Oh, This Old Thing?

I am amazed, in awe, truly dumbfounded that anything we do could possibly become old hat; but sometimes to us it does. I have to wonder if my fellow acrobats go through this as well? Let me explain.

Sideshow by definition is based on the different, the oogie, and the thing that gets a visceral reaction out of people. A common pitfall in performing these stunts is that we become used to doing them, compare it to a long run of a theatre production if you like but on a longer scale. We get so used to the stunt we start to become numb to that which makes it special. What may be even tinged with a little sadness is we forget what it was like the first time we did the stunt, all those emotions rolled up into a tight little ball inside us. I dare say we may even become just a tiny bit jaded in this amnesia.

I recently had the luxury of watching my troupe’s latest round of trainees, whome I’ve termed our ‘Debutants’, train in fire eating – my specialty. Now I would hope I have not become jaded in the least with my love, but you never know. I just so happened to catch them on the night, after all the nights of lecturing and safety rules and prep, that they were going to put fire to torch and do their first eat. I was giddy.

I was amazed and in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes of off them, it was rivetted. It was as if I was seeing fire eating again for the first time, so raw. They were fighting with themselves. Well, actually to be more precise they were fighting with the human ingrained fear of fire hard-wired into the amegdala – it resides at the center of the brain and is the oldest and one of the first parts of our brains to evolve. It’s like stepping in the ring with Ali him-own-self. Believe me the first time you eat fire that torch looks for all the world like a flaming meteor coming towards your face. Every fiber in your being is screaming at you, “DO NOT DO THIS.” But we have a great coach, our Yoda, and we trust him enough to think for us in this moment – if need be – as our own thinking might be overwrought by the all too human fear of fire. These Debutants fought with themselves, which is a unique sight to see. A one-handed fight, torch in hand the other hand on hip; bicep, trice and carpi all in dynamic tension not knowing if it’s coming or going. She is trying to lower the flaming torch into her mouth and her amegdala is trying to save her from herself. Some balk and don’t finish the eat without shame. It is a difficult struggle undoing milliniai of genetic programming; but those who do succeed are forever changed. Those who conquer their ingrained fear of fire and finish an eat, even if they never eat another torch in their life, come away from the experience a different person. For at the very least, whether they know it or not, if they can do that they can do anything.

My eyes are wide, and my jaw is dropped, there’s a chance I might be drooling I’ve been frozen in this position for so long. But that is how drawn in I am by what my girls are going through. Their experience is captivating, so literal. I remember my first eat, the nervousness, the sweat, my flinch, the elation after the eat. I was Wonder Woman and I felt so free.

I don’t ever want to forget what that feels like, the fear, the fight and the triumph. Teaching and watching the lessons is a wonderful way to remember and keep the old feelings fresh. Even something as simple as remembering what the stunt looks like to the lay man helps. In glass walking I kid about “make the noise, we live for the noise” from the audience. But it’s also about the noise of each pop and crack of the glass that is singular and unique to the audience like their gasps are to us. So if they aren’t making the noise we’ll pick and pop through the glass until they do, and then we smile 🙂

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