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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  1. Lillie says:

    Just last week the little local business I work with was asked to perform at Macy’s for the tree lighting celebration that goes on every year! (Basically it’s a 2 hour block party funded by the state government. What’s not to love?!) Their first request was for us to perform between the escalators because that’s where they had the most room. The space between the elevators was 2 feet…yeaaaa no. I like my limbs on my body. Then they said we could perform outside. 15 degrees, rain, and no space where people wouldn’t get accidentally attacked by a circus performer. Eventually we agreed to perform inside on our portable rig. Sadly it was only 14 ft so we couldn’t pull out the really good moves but it worked! (We did have one girl get stuck on her superman drop because it was too close to the top of the rig but she squeezed it out!…literally…)