Feldman

Brrrrr – greetings from the frozen tundra that is now NYC! We’ve recently received a virtual flood of inquiries and submissions (thank you!). In all the sorting, watching videos, filing photos, etc, one thing really stood out: a few choice email addresses that left us wondering if we were receiving casting info or erectile dysfunction spam.

I Just Can’t Take You Seriously With That Email Address

If your email address is cutesy (twinkletoes27@hotmail.com, fuzzyteddybear@gmail.com, kittiesandcuddles@aol.com, etc), I assume you’re twelve years old and your parents will have to come with us on tour.

If your email address is sexy (noViagraNeeded@hotmail.com, luckysexylady@gmail.com, hotlips69@aol.com, etc), you’re probably not making it past my spam filter. I also wonder what you think you’re applying for.

If your email address is… quirky (bubblewrap@hotmail.com, compostingadvocate@gmail.com, Idontknowyou@aol.com, etc), I assume you either are new to the business, or that circus is very much a side job/hobby for you.

 

Your Professional Email Address

With a free email address one google click away, and easy mail forwarding available, there’s just no excuse for an email address that leaves your professionalism in doubt. First impressions count for a lot!

  • Your email address should be relatively easy to remember (when I’m casting for a gig, I don’t want to have to stop what I’m doing and dig through materials to find it). A combination of your first and last name works well, or an initial/last name combo.
  • Yes, there’s room for creativity – just make sure what you choose reflects your professional interests.
  • Our FAVORITE emails are yourname@blahblahblah.com, because this tells us that you have your own website! That’s another post, but you DO have your own website, right? We’ll tawk.

 

So, what are you waiting for? If you know I’m talking to you, go right now and get yourself a smart, professional email address that won’t push you to the bottom of the casting agent’s list. Give yourself every opportunity for success – remember, it’s a business! Dare to imagine, Laura

 

 

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The Day I (Literally) Pulled Out My Partner’s Hair

Posted by: on February 3, 2015
Lincoln Center NYC with Olympia Dukakis

Lincoln Center NYC with Olympia Dukakis

Many moons ago, Angela and I were performing our duo silks act at Lincoln Center. Everything was zooming along in the usual way – rigging, rehearsal, makeup, warm-up, pacing, etc. When it was nearing performance time, we had our ritual pre-show argument, rosined up, and stepped into the spotlight.

If you’ve ever worked doubles on fabrics, what I’m going to say next will really resonate with you: everywhere – everywhere – you want to be, your partner already is. When we put our original choreography together, 50% of our time was spent figuring out the moves, and the other 50% was spent contorting ourselves so as to avoid a shoulder to the nose or a crotch to the face (officially the worst).

There’s one spot in our routine where we’re both kneeling together; I grab the fabrics, she stands up, and I follow….. but something was odd. In addition to the fabric, I found myself holding a handful of her hair, and, before I could adjust my grip, she stood up. And her hair (her real hair) remained in my hand……The show must go on, and she wasn’t swearing at me, so I continued – stood up, swiveled around the silk, and extended my arm to pose before the next transition. A lone shaft of light shone down upon my upturned palm, still bearing bits of Angela’s ponytail. I turned my palm towards the floor, hoping to dislodge the hairball, but to no avail – the rosin mixed with the sweat on my hand held it fast – a huge puff of curly red strands was practically velcroed to my fingers. So, I did the only thing I could think of: I quickly shook my hand, and watched (along with the entire audience) as the tangle of tresses floated down, down, down, and landed with a sigh on the stage. For the remainder of the piece, the little tumbleweed could be seen drifting back and forth along the floor, sometimes attaching itself to the end of the silks (it was an aerial hairball, after all), or dancing with the dust motes in the stage lights.

“Maybe no one noticed!”, I thought. Oh – they noticed. We had no fewer than 20 people come up to us afterwards and say, “That was amazing! But, did I see you pull our her HAIR?!” Le sigh.

How did Angela fare, you ask? Oh please – she was fine. The base of her skull was a bit sore the next day, but that girl had hair to spare. She got me back, but that’s a story for another time.

Do YOU have any hilarious doubles stories? Share them in the comments below!!! Dare to imagine, Laura

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Killian Cog Goes to the International Performing Arts for Youth Conference!

Posted by: on January 27, 2015

T20150120_133401_Anne_Vignette_Corneredhis weekend (pre-snowpocalypse), Killian Cog’s Laura Witwer and Chris Delgado jumped into the whirlwind that is the IPAY Conference – a gathering of the top touring artists and shows for young audiences. We were in such incredible company! Artists and ensembles gathered from Australia, Scandanavia, Canada, the USA, and more to share and promote their work, network, and chat about the biz. We made some great connections, and are excited about the beginnings of a US tour! I would be lying if I told you we weren’t THRILLED about the snow days that followed – that conference schedule was no joke. Killian Tour or BUST!!!! Dare to imagine, Laura

 
 

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