Clockwork

GOP Varieté Hannover, end of week 5:

(Time zero, 3 hours before show-time)

Arrive at theatre.
Training: 3, 5, 4 clubs.
One hour break in the dressing room (Facebook and other business).
Prepare for pre-show Close-up: brush teeth, style (?) hair, suit on. Two Sharpies in inside right jacket pocket, one lighter and two coins in left jacket pocket, one deck of cards in right jacket pocket, one deck of cards in back right trouser pocket, one lighter plus bent coin in front left trouser pocket, four coins in front right trouser pocket.
Close-up at the tables.
Return backstage, tell the MC that the audience are good and wish him a good show.
Show begins.
Change into backstage clothes, show make-up.
At end of penultimate act before intermission change into costume (suit number two).
Remove clubs from bag.
When last act before intermission starts, apply handcream.
Intermission: nod to the Swedish girls as they leave to continue warming-up on-stage, take their place backstage and begin warm-up.
Warm-up: 3, 4, 5 clubs. Exchange brief words with MC as he passes. Sixty seconds later Ukrainian acrobatic base comes up stairs. Flyer follows two minutes later. Technician will pass by sometime between these events.
After warm-up, place clubs carefully against wall, return to dressing room to remove any sweat and check costume and make-up.
Take clubs and go to side of stage.
Warm-up phase two: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 clubs.
Check shoes, check socks, check fly, check jacket button.
Wipe hands, collect all clubs.
MC is making the introduction, warm-up phase three: legs, shoulders, feet.
Go on stage, do act.
Bow, leave stage.
Collect off-stage clubs, thank stagehand as he returns the remaining clubs, put clubs back in bag.
Strip upper body.
Change into finale shoes.
Enter drop data into iPad.
Drink water.
Wash upper body, apply cold water to made-up face.
E-mail / Facebook / blog.
When penultimate act begins, get dressed for finale, wash make-up off suit.
As final act ends, go to side of stage and check stability of the two chairs to bring on.
FINALE!

Stories from not very long ago…

Some short stories from an older artist friend…

“In the time that my parents were performing in the Soviet Union, Odin Dankmann (the General Director of the Soviet State Circus) still held favour with Stalin. Later, he was ordered by him to be shot.”

“Each time that we were engaged abroad my father had to visit the Gestapo to receive a visa and permission to travel. The official there meant us all the best as he gave us our final visa in 1944, with a meaningful look and the words: “this is the last time that I can give you these papers.”

“In the early 1960s it was still normal, despite the Berlin Wall, to have musicians from West Berlin playing in the orchestra at the Friedrichstadtpalast. I remember that one such musician was involved with a young lady from the ballet. The lovers spent every moment that they could together. One day the Stasi arrived during a rehearsal and arrested the couple. I do not know exactly what had happened.”

http://twitter.com/#!/CircusGeeks/status/71927643452354561

Manipulation Research Laboratory #3

http://www.shoeboxtour.com/mrl/

Jay Gilligan writes:

“The third and final Manipulation Research Laboratory (MRL) took place in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 22-25, 2010. The first MRL focused on finding the rules of manipulation. During this process the realization came that these rules were actually speaking about composition, which became the theme for MRL #2. MRL #3 combined both previous topics of exploration and zoomed in on composition at the level of single tricks, as well as documenting the process of creation for making tricks.

Every trick has two main parts – not only the pure physical movement and concept, but also what physical object this movement is done with. Objects can then be further described by examining either their shape and form, or by the materials of which they are made.

The main research team consisted of Luke Wilson, Ivar Heckscher, Erik Åberg, Matias Salmenaho, along with myself. The laboratory was joined by three students – Ron Beeri, Patrik Elmnert, and Wes Peden. Ben Richter, a senior member of MRL #1 & 2, also contributed to early discussions of the work.”

http://www.shoeboxtour.com/mrl/

Personal

I think I wrote a while ago that one reason I didn’t start blogging earlier was that I felt it was too personal, too egocentric, and too TMI (TTMI?).

I am in my own bed in Cologne, after a week of shows in Hannover, and have been enjoying a lovely whisky. Which maybe helps me to think about this post.

I got into quite a discussion on the train home with my very close colleague and even closer friend Ken Bardowicks about life expectations. I was thoroughly offended by some things that he said, but luckily we are close enough that I could tell him that. It reminded me though of my opinion that basically all life possibilities and choices can be made to work.

I worked for nearly ten years with the woman who first became my wife, and then in due course my ex-wife. Whilst we were together, many people told us how clear it was in our work that we were a couple, and that only a real couple could have a connection like we had on stage. I always thought that was, to be blunt, bullshit: and indeed, our work in the time of our separation was in no way less “good” than before. What was important on stage was our sharing of a common artistic vocabulary and ability.

To be on tour with ones real life partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife clearly has many advantages. And just as many disadvantages. But the point is, it can work. And so can the extreme opposite: I always wonder how colleagues with partners in “regular” jobs manage, but the point is, they do!

The reason I began this post is that my girlfriend had a gig in Hannover this morning: a promotional show for the GOP Varieté where I am working. She arrived at her hotel last night around 3am, and I watched her performance in the city at midday, after which we had a coffee together and I went to my 2:30pm show and she drove the three hours back to her own show in Marburg this evening.

It felt almost like real dating: although we have the same job, it takes us to different places at different times, but when the chance is there to meet up, then fantastic! For sure, it’s not the easiest way to have a relationship, but the point is: all possibilities can work. Rather than having some shallow and slim definition of “life”, we should remember that the world is a rather large place, and most examples of lifestyle that we can imagine are being practiced right now somewhere in the world. All have advantages and disadvantages, but all are possible.

Also, and possibly related, I was rather scared watching Petra hang off a rope, rigged on a hot-air balloon, hanging on a crane, on a windy day…

20110509-025254.jpg

Fourth Wall

Backstage at the GOP Varieté theatre in Hannover, just finished my training and now relaxing for 40 mins or so before getting ready for the first of our two shows today.

One of the major reasons that I love doing Varieté contracts is the stability of the environment. I prefer to know for example exactly how my lights will be, and to trust that the technicians will turn them on and off at the right moment. Ditto for the space, the sound and the ritual. I think this partly comes from the juggler mindset, but can accept that it probably says something deeper about my own psychology too…

“Change ain’t good, Leon”.

For nearly 5 years I performed a set and unchanging act (duo club juggling with Ilka Licht), and my solo juggling act has been set for the last 6 years or so. In that time I have made plenty of new pieces and shows, with magic and with juggling, but I have always held on to my “act as seen” as the centrepiece.

So why did I decide last year that I would retire my juggling act and make a new one to replace it? Well, for many reasons, ranging from “artistic” to “commercial”, but the point is that I am now busily performing an act that I have thus far only done 15 or so times, rather than the hundreds that I would prefer. It’s a good process to go through again! And by the end of the two month run here it shall be without question my “main act”.

For the first time in my life I have an act where I play fourth wall up. It is only for the first 50 seconds or so, but it is totally new to me. I have always made a point in my work of starting a clear dialogue with the audience as soon as I walk on stage, and to start that dialogue whilst being completely internal and alone is something I am learning. It seems to come so naturally to all my acrobat colleagues, but I guess that is why many of them often say that they cannot imagine eg talking on stage, or that to so would be such a major step. It seems an obvious step to me as an extension of the audience contact, but if that contact is other than what I am used to, then of course it seems as foreign as “being alone” on stage is to me.

But it is getting less so every day.

“I don’t enjoy it… (but) it’s a good career”

Just linking this up here, an article about young Las Vegas juggler Ty Tojo (“Fifield”): stepson (and student) of the great Dick Franco.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2011/apr/29/north-las-vegas-teen-world-class-juggler/

What I find of particular note is the following quote:
“I’m proud of it,” Fifield said of his juggling skills. “But I don’t enjoy it. It’s a good career, though.”

Double Dutch

A lot of my work over the last years has been teaching based, and this month found me teaching for the first time at the circus school in Holland.

I mean, at the circus schools in Holland.

Both Rotterdam and Tilburg now boast circus departments within the auspices of a university organisation. Both offer four year bachelor programmes. Codarts in Rotterdam are about to present their second graduating year, ACaPA in Tilburg their first.

Another difference:

Codarts school hall
Codarts school hall
ACaPA circus tent
ACaPA circus tent

When coming in for a week, I am always torn between wishing to spend the short time available doing strict technique classes, or to rather concentrate on eg choreographical / concept based work. I hope always that I find a balance between these two, but manage always to come away wishing that I’d had more time…

The major difference between the two schools, or rather the one that has the most effect relating to my work at them, is that Codarts has a permanent juggling teacher in the shape of Gregor Kiock. This means that I can trust the students to have, and to keep to, a consistent and strict technique training programme. It also means that my guilty conscience at tweaking people’s technique is made even guiltier…

It feels so good to make tiny physical corrections (hand position, cross point etc) to someone’s pattern and to instantly see an improvement. That work can feel just as creative and valuable, sometimes more so, than seeing the results of a pure conceptual exercise. Hopefully both will make an impression of some kind on my students.

My next stop in the world, after a single and all too brief day at home in Cologne, shall be the GOP Varieté in Hannover, where I shall be for all of May and June. Sometimes my job feels like several different jobs. Which seems like rather a healthy and challenging, if somewhat stressful, position to be in. Come visit me if you happen to be near!

Photos with Photosynth on iPhone

http://twitter.com/#!/CircusGeeks/status/64300179033047040

Normality

I should probably write a “normal” blog entry from time to time, as opposed to soapbox-standing tirades that probably make me sound like I would like to be standing outside your house shouting up at you in the middle of the night.

I am writing this on a train (like most of my contributions so far) on my way to Berlin. I am going to see the lovely Petra, and then we travel on to Gera to spend Easter at my non-legally-bound in-laws.

Easter in the East. Ha ha.

OK, that comment says something about my current mental state, I am sure…

These four days bridge the time between teaching last week at Codarts (a circus school in Holland) and next week at ACaPA (a circus school in Holland). It will be the first time that I visit ACaPA, and so I am excited to see exactly what is going on there, and try to get a feel for what differences exist between these two schools, how they differentiate themselves from each other.

UPDATE: I have painted eggs for the Easter time. Is that normal enough for a blog? I am rather happy with the geek content of them.

http://twitpic.com/photos/cubecheat

Happy Easter (from the East)!

Too Complicated

Nearly back home after an incredible, exciting, inspiring and stressful 2 weeks of performing at the Moisture Festival in Seattle, USA. 3 ‘planes behind me, now an hour more on the train and a taxi to follow…

iPad plus iPhone internet tethering plus PlainText plus WordPress equals awesome.

I am often surprised by odd compliments. Especially those coming from fellow artists, and especially those that have a form that allow me to simply say “thank you very much”, whilst actually wanting to ask “what does that mean?”. Like “it was nice to see some art”, or “he’s a juggler’s juggler”.

Something that am always ready to reply to with “what does that mean?” however is when jugglers tell me that a particular trick, or sequence, is “too complicated for an audience to understand”. WTF does that mean? It compares to the equally enigmatic yet ridiculous soundbite “they can’t tell the difference if you are juggling 5 or 7”.

Who are these “they” of whom they speak? And why is “their” possible failure to understand an aspect of our performance a reflection on their stupidity, rather than a reflection on our own failure or inability to make ourselves understood?

There are three elements to any play. The play, the actors, and the audience. And the responsibility for success lies with them all. Does that mean we should patronise our audience to the point of stupefaction, reduce them to unknowing vessels, undeserving of our attention and edification? As long as my audience has given me the respect to come and sit in a theatre and watch me perform, then I shall give them respect and, hopefully, provide them with entertainment that also has the possibility to challenge and evoke them.

I shall hold their hands when they need it, but I shall assume them to be smart enough to follow me, and also to lead me to new places within my work.

http://twitter.com/#!/CircusGeeks/status/58125021608030208

Aerial Insecurity

Why, upon meeting aerialists, and upon each of us saying who we are and what we do, do they so often follow up with “oh, I am such a bad juggler” / “oh, I could never learn to juggle with more than 2 balls”?

Are they so insecure at basing their jobs on “physicality”, or do they feel that I, as a lowly “non-physical” artist, must feel insecure in their presence?

Props

I am currently in Seattle, USA, doing shows at the Moisture Festival: http://www.moisturefestival.org/

It is thusly named because of the rain… They didn’t lie to me.

In my big collection of VHS tapes back home are held many performers who appeared on the Paul Daniels Magic Show in the 80s and 90s. Two of the most inspirational performers to me from that era, and from those tapes, are Johnny Fox (sword-swallower) and Frank Olivier (juggler).

I doubt I would be doing this job if it weren’t for them. Really.

Last week, I held Johnny Fox’s hand in the curtain call, and last night a slightly drunk Frank Olivier jumped on a pull up bar and wrapped his legs around me.

Give me a moment, I am tearing up a little…

OK, I’m back…

Just before the show with Johnny, I was pacing around as usual, with my clubs in my hands. He asked me if he could check them out. Somehow, I managed to say “no”. Of course, he understood, and watching his prep, he clearly understands rituals and habits, but still…

I hate it when people ask to touch my clubs.

Although not uniquely custom built to my body and needs, ordering a 95mm, standard length, hard bodied, non-wrapped, extra light club in the colour of my choice (probably white) from Renegade gives me a good amount of personal connection to the club. I know the people who build them, and I have visited the small workshop where they are born.

I always do my final backstage warm-up with the clubs that I will use on stage. They need to get focused and ready too. It is their responsibility to make my juggling look good. Their weight keeps me slow and calm, and their solidity gives me one certain thing to keep hold of during my time on stage. Different stages have different heights, different lights, different floors. Even different audiences. But one thing is always the same: the clubs that come on stage with me.

I was working in the Krystallpalast Varieté in Leipzig, Germany, on the night of December 31st, 2003. Just after midnight, a fire broke out on stage. My partner at the time, Ilka Licht, was one of the first to see the flames, and, as audience and artists started to run from the burning theatre, she ran instead in the opposite direction, backstage, to grab our club bag. A little later the two of us and our clubs stood safely in the cold watching the smoking building. It never occurred to us that she perhaps shouldn’t have taken that risk…

http://twitter.com/#!/cubecheat/status/55025807067844608

You know how it is.

American theatrical unions are strange things.

I just arrived at a venue for a tech rehearsal: as arranged I was there 30 mins before the official start time.

The theatre is really beautiful, but a very awkward space for me. Imagine a huge old wonderful theatre auditorium and proscenium arch. Now, dig 10 feet down into the auditorium, and drop in tiered seating all around a central stage area. Have 3 entrance/exit runways going onto the stage, and no clear front or back. As I said, beautiful, but not my perfect habitat.

No problem, I am here early. I will warm up and plan how I will use the space. I ask if I may go on the (empty) stage to do so.

“You may walk around, but you may not juggle until the technicians arrive. Union rules. You know how it is”.

No. No, I do not know how it is…

Here is a video of John Cage performing Water Walk. Sans working radios, because the electricians and sound union couldn’t decide who was allowed to plug them in:

Housekeeping

I just googled “first blog”, and didn’t find anything to help me out. So, I guess I am on my own…

Except I am not! I was always wary of blogging, partly because I felt it was too egocentric (perhaps a strange worry for a performer to have), and partly because I was concerned with having enough material to keep it up to date. Well, with this new blog collective (a blogollective?) those pressures are gone, and I can, hopefully, write some stuff without too much fear.

A quick housekeeping of the last 4 weeks:

i. 3 days in Barcelona: working as “outside eye” (outside eye is the new directing!) for circus company “eia”.
ii. Berlin: social visit (and a killer poker hand), training.
iii. 5 days in Rotterdam: teaching at the “codarts” circus school (http://www.codarts.nl/01_home_en/04_circ/index.php).
iv. Cologne (HOME!!!): rehearsing magic acts with Ken Bardowicks in preparation for our month together in GOP Hannover in May. Because we won’t see each other again until that time…
v. Berlin: social visit, plus attending a lecture by Erik Åberg on Paul Cinquevalli, and watching Wintergarten show (Paul Ponce!).
vi. 2 days in Bad Pyrmont: visiting the retired (on three separate occasions) juggler Bob Bramson (http://www.juggling.org/fame/bramson/).
vii. Now in Seattle, USA, for the Moisture Festival (http://www.moisturefestival.org/). Sitting in a strange kitchen, watching my replacement iPhone sync, wishing I had shows before Thursday…

OK, so I guess I shouldn’t worry about lack of themes to write about in the coming weeks.

More shall follow!