Archive for October, 2017

Our Greatest Fear: Falling from the Sky

As aerialists, we know what we do is dangerous. That’s partly what people pay for. Driving, however, is also fairly dangerous. I remember whiteknuckling my first time out on the open road, harrowing for both my mother and I. However, after doing it regularly for a while, one gets comfortable (often too comfortable). The same thing happens with performing. Once you are strong enough to hang by one arm for a while and get yourself out of silk knots and the like, you start to feel pretty damn confident. While intellectually we know that the danger still exists, it just doesn’t feel super present after a while.

    Aerial work, statistically speaking, doesn’t have the same rate of injury as other common athletic activities. More gruesome injuries happen more often playing basketball or skiing than doing aerial work. It’s not like people are constantly falling out of the ceiling. That said, any professional who has done it long enough will probably have the scary big fall at some point. It’s awful and shocking. If it’s a rigging failure, you develop major trust issues. If you just screw something up yourself, it may be hard to get your confidence back.  What may be the worst scenario though is being dropped by a partner or dropping a partner. I’m not talking trying a new trick over mats. I mean in a real situation.

The total surprise. The stuff of nightmares. I know, because I missed a catch. The moment when another human slips through your fingers; a human whose life depends on you holding them, and they just slip away. That eternal time before they hit the floor and you grasp in the air powerlessly after them. That moment when you can do nothing. That moment where you actually contemplate leaping after them as if you could race them to the floor and catch them in time. That moment you realize you’ve let someone down in every way. That moment you really hurt someone badly or had the enormous potential to and you are responsible.

Winter Silks

Even silks on either side wouldn’t be enough.

Then comes the guilt. Why didn’t I..?! How could I let that happen?! If the person is angry at you, it’s almost easier. If they aren’t, you make up the mental beating yourself. Every situation is of course different. And complete freak accidents do happen. But I’ve also witnessed it happen in front of me. And it brought back all the awful memories, the visceral sensations of panic. The biggest problem is that we don’t quite believe it can happen to us. Until it does. And while it may not be entirely preventable, there are some factors to be on the lookout for.

1. Frenetic Energy: You are in a situation where there is a lot of rushing, there is a dress rehearsal and the tech is behind, but you want to run your act, but you didn’t get a chance to warm up properly etc. or maybe you were rushed to the venue from the airport. Or maybe it’s just how a producer always just whips everyone into a frenzy on a regular basis.

2. Distraction: Usually there is some external factor involved that is hard to push away. Maybe the space is weird or there is a bright light or smoke in your face. Maybe you are concerned about the rigging. Or it’s hot and you are sweating more than normal. Maybe suddenly a piece of chalk or dust gets in your eye. In my case, it was a guy shooting a camera right below us. It was clicking loudly and he was circling us and the noise and the close circling stole a piece of my focus.

3. Pressure: Often, you feel like you have to run the piece, even if you are feeling off. Either it’ll be the only chance before a show, or everything is behind and you have to get through stuff as fast as possible. Or a producer insists on seeing it. But usually, you feel like you have to do it and NOW.

4. Lack of communication: Perhaps your partner is in your hands, and you realize that you don’t quite have them, but the music is pumping too loud for them to hear you. Or perhaps you try to say something, but you can’t quite get out clearly or articulately what you need them to do in that moment. Or maybe it’s off but you don’t say anything, and you just think it will be fine, because up until this point, it always is.

Double Trapeze

Double Trapeze

I think the hardest thing to do is to take a moment mentally, before you go up in the air, always. Take a moment to focus on what matters: safety and connecting with each other. The performance or rehearsal is always secondary. And then we have to be brave enough to stop everything when our gut tells us “no, something isn’t right”. That can be hard to do especially when pressure has built up. I have had two times when my gut said “Come down NOW” in the middle of an actual show. And both times I did and both times, the rigging was in the middle of failing, because somebody else had to rig for me for a quick transition and didn’t pay enough attention and it was rigged improperly. I was very lucky. But I wasn’t brave enough that one time to stay “stop”, and Laura paid the price with fractured ankle.

   We always say safety matters and we might do all the necessary rigging checks and keep our equipment up to par, only use steel, check cue angles etc etc. But still, we may forget in the moment that we ourselves are indeed fallible too, and we need every part of us to be there in every moment. And isn’t that partly why we even do this in the first place?

We all as a community need to support each other when things get hectic to remind ourselves about what really is important. Safety first. Always.

Angela Attia

Dare to Imagine….