What Every Performer Should Know About Ambient Work

Posted by: on May 20, 2015

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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New Years Eve – Ringin’ 2015 in With Style!

Posted by: on January 6, 2015

This was a FABULOUS year for us here at ImaginAerial, and New Years Eve was extra special! We had not one, but TWO amazing events here in NYC! The first was at the Novotel Times Square – it’s our third year there, and it’s an evening we look forward to all year. The second was was at the prestigious Spice Market in the meat-packing district, one of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s fabulous restaurants. Have a look and happy new year!!!!

Novotel Times Square

Novotel Photos by Kenneth Feldman

Spice Market

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What the Heck is a Tech Rider?

Posted by: on December 9, 2014

What the heck is a tech rider? Why should you have one? When do you trot it out? So many good questions! Oh my.

What the Heck is a Tech Rider?

A tech rider is a detailed list of requirements for your performance. They cover two areas: hospitality and technical needs. Now, let’s be honest – none of us are going to be demanding much “hospitality” beyond water and maybe meals (“I want 1000 green M&M’s and two cuddly puppies prior to every show!”), so let’s focus on the technical aspects.

It’s helpful to have two versions of your rider – the quick n’dirty version that you give to agents and performing companies, and the three page one you give to venues or clients when you’re booking directly with them.

  • Quick n’Dirty – If every performer for every event gave me a four page tech rider, I would keel over dead. If you’re dealing with companies that hire circus performers often, send them the bare bones. Examples:
    • Ariana Aerialist – I need an overhead anchor rated for a minimum of 5000 lbs of dynamic weight, at least 18 feet of height, a clear floor (no people, chairs, tables, etc), a minimum of three feet between my point and the lip of a stage, and 20+ minutes between sets.
    • Giovanni German Wheel Artist – I need a clear, relatively smooth, dry floor, a minimum of 20 x 25 feet of performance space, 2-4 “minders” at room entry points to ensure that audience members remain clear of the performance area, and at least 20 minutes to space the act. It is also very important that I be able to check the placement of the lights and cords.
  • Full Rider – If you’re dealing directly with a client or venue, or a company who is new to booking circus acts, it’s time to trot out the full version. Include everything – and I mean everything. Spell out your overhead anchor requirements, height, floor space, dressing room, EVERYTHING. Don’t worry that you’ll forget something – your rider is a fluid, living document – you’ll add to it a hundred times as you figure out what you need.


Why Should You Have One?

Your full rider should be an integral part of your contract. Clients often believe we are superhuman, or can’t imagine why a 125 lb girl can’t hang on a 200 lb point (it holds 200 lbs!). If it’s spelled out on paper, they’ve signed it, and they can’t/don’t/won’t honor it, you’re protected. It also gives them a clear understanding of all your performance needs, and what they need to do to make that happen for you. Everyone wins!

So, don’t be shy! Spell it out. Be clear on your performance parameters, and go forth and be fabulous! Dare to imagine, Laura

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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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