This is something I think about a lot. Why? ‘Cause I LOVE gossip! Let’s be honest – lots of us dish the dirt every chance we get. The problem? Friend, if you think for a single solitary second that what you say stays between you and the performer you’re talking to, I have a (moderated) old adage for you: telephone, telegraph, tell-a-performer. I know, I know, Bitsy would NEVER tell Blinky what you talked about! Except SHE TOTALLY DID. Now, there’s drama, lost work, and day-um, you could cut that tension with a knife. Oy.
Put a Sock in It
My grandmother, when I was 16, handed me a laminated card. On it was printed: “100% Foolproof Birth Control. Instructions: when amorous feelings arise, place card between knees and hold it there.” After I finished wishing the floor would open and swallow me whole, I – well, I got older and here we are. But it brings me to this: when you feel yourself about to trash-talk another artist, take off your shoe, remove your sock, and place said sock firmly into your mouth. Crisis averted!
Don’t Stir that Pot
Some folks just LOVE to stir up some drama. Am I talking about you? If you’re asking, than I probably am. Stirring the pot, fanning the flames of discord, and general mischief-making might feel good at the time, but it always comes back to bite us in the ass, doesn’t it?
Being easy to work with doesn’t just mean being on time, good-natured, accommodating, etc. It also means mindin’ your business, and being careful about the cans-o-worms you open for yourself and other people.
It Says More About You Than You Might Be Comfy With
Before those of you who know me start pelting me with stones and screaming, “POT! KETTLE!”, I know – I hear you. I have surely done my share of trash talking, gossiping, and pot stirring. If we’re being honest, I’ve done my share AND the shares of at least twelve other people. I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hurt others, and I’ve made situations that didn’t have to be dramatic WAY more stressful than they had to be.
When we are (as my son would say) “Giant Poopie Heads”, we make crappy choices (HA!). I’ve decided to tackle this part of my character, because frankly, it’s not who I want to be anymore. When we gossip, trash talk, or pot-stir, it says way more about us than it does about the person we’re talking about. And remember – the other person almost always hears about it. Circus is a small community – we would all do well to remember that. So, the next time we’re tempted to let our big mouths run the show, let’s all just put a sock in it.
Do you create in an artistic bubble? Before you say no, hear me out. It’s natural and reasonably healthy to surround oneself with like-minded artistic folks; we fling ideas around, support one another’s kooky projects, go see each other in shows when nooooooooo one else will. We gain a lot from these friendships and collaborations! But, friends, there’s a dark, dark hole we risk falling into: our own artistic arses.
I Would Never Fall Into My Own Artistic Arse
Love, I saw that piece you did last month using dental floss and Legos as a structured and tangled metaphor for our political realities. You’re up there. We’ve ALL been up there! Well, our own, not necessarily yours. My point is, we all create in a bubble to an extent – corporate circus, traditional circus, contemporary circus, sideshow, burners, burlesque, whatever. While bubbles can be supportive and nurturing, they can also blind us to the weaknesses of what we’re producing and stunt our growth as performers. If everyone around you is constantly strokin’ that ego, and you’re not getting meaningful critical feedback from communities outside your own, you may find yourself rather chilly – ’cause the emperor will have no clothes.
But I Really LOVE My Arse – er, Bubble!
We all do, dearest. We all do. And hey – everyone has a target audience! Folks outside that audience may not get what we do, or think what we do is weird, or not weird enough. I’m not saying give every opinion equal weight, I’m just saying that you should make sure that other opinions exist for you.
So, try to get out and occasionally see the stuff that makes you cringe (but set yourself up for success – go see the best of that particular genre)! If you’re die-hard contemporary, make a pilgrimage to see Ringling Bros, or take the train to Coney Island. If burlesque makes your eyes roll so hard you’re pretty sure they’re going to get stuck somewhere in the back of your head, make it a point to find the “it” performer of the moment, and go see what you can learn from them. If you’d sooner stab yourself repeatedly in the throat than go to one more Cirque show, I hear you. But don’t make it a rule – shows and companies change. Try not to get stuck – it’s a big artistic world you’re in. Dare to imagine, Laura
Like many of you, I’ve been (quite literally) tied in knots recently. This election has me on tenterhooks, so I decided to do what I sometimes do well – spill my guts on the internet in hopes of some sort of cathartic release. How will I parlay this into a circus blog post, you ask? Oh ye of little faith, I may take the scenic route, but I’ll get somewhere. Maybe. Probably. No – definitely.
Do I do this? Why the f**k am I doing this? When should I do this? Am I being stupid for doing this? But I love this. But should I waste the (fill in the blank – time, money, heart, etc) on this? And so it goes. Uncertainty. Circus is fraught with it. Uncertainty about what to focus on, whom to partner with, where to base yourself, whether to give it all up and become an accountant because CRAP you are never gonna get that back planche and you were never good enough anyway and you always suck on Tuesday nights. Ugh. Uncertainty.
Our election misery will (hopefully) soon be over, but our circus quandaries persist. We’re so often torn between practicality and what we (and society) view as frivolity. But tell me – does it feel frivolous when you’re training and performing? Or does it feel like your soul has swelled to twelve times it’s normal size, and is pushing at the boundaries of your skin, seeping out of your pores and running down your body, until you’ve totally spent yourself in a sweaty heap? Yeah, me too. Not all the time, but when it matters.
As productive members of society, we are charged with taking care of ourselves and our people, and making a contribution. In the good ole US of A, that contribution is valued less if it doesn’t result in a clearly profitable service or product. I am SO not going to open that can of worms today – not today, friends. But I will say this: art and entertainment is not frivolous. It is essential, whether that gets recognized or not. So, our choice is not between practicality and frivolity. It’s not even a choice at all – if it’s really for you, the work is a calling. We do what we have to do to pay our bills, we dance with the devil in negotiating our dreams, and we cobble together a life on our own terms. So, while questioning is always good, and heaven knows we’ll always worry about the future, perhaps we can make peace with the uncertainty part. Maybe – just maybe – we put it on hold for a while, and give ourselves to the dream like idiots (….. idiots who make good business decisions).
Where does that leave us? The Neverwhere. Ambiguous-ville. UncertainLand. Uuuuugh, so uncomfortable. But what is the alternative?
Never having been one to do things in half measures, I think I come down where I always have. I choose the uncertainty. I choose the Big Life. I choose THIS life. So, friends, spend the money on the circus classes. Buy the costume. Squander the hours trying to sit on your own head. Fall in love. Fall in love with it all. Because, in the end, it’s the only thing we can take away: the love. The terrible, wasteful extravagance of love.
This poem is pretty much required reading for artists (and, you know, humans). “To Have Without Holding” by Marge Piercy. Read the whole thing here, it’s short- you’ll be glad you did.
Dare to imagine, Laura
What is Sideshow?
ImaginAerial’s sideshow artists are quirky, edgy, and the life of the party! Many right from the stages of Coney Island, these artists are an outrageous and daring addition to any event. We know – it sounds really over-the-top, but audiences go wild! Be as daring or as conservative as you wish, there’s something for every party.
What Does Sideshow Look Like?
- Acts include sword swallowing, human blockhead, fire, contortion, yo-yo, bed of nails, juggling, and more.
- Needs depend a bit on which artist(s) are booked.
- Contortionists need a clean floor space, and about 5×5 feet of space on a stage, pedestal, or floor.
- Artists can perform acts as walk-arounds, on a stage, or even pose as guests at the event for a VERY surprising reveal!
- If you have questions (and I’ll bet you do), give us a ring at (929) 260-3134 and we can talk you through it.
Most inquiries never get past the initial request for information – folks are positively gobsmacked to discover that you can’t get a 10 person 30 minute circus show for $1000 on Christmas. If we get past the sticker shock, and they’re still interested, now comes All The Questions – can we rig there? How much space will we really have? Can we do it over a pool filled with sharks? This stage can take weeks. I’m not going to lie – it can be le poo (like fifteen-conference-calls-a-week-and-CAD-drawings-rendered le poo). BUT – if their wishes and our magic line up, we get….
THE CONTRACT PHASE.
Before the contract is signed and the deposit received? No gig is foolproof. We had one fold just today that I’ve been working HARD on for months because of an un-forseeable family emergency. Le. Poo.
What Does that Mean to Us As Performers?
It can be a delicate dance, because no one wants to miss out on work; here are a few tips to hopefully make things easier.
- Hold the date. If someone asks you to hold a free date, pop a note in your calendar with a question mark.
- First refusal. So – you’re holding a date, but get another inquiry. What to do? Be transparent. Tell the first person that you have another show or company asking after the date, and give them the right of first refusal. If they are not going to be ready to go to contract within a day or two, you may have to go with offer number two. It’s not personal – we know that, and we want you to WORK! Often, it comes down to whoever produces a guarantee first.
- It’s an official go! When you hear those words, you should see a contract within a few days. HOORAY!
- It’s a bust. Sometimes, sh*t happens and it doesn’t go – even if a crazy amount of prep has already happened. When you get the news as an artist, be sure to acknowledge it with a quick email response like, “Oh no! How disappointing. Thanks for letting me know, looking forward to working with you in the future.” Radio silence can sometimes come off as peevish, and doesn’t give a nod to the butt-busting work that planner or agent did (for free) on your behalf.
Events aren’t an exact science, because PEOPLE. Do be gracious, and understand that there are a huge number of moving parts to every event which we don’t control. Now, go forth and WORK! Dare to imagine, Laura
It’s a weird thing that we navigate as performers – the disconnect between the zany or glamorous persona we present on stage, and the real us that our friends and families know. I’m often approached, in person and online, by people who have clearly mistaken me for my stage or “e-self”, and it can get really weird! I had an interesting chat with a young artist who’s enjoying his “15 seconds” this past week, and it occurred to me that we don’t often talk about this. Allow me.
People make a lot of assumptions about us, don’t they? Many a lust-crazed swain, or fan who wants to get a little closer, seem to think we’re either wild and crazy daredevils with a propensity for making the beast with two backs on our trapezes, or austere performance athletes who work out twelve hours a day and subsist on lettuce leaves and moon beams. Where do they get this stuff?
Thing is, when that phony tail, lashes, WonderBra, and two pairs of Spanx come off (it’s a process), I’m a shy, frightfully risk-averse person with huge dreams and a hefty dose of (charming?) neurosis. I hate working out, swear like a sailor, and swill wine right from the bottle. The bedazzled glamazon in a sparkly unitard who smiles for two hours straight or smolders on a silk isn’t real – she dissolves with some cold cream and a pair of sweatpants.
What is real is the odd hotel key card pressed into your hand, offers of drinks, easy access via social media, folks who hope a little of your shine will rub off on them – lots of people who imagine you to be someone rather different than you are. How do we navigate this, particularly in the realm of social media?
The boundaries you set depend quite a bit on where you’re feeling uncomfortable or squeezed. This next bit scratches the surface, but I think you’ll get the idea.
Setting boundaries becomes more important (and more difficult) when we factor in the easy access afforded by the internet. Any weenie with a modem can track you down. What to do?
- Stick with la famiglia. Our fellow circus folks generally don’t give a flying flip what we do (hell, I’m lucky if they don’t roll their eyes when I reveal my apparatus). Instead, there’s generally a mutual appreciation, oodles of commiseration, and only sometimes a little fan-girling (I made a complete idiot of myself when I met Isabelle Chasse). My point is, they get you, probably don’t want anything from you, they know what you do, and they don’t have stars in their eyes when you meet. We’re family.
- Establish your personal “rules” for friending and connecting. For me, it looks like this:
- Are they in the biz? Circus performance, production, management, etc? This is an easy yes – I’ve gotten more work than I can say through professional contacts and friendships which started online. I’ve gotten connected with some of the BEST people, whom I might not have met otherwise, and some have become dear and close friends. Love that.
- Do we have at least 10 friends in common? If not, I sometimes direct them to my FB page (see below).
- Are they family, friends, or folks from my past? If you didn’t torture me in grade school, you’re probably in. If you did, look at me now, bitch! Ahem.
- Create an FB business page and funnel people who don’t “make the cut” over there. This allows them to keep in touch, but creates a bit of a boundary which can discourage over-familiarity with fans or audience members.
- Decide on your personal policies for dispensing advice, meeting with people who want to “pick your brain”, etc. Like it or not, there are only 24 hours a day – you can’t do it all. If responding to requests for guidance, info, or opinion are taking up a fair amount of time, that’s time you aren’t spending hustling.
At the end of the day, it’s a super personal call. Some of us fly under the radar, some are super social and delighted to message with virtual strangers until dawn, while others find themselves weeding out that friend list on a weekly basis. Do what feels right! We want to be surrounded, both physically and virtually, with *our* people – folks who like and love us, know and appreciate who we really are, and fuel the fire of our dreams instead of siphoning off our energy. Good fences make for good neighbors. Dare to imagine, Laura
This past week, I had an interesting experience – one that I’ve had surprisingly often in the circus community. I had an event that I needed to cast with lightening speed, so I put the word out on social media, and got several fantastic leads. Within 30 seconds, one artist had sent me 5 photos and a video, and three more performers contacted me over the course of the hour. These artists are all pros, and they WORK – constantly. But here’s the funny bit – some folks didn’t get around to replying for days. DAYS. Friends, by that time, the ship has sailed – the money is off the table. That’s the most depressing situation for everyone involved! And it doesn’t have to be that way! New York City circus artists, it might be time to up your hustle.
Don’t Leave Work on the Table
As it turns out, the “lightening speed” was a bit premature (the client decided to play with the line-up for the evening), but here’s the take away: the artist who hustles gets the most work.
What IS hustle? Hustle is, well, it’s a hunger – a way of being in the professional world. It’s getting back to people immediately with materials or availability, following up on leads, and remembering that inquiries are, hopefully, the beginnings of supportive and exciting long-term working relationships. It’s showing people what they can expect from you professionally – prompt communications, reliability (doing what you say you will do, providing what you say you will provide), and showing respect for another person’s work, time, and investment in whatever endeavor is casting. It also makes the casting person’s job WAY easier, and gratitude often results in good things for everyone.
Silence Speaks – and You’re Not Going to Like What it Says About You
When I was a young actress in NYC, I cannot even tell you the opportunities I let slip through my fingers; it’s simultaneously mortifying and tragic. Once, I had one of NYC’s top agents asking me for more headshots so she could send them out, and I procrastinated. I sent them a few weeks later, but the fire had cooled – I never heard from her again. I’m not in any way sad about where I’ve wound up, in fact, you could say my procrastination was speaking loud and clear about how much I wanted a career in theater (as it turns out, circus was a way better fit); but, if you want circus, and you know you do, you may have a bit to learn about professional standards on the production side.
But I’m BUSY!
Are you too busy to provide a full answer at the moment? There are lots of ways to handle that which don’t involve radio silence. Working a lot and don’t feel any urgency to respond? Great, but sometimes famine follows feasting for artists. Not interested in the project? You might be very interested in the next one, so preserve the relationship. Not a “slave to technology”? M’kay, but accept that you’re going to miss out on work because of it.
Dare to imagine, Laura
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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