Archive for November, 2014

Boundaries, People! Do You Know Your Performance Parameters?

Rose Laura Ellie

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

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

Ideal Conditions

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

Make it Work

Chris wheels down the hall!

Chris wheels down the hall!

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

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

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

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

Nope Nope Nope

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

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

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

November 18, 2014 Comments Off on Please Don’t Make Me Slappy: the Right Way to Approach a Pro for a Favor Working in Circus
Miss Hannah is ALWAYS a pro!

Miss Hannah is ALWAYS a pro!

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

5 Do’s

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

3 Don’ts

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

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

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Just Take the Next Step

November 3, 2014 Comments Off on Just Take the Next Step Working in Circus
Killian - our latest Big Thing! Photo by Kenneth Feldman.

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

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

Find the Next Step

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

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


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


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


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