A looooooooong time ago, in the days of VHS and pay phones, Angela Attia and I froze our patooties off in an unheated nightclub in Queens aaaaall winter long to produce… this.
Get that look off your face – this was how it was done back then! In any case, you’ll notice something about this video (aside from its early-2000’s panache): there aren’t a lot of long sequences. Know why that is? Because we wanted to protect our work. At the time, it was quite unique in NYC, to the point where a well-known aerial dance company showed this promo to their company and told them to “try to replicate it”.
They never did, but it didn’t stop people from trying! We were once at a performance of local talent, and a duo popped themselves up on aerial silks. 30 seconds later, half the circus community in the room was looking at Angela and I, and mouthing, “They stole your stuff!”! And sure enough – they’d tried (and failed, but that’s another post).
The moral of this story? If you have work that you would like to protect, for the love of all that’s holy – don’t put it on social media and act surprised when 50,000 aerialists are using it the next day! Putting something online now has almost become code for “yeah, you can totally have this!”.
So excited you can’t stay quiet? You’ve got options! Created a new drop? Don’t show the wrap. Working on a sequence you’re really loving? Put up only what you’re comfortable seeing all over Instagram the next day.
Over the years, people have tried to copy our look, our choreography, even our name. They’ve lifted show ideas, costume designs, you name it. We’ve moved on to other projects, but there will always be folks looking to piggyback off your work. You don’t have to defend holding on to your work for a while! Patents and copyrights exist for a reason. If you’re thinking, “Well, nobody creates anything new anymore!”, that’s probably because YOU haven’t. I don’t buy the “there’s nothing new under the sun” argument because it’s simply not true, as evidenced by the growing body of aerial work, and the artistic evolution in our field. That said, if you don’t want to share, don’t “share”. Dare to imagine, Laura
ImaginAerial had a FABULOUS week, which included a fun and rewarding event at The Hall of Springs (one of our very favorite venues)! We partnered with Fine Affairs to create a vibrant circus theme, and a grand time was had by all. Check it out!
Brace yourselves – I’m about to stir the pot. Maybe. But, hear me out, people!
Here in NYC, we’ve had the problem established circus folks seem to be having everywhere – trying to make sure newbies (and hell, sometimes oldies) maintain professional standards of pricing in the biz. This is a good thing! Undercutting career wages within our communities leads to a sad and untimely swan song for our industry. BUT (you totally sensed the “but” coming, didn’t you?), some of you may be taking pricing parameters a little TOO rigidly. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself!
Ms Allison Williams wrote up this piece, and it’s chock full of conversations worth having, and thoughts worth thinking about.
Show Me Less Money, by Allison Williams
Now that I’m retired from performing and booking gigs for other artists, I’m experiencing an interesting dichotomy.
Performers send me their video, their resume, their pleasant introductory email. They nudge every so often to see if any work is available. And when I have a corporate event, it’s very easy to book them.
But when I have a gig in a college venue, or at an outdoor festival, or a small-town Fourth of July, they’re unaffordable.
Yes, we want to be paid fairly and keep the price up for everyone. It’s only been in the last two or three years that professional aerialists looked around and realized, “If I want newcomers to raise their prices, I have to tell them what the price is.” Artists got a lot less secretive. We still don’t have to say “I made $1200 for Company X,” but it’s useful when we read on Facebook, “Hey, if you’re in Atlanta doing nightclubs, the going rate right now is in this range.”
It’s good to communicate, and it’s good to get paid as much as you can.
Not every gig has a zillion dollars.
Corporate pays big bucks. Plus hotel. Plus travel. Plus food. Sometimes plus per diem.
Most colleges, on the other hand, have $1700-3500 for a show—not per performer, the whole show—plus hotel. You handle your own travel inside that fee. You might do two 45-minute shows in one evening, or three acts in one show.
County fairs are in a similar price bracket, per day, for up to four shows. For a longer run, the day-rate may be lower, but worth it to work ten days in a row and travel once. Outdoor festivals tend to be at the bottom of this range or even below it, but you can often pass the hat on top of your fee.
Colleges, county fairs and outdoor festivals have different expectations. The performers need to engage with the audience, maybe even be funny. Booking these gigs, you must be willing to set expectations kindly—and determine your make-or-break needs. Maybe you’ll be dressing in a meeting room or a locker room or an empty storefront. Maybe you bring your own sound system. Maybe ask for a buyout instead of a meal because the only onsite food is deep-fried and on a stick.
Lower-dollar gigs aren’t any less work. Corporate is time-consuming, but it’s usually pretty easy—show up, do some rehearsal, reassure the client it’s all going to go well, do a five-minute act and then eat whimsical hors d’oeuvres until the party’s over and you can take your rigging down. It’s a long day, it demands high skill (can’t paper over a sloppy move with a joke) and you’re usually worth what you charge—in fact, you won’t get much respect if you’re the cheapest item on the budget. College, fair and festival gigs range from ‘do everything yourself including crowd control,’ to ‘five student lackeys filling your every need.’ I’ve dressed in a room that previously held sheep. Not very much previously. Working outdoors often means rain, heat, or wind. I’ve worked on straw, dirt and snow.
Why do these gigs?
Because we aren’t all fully employed all the time. Because taking home $400-800 each for a day’s work and a half-day’s travel is still more money than a lot of people make in a week.
Because you usually have substantial artistic control over what you present, how you’re dressed, and the tone of the show. It’s a nice change from “we need five girls dressed as bees and please make sure they’re all Barbie bodies. Oh, and our CEO loves Yanni, so use that for your music.”
Because a lot of college shows are on a weeknight, and you can get UnREAL on Hulu when you get back from the gig.
Because at lower-stakes gigs, you can break in new performers in front of a forgiving audience. A student with a solid routine but little experience can learn how to behave at a gig without risking your company’s reputation. If you do three shows in a day, you can give her notes and watch her improve each time.
Because doing your show for different audiences makes you better at doing your show. It keeps you fit and your brain ready to go. It’s more fun than doing your act in the gym. It lets you know what audiences like, which we all know is not the same as what impresses other aerialists.
Because it feels good to work all the time, to say when people ask, “Yes, this is my full-time job. No, I don’t do anything else.”
Because at colleges you get to make stressed kids laugh and at county fairs you get to admire quilts and pet the sheep and bring what you do to a less-jaded crowd, the people who still “only ever saw that on TV,” and part of being an artist is bringing your work to people who need art in their lives, regardless of their ability to pay.
So think about your price. Think about your fair price for seated filet mignon and open bar and professional light and sound at the Marriott. Think about your fair price for 30 college students on a Tuesday night in Utica.
Think about how much you want to work.
Allison Williams is the former Artistic Director of Aerial Angels, and now a full-time writer and journalist working in a variety of price ranges. www.idowords.net
It’s me again!
THANK YOU, Allison!
At the end of the day, it comes down to a few things IMHO –
- Do you WANT to perform at this event?
- Is this a slow time of the year or a Sun-Thurs? Are you likely to have to pass up high-paying work if you accept this gig?
- Is the pay reasonable, if it’s not good? Does it feel fair/adequate to you? How does it measure up to your losses or expenses if you take the gig?
- Will you be resentful if you take the job, and wind up part of the Bitter Business Bureau?
- Do you need to get some performing experience under your belt? Or understand more of what goes into putting up a show?
- Does the company doing the asking also do a lot of higher-paying events? Are they good people, and fun to work with, or will you want to hang yourself after spending the day with them?
Just because the number isn’t “corporate” doesn’t mean you’re undercutting if you take it. Look at the whole picture, weigh your options, and, if you take it, go into it with everything you’ve got.
Have something to add? Lemme hear ya! Comment below! Dare to imagine, Laura
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Summertime is prime event time, and ImaginAerial has been busy! Check out some of the photos from our recent events!
Awesome Photos by Dstath Photography (@dstathphotography)
Getting In Touch with Our Inner Biker at Hudson Valley Harley-Davidson!
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Opening Caveat! We are not riggers. While a professional qualified rigger was consulted for this blog, this blog is only meant to help you identify red flags and to know when to bring in the expert. Experts take years and lots of math to do what they do well. Please do not go around fixing anything based on what you see here. And really, ask questions, and take a rigging class. In other words, don’t try this at home. Okay, butts covered. Now we may begin.
I don’t know about you but when I started as an aerialist and I heard there was a truss to hang from on a gig, I would relax. To me, it meant I didn’t have to make some judgment call about a hook in the ballroom or figure out how to get around a beam that was covered by a false ceiling with some damn chandelier in the way. All I would have to do is tell the tech person the proper load ahead of time, ride that genie lift, whip out my span set, and boom, finito. Latte sipping til show time.
Needless to say, I’ve wised up. I now send a qualified rigger to check things out (especially if we are using multiple aerialists) when there is a truss involved. I’ve realized that all tech people don’t necessarily listen or know what they are doing, because, well, hanging flying humans is a different thing than hanging lights. Luckily, I listened to my gut, and was able to fix situations that looked wrong. I also have access to an amazing human and rigger, Bill Auld, who is happy to answer questions at odd hours and who is also partly responsible for some of this information. Anything incorrect is probably my error.
Here are some things to look for and to know whether or not you need blow the whistle and get a qualified second opinion, which is why you want to try as hard as possible to speak to the rigger who is setting up your truss if at all possible ahead of time.
Truss comes in a few different flavors – engineers may more accurately call them “configurations.” In big bold terms you want truss that is built to be used for how you are using it. What flavor is that? That is, you need truss that is engineered to be a beam – or lay on its side spanning a gap – that you can then hang from. That is truss that is square or rectangular in shape that has diagonal runs going all the way up the sides and every so often a diagonal ‘chord’ running on the inside. Truss that is marked “antenna truss” is right out. It is meant to be used to stand up on end like a big radio or TV antenna and not laid on its side like you are using it. Any truss that is triangular in nature, or worse ‘flat’ – that is it looks like a ladder (Often called ‘two-dimensional truss’) – should just be passed over and left to engineers.
1. If a chain motor is holding the truss, how many people are on it? What are they rated for? How many are being used? Not all chain motors are the same. Chain motors aren’t made to handle dynamic loads. Generally speaking the gears holding that thing in the air when it is stopped aren’t made for you to be bouncing on them. If it is being hung from a chain motor, is there a way to “dead hang” it once it is up in the air? That is, to haul it up and then tie it off or hang in on proper rigging steel cables so that the first line of defense against gravity is not those gear teeth that don’t like you jumping on them?
2. How is the truss assembled? Does anything look off? We showed up somewhere and found chain wrapped a few times (and unsecured) around the top section of truss then “reinforced” with 2 by 4’s!!! I’m not kidding. A more common mistake when untrained people assemble truss is that they don’t line up the diagonal webs of it. Check where two sections are attached together. Does that diagonal run along the side that makes the endless series of triangles continue unbroken? If so, great. If you are tracing it with your finger and see it go DOWN, UP, DOWN,… DOWN! UP right at the point where two sections are bolted together, then someone assembled the truss wrong. It is not as strong as it could be. Have them take it apart and flip a section so that pattern remains unbroken.
3. Can the truss handle the load the way it is set up? You just have to have common sense. Is there a 50 foot stick going across the room unsupported in the middle? (This just happened, for realz). If so, it won’t handle much in the middle. Find out who made it. Remember the people that make the truss are on your side! They want you to be safe as much as you do and so reputable manufacturer’s of truss often freely post what their stuff can handle – at least in big bold terms. Google is your friend.
4. Does the person who built the truss actually understand dynamic forces? Do they believe you when you say each aerialist can generate 1000 pounds of force? If they don’t or seem surprised by that fact, be nervous. Very nervous.
5. Even if you have sent your tech rider and told them what you need, find out if they actually read it or if the end person got that information. Many times it gets passed around, and never actually read.
6. Neatness counts! “I used to jump out of airplanes for a living and when I did there was a saying bantered about, “Tie your shoes properly or someone dies!” Now that seems like hyperbole if taken literally. What it was referring to was that there is a certain thorough tidiness to a good craftsman’s work. It reflects the idea that if someone takes the time and effort to manage the small things you can see quite easily, they are prone to doing that for all the big things they do as well. That comes from having the discipline to do the job right; something that is both rare and to be prized. Nowhere is this more relevant than with aerial work – either rigging or performing. So apply that to the truss you are about to trust. If you look up and see a truss that has been assembled carefully, the ropes and chains holding it have been coiled and dressed neatly, all the little details have been arranged systematically, and the space has been cleaned up lovingly, than breathe a little sigh of relief. “I cannot say the rigger who did that work knows what they are doing. I cannot even say everything will be fine. But I can say whoever did do that possesses a certain level of training and discipline on the small scale that will have significant effects on the fortitude and safety of your rig on the large scale. And in the end, that may make all the difference in the world.” – Bill Auld.
So there you have it from the horse’s mouth. Obviously, we have not covered all the possible outlandish scenarios here and may have forgotten an important point, so if you have a story of your own or something to add please share!
Dare to Imagine Safety!
On the road, you’re likely to be crammed into a van, tour bus, car, or RV with your new “family” – the (mostly) fantastic folks you get to spend the next few weeks or months getting to hate… er, know. Sanity Saver #1? Give folks their space, and carve out some privacy for yourself, before sh*t gets a little too real.
How Can We Possibly Maintain Any Sort of Privacy While Living and Performing on Top of One Another?
Weeeeeeell, I never said it was easy! You can always spot the newbies on tour – like friendly puppies, all bright smiles and eager faces (if they had tails, they’d wag them). It’s exciting! So many awesome people in one spot, so many cool places to see, AND you’re being paid to do what you love! So much winning!!!! And then, there are the touring vets. They’ve been there and done this. A lot. From day 1, you may notice that they are pleasant, but they don’t want to immediately be seat buddies and share their trail mix stash. Before you take it personally in any way, consider this:
You are going to be in close proximity to all these people for the duration of your tour. First impressions matter, and this is a professional job, not summer camp.
By all means be friendly, and certainly be yourself. That said, remember that those first twenty minutes can set the stage for everything that follows. Be on time, make sure you greet everyone, and keep everything professional for now (it will have plenty of time to get personal later – trust me).
The Honeymoon Period
The honeymoon period lasts for a few weeks, and then that cute thing Warren does with his nose ring is no longer cute – it’s kind of gross. Also? That girl with the screechy voice with no volume button who drinks too much Red Bull and cannot seem to speak below 85 decibels has got to go. Your roommate perpetually forgets to flush, and if you have to eat one more dinner of catered chicken piccata or tray of lukewarm pasta you’re going to go mad. With all the stresses of touring life, being considerate of others isn’t optional (unless Jerry Springer is what you’re going for). Some thoughts:
- Manners matter. Always flush, leave some towels for the other person, never raid their food stash, etc.
- Opposites? Negotiate! Everything is negotiable. For example, Angela and I are opposites when it comes to neatness (she would perhaps say anal-retentiveness) – I like things at right angles and travel with my clothes in coordinated ziplock bags; when she opens her suitcase, it explodes to the four corners of the room. Our solution? Halfsies! I was free to keep my half of the room as sterile as I wished, and she was free to explode on the other. Boom. Problem solved.
- Never speak before coffee. A lot of arguments could be avoided that way.
The Long Haul – Shut Up.
Nuns have a policy of “custody of the eyes” (also very useful on tour). It’s when you keep your eyes to yourself (be conscious of what you allow yourself to see), and can be extended to ears, certainly hands, and voice. People need varying amounts of alone/quiet time, and not getting it can make them certifiably insane (or at least cranky). I’ve seen this work in lots of ways!
- Shut up. No – really – shut up. If you’re a talker, this one can be a toughie! Allow for periods of silence or quiet time. Alone time is golden for introverts, so also consider going for a walk, stepping out for air or to talk on the phone, or taking a long shower.
- Be a respecter of headphones or reading – it means they probably are not interested in chatting right now.
- Not sure if your roomie/partner/cast mate needs space? Just ask!
- Don’t take it personally. Everyone is so very, very different in their need for alone/quiet time/space. It has nothing (well, probably nothing) to do with you! But it does get really awkward when you assume it does, or if you try to punish the other person for not wanting to go out, chat, etc.
- Allow for differences! On several tours we’ve been out on, the cast naturally found a great rhythm. It usually involved the folks who wanted to chat going to the green room, and the folks who wanted quiet staying in the dressing rooms.
The main take-away is to do your best to give others the space they need to do their jobs, keep their sanity, and maintain good relationships. Everything is negotiable, and manners matter! Now, go forth and bring circus to the masses! Dare to imagine, Laura
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As many of you know, our show “The Bizarre and Curious Quest of Killian Cog” underwent quite the metamorphosis this year! We had a phenomenal cast, amazing crew, and a great idea; but, when it came to actually writing the script, well, let’s just say we should have stuck with what we do best – circus! Over time, it became clear that we really needed some help telling our story. In a series of miraculous coincidences, we found the PERFECT person to help! Enter dramaturg (and all around amazing human being) Lauren Feldman.
Dramaturg: a literary editor who consults with authors and edits texts.
Not only is Lauren a stellar dramaturg and playwright, but she’s also an accomplished circus artist herself! This made things SO much easier, as we didn’t have to bring her into our world, explain what an aerial silk is, etc – we just got down to the business of creating theatrical circus. So many of you have asked what this process was like for us, so I figured I’d write up a little bloggie and share!
Stage One – What the Hell are We Doing?
We first met with Lauren in New York City, where we promptly gave her every script, idea, and wild tangent we’ve ever considered. You know how some folks go into their accountant’s office once a year at tax time and dump a huge bag of receipts on their desk? Yeah – that’s about what what we did. When we’d finished, she sat for a moment, and I thought, “this is it. This is where she says it’s just not going to work out”. But instead, she took a deep breath, and began asking questions. Slowly, over the next hour, an unlikely sense of order and possibility took shape. We still weren’t sure anyone could make sense of that tangled mess, but we knew this for certain: if anyone could, it was Lauren.
Stage Two – Where the Hell are We Going?
Over the next couple of months, we had a number of phone meetings. Each time, I would feel so anxious at the start of the call. Too many ideas in my head! Too many technical considerations! Too much to
make and do and fix! But – and this was the most incredible thing about working with Lauren – within minutes, the questions started again, and that tangle of ideas and technical stuff and worry began to be teased apart into something that looked like (gasp!) a story! Every time we hung up the phone, our team was positively euphoric at the direction everything was headed. All those ideas we couldn’t put into words had been translated into something very real, and it was such a relief after literally years of trying to hammer this out on our own.
Stage Three – Why the Hell Didn’t We Do This Sooner?
For the final phase, Lauren came to NYC to watch our dress-tech before we headed out for a one-off in Ohio. Ever-insightful, and with a keen directorial eye, she offered incredible feedback, which added depth to both the story and the performance.
Our team had quite the face-palm moment when all was said and done. You have to know what you don’t know, and be willing to bring in professional help when you need it. I wish with all my heart that we had hired a dramaturg sooner! If you have a story to tell, and it’s just not coming out the way you’d envisioned, RUN (do not walk) to the nearest amazing dramaturg (pssst – I have a great one to recommend). Dare to imagine, Laura
If you’d like to get in touch with Lauren, here’s how!
Lauren loves to roll up her sleeves and sit down with each artist or company, ask questions, watch, listen, share possibilities, and work in tandem with the artist(s) to help them create the strongest, boldest, most artfully crafted version of their work, within their unique process and vision. She has a keen artistic eye; a bold imagination; a fondness for collaboration; and a love of the interplay between style, structure, form, and content.
In addition to working as a circus dramaturg for companies and shows, Lauren offers private lessons to circus artists in
– Act creation (at any stage in the process – whether actively on the apparatus or by sitting and discussing)
– Act development & refinement
– Theatricality & performance skills
– Finding, creating, or utilizing text for performance
Lauren’s plays and circus acts have been seen internationally. She is also a freelance dramaturg, an artistic collaborator, and a teaching artist and professor. She served on the Circus Dramaturgy panel hosted by Circus Now at the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, and she offers a workshop on Making Circus That Matters around the country, most recently at the New England Center for Circus Arts/Brattleboro, Circus Now’s CirQ Through/Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, the Southern Fried Circus Festival/Dallas, and Versatile Arts/Seattle. She holds an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama, is an alumna of NECCA’s Pro-Track program, and is passionate about the art of crafting live performance.
For more info on Lauren, there’s this: www.laurenfeldman.com
Making Circus That Matters, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, Fri Feb 19: tinyurl.com/circusmatters
How Do I Start: Ten Different Starting Points for Making an Act, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, Fridays in March and April: tinyurl.com/circusmatters
Let’s face it, doing ambiance work can be as exciting as watching your toenails dry. While you don’t have to prepare in any way ahead of time, it just lacks the drama of live performance. More and more people are asking for a pretty smiling face to hover mid-air while people mill about below, like the Cheshire Cat at a mad tea party. So how do keep from going insane yourself? Here are some tips and tricks to keep ambiance from being ambivalence.
1. Play with musicality- Play with whatever the DJ plays. Counter the music or use it, but see how you can dance it out a bit (without killing yourself).
2. Think of it as paid training- Sometimes just your attitude can make a difference. When you get to your last set, try to do all the hard stuff you know to build your endurance.
3. Find an audience – Often at these cocktail parties, you could pick your nose up there and no one would notice (in NYC anyway). But see if you can find one person who is willing to look up from their bean dip long enough to watch you, then lock eyes with your audience of one and do a few sequences just for them. Chances are it will make both your evenings.
4. Give yourself a challenge- Set up some obstacle like undoing a habit you have. If you happen to always do things in threes, try doing them in twos or fours. Or try doing all the things you know involving feet.
5. Be a character-Pretend you are specific person or animal up there. Don’t go crazy and start sniffing your own armpits, but see if you can subtly bring a little Bob Fosse or Missy Elliott in there…Or Mary Poppins.
6. Go with how you feel- If you just can’t get it up (aerially), use that malaise to languish in poses a little. Make it slow and sultry, extend slowly, and milk your transitions. You’ll feel less like you are struggling.
There are about a thousand creative ways to keep it interesting for yourself while still staying in the visual background. The main thing to remember is that you are being paid to do something you love. And even if this particular type of work can be challenging, it has its advantages too!
Dare to Imagine – Angela Attia
Circus artists are incredibly disciplined and hard working. In general, we don’t like to complain because we are blessed to have something in our lives we are passionate about, that we love to do. But a big part of what we do physically hurts, right? How many of us were shocked the first time we did aerial work at the pain involved? Even hanging by your knees was brutal in the beginning. But we train through it, because we love it.
The problem is that we are so used to suffering with a smile, that sometimes we simply don’t know how to reach out when we get into real trouble, not just physically, but financially and emotionally as well. We are often afraid to let people know that things are maybe a bit rough behind the curtain. Our lives are unpredictable too. One minute you’re on top of the world and the next, you have an injury that might not only prevent you from performing but from earning money in other ways as well. You aren’t quite sure where your rent is
coming from or maybe even your next meal. You don’t know where to go for help.
There is an organization that all circus artists should know about. It is called the Actor’s Fund. It isn’t just for actors though, it is for all people working in the entertainment industry. Here is just a smattering of the offerings they have: help navigating health insurance, referrals, weekly meetings for anxiety and depression, help with housing, grants for school and transitioning, courses in social media etc etc
They have centers in NY and LA but they have offerings all over the country. It’s worth knowing that there is a resource out there that can help catch us if we can’t catch ourselves.
Dare to Imagine. Angela Attia
The perfect addition to holiday or winter-themed events, a contortionist or balance artist bends and balances inside a gigantic globe filled with snow! Graceful, elegant, and a wonderful surprise for your guests.
What does Living Snow Globe look like?
For additional images of this act, check out ImaginAerial’s Snow Globe page on Pinterest! Click the ImaginAerial button to view all our boards.
What does a Snow Globe Artist need to perform?
This act requires a smooth surface, completely free of anything that might burst the orb (gravel, sharp stones, etc.). The artist also requires a path at least 8 feet wide to the performance area (or a pipe and drape) with electricity nearby to inflate the orb. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 212-252-3131 – we’re happy to answer your questions!
- This act is 6 minutes long for stage shows, or can be performed in 15 minute ambient sets.
- This act requires a surface free of sharp objects which could burst the orb.
- This act requires a path of at least 8 feet to the performance area, and a performance area of 8-10 feet.
- This act requires electricity to inflate the orb.
- A leaf blower is used to inflate the orb, which can be quite loud. Attention must be paid to the staging area.
- This act is appropriate for all audiences.
- There are multiple costumes and orb “fillings” (snow, confetti, feathers, glowing balls, etc.).
- Because the orb is sealed, artists must come out every 15 minutes for their safety.