A note to myself.

Making stuff is scary. Shipping stuff is scary. Performing new stuff is terrifying.

It’s easy to forget that the first time you stepped out on stage you didn’t know what was going to happen or what it was going to feel like.

Artists in other industries can at least hide behind their creation, the film they produced, the sculpture they created, the music score they wrote or even the tangible product they designed. It still takes balls to deliver but it’s not quite as personal and raw. In a live performance medium you are the product, the end result and your actions are the art. You can’t hind behind the art, you are the art.

In circus it’s common that the performer is also the director/choreographer/administrator/publicist so the pressure on getting everything right is huge and very personal. You have to trust to your vision and actions before you have any idea if it’s going to work or if it’s any good. Self belief is the most important attribute to any artist and yet too much misspent ego can be a curse.

Every artist at some point feels the guilt of relying on tested ideas, not pushing oneself to deliver new work that has been dreamt up, written down and developed behind closed doors. Don’t feel the guilt, act upon it.

There’s a comfort in thinking, “I could have done that better than them”. There’s no comfort in stepping out and doing it, just reward.

Get on with making and sharing.

iPad Q&As from Circus Artists

Recently a few people have asked me questions about iPads and Apps so I thought it might be useful to write something specifically for circus artists.

For the record I should state that (sadly) I’m not on the Apple payroll and that other (lesser) tablets are available… Yes ok this is basically an unpaid advert for Apple but hopefully someone will find it useful!

Why do I need an iPad?

You don’t. But do you need more than 1 pair of shoes? The iPad offers enough computing power and screen space to read, watch movies, create simple documents (like invoices) and answer e-mails. And yet it’s small, light and strong enough to alway have in your bag. Just watch some iPad adverts, I can’t sell as well as Apple can!

Will it replace a laptop?

It could. Last year I went on tour for 7 weeks and managed perfectly well without my laptop, thanks to my iPad. With the release of iPhoto and iMovie Apps along with iWork means you can probably do all your office work from an iPad. Having said that, if you’re into serious photoshopping or powerhouse video editing then you might want to hang onto your trusty laptop or desktop (remember them!?).

What Apps do I need?
  • Numbers – Get your spreadsheets done. Cashflow, practice grids and intelligent yet pointless looking graphs.
  • Pages – Like Word but better. Great for your invoices
  • iMovie – Edit simple videos. Add transitions and titles.
  • iPhoto – Crops and adjust your promo photos
  • Paper – The best (and free!) note book app. Beautiful and useful!
  • WordPress – Update your site/blog on the fly
  • Twitter – keep up to date with the Twittersphere.
  • Facebook – How else will your friends find out about how great your gig is going
  • Reminders – Don’t forget anything ever again (OK not true but it is useful)
  • Reeder – Catch up with all your favourite websites from one place
  • Zite – discover new content that your interested in
  • TED – Download some of the best talks in history in the comfort of your own home and save them for when there is no WiFi!
  • Dropbox – You know all about Dropbox already, this App just makes it nice on your iPad.
Which iPad model should I get?

Don’t get the iPad 1 as some of the more hardware intensive apps won’t run on it (iMovie). At the moment Apple are still selling the iPad2 and iPad3, ebay is also worth a look but is obviously more of a gamble. Don’t get the 16GB version, you will fill it up. 32GB would probably be enough but depends on how long you go away for and how many movies you want to take with you. The 3/4G models mean you can connect to the net almost anywhere but you will have to get a contract and pay if you use it abroad! A better option might be to add tethering to your current mobile contract (if you have a smart phone).

What extras do I need?

Case is a good idea, stylus optional.

Will an iPad make me better at one arm handstands?

Probably not, but then there are Apps that can teach you almost anything 😉

World Circus Culture Movie needs funding

This film has been in the making for a while and now it’s near completion.

World Circus Culture, follows five circus acts from different countries as they rehearse and compete at the “Academy Awards” of circus competitions, the Monte Carlo Circus Festival. Through these personal stories, the film will open peoples’ eyes to the true culture, art, business, and history of circus on an international scale as never seen before.

They’re are looking for a bit more support, have a look here for more info on how you can help.

http://worldcircusculturemovie.com/

Creative Technique

Tap Portugal flight 511, en route from Stockholm, Sweden, to Lisbon, Portugal. I am travelling to my sisters home in the north of Portugal, with the intention of catching my last sun of the year before heading back to Germany and shows through ’til January.

The last four weeks have been spent teaching full time. A week at the circus school in Rotterdam, a week in Tilburg, and then the last two weeks in Stockholm. I wrote the first draft of this essay back at the start of that tour, and now I have tried to clarify some things that became more clear to me over the following weeks. Much is still unclear, and although I can now state a solid intention, it may not be clear if it is a good one, or indeed a possible one!

It all started when I was sitting in the teachers room at the circus department of Codarts, the University for the Arts in Rotterdam.

Alongside me at the large table, eating their sandwiches and drinking tea, were four teachers from Russia, one from China, and one from Bulgaria.

Three of the four Russians came purely from traditional circus, the Bulgarian from Sport Acrobatics. I am not sure of the Chinese gentleman, but I believe him to be traditionally based (he was teaching Chinese pole and hoop diving, so I feel quite safe to make that blatant assumption). Classical circus backgrounds. In contrast, the theatre teacher was German, the dance teacher American. I was the only circus discipline teacher there with a non-classical background.

This situation highlights one of the longest running discussions of modern circus education. Technique vs. creation. Skill vs. art. Old vs. new. Who teaches what? Is it better to have strict old-school technique teachers (circus artists, gymnasts), and have the “art” come from external sources (theatre class, dance class), or should the combination be more fluid and involve more overlap? It’s an old issue, but being there reminded me that it is still not completely solved in a practical way.

Jugglers have historically had more of a combined technique/creation education than other disciplines. I don’t think it’s pure (or at least, not only) juggler arrogance on my part if I say that jugglers have tended to be slightly ahead on the “modern circus” curve. Partly because we can take more risks without actually dying, and perhaps partly, in an ironic twist, because of this lack of full-time juggling teachers compared to acrobatics or aerial coaches.

There is a continually refreshed pool of retired circus acrobats, of professional gymnastic coaches. Potential circus teachers. Jugglers have a longer performing shelf life: we can keep going ’till we drop, literally, dead on stage of natural causes, which means less full-time juggling teachers in the world.

Having a changing pool of guest teachers at a school, rather than or in addition to one full-time teacher, has advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages I will ignore for now, perhaps for a later post. One of the advantages of the situation is receiving many different approaches and beliefs towards juggling, and thus being forced to search for ones own opinions and artistic feelings.

So, these guest juggling teachers tend to be active performing jugglers, and thus have a current understanding of that world, and most of them are of a generation where they are concerned with “new juggling”: with creation and choreography within the technique.

When I have but a scant week to spend with some students, I don’t wish to use all our precious class time doing pure technique classes. If I am only there for a brief time I see more value in sharing what I care about within juggling and beyond pure technique, to talk about the stuff that excites and inspires me, and to hope to give some of that energy to my students. If it seems necessary to spend some hours standing around talking about body position and making fine corrections to arm movements, then fine. But that is not my normal priority. I have to assume that they get that from other sources (that assumption is, of course, one of the disadvantages of the situation!).

Yes, it is absolutely vital to learn good technique. To learn it in a safe and clear manner, from first principles and onwards. But can we teach it in a creative manner from those first principles? If we learn the proper technique to climb a rope, then obviously we should learn leading with the other foot, with the other hand. But maybe rather than doing that because it is “good technique”, we could do it because it is an exploration of all the possibilities offered by that technique. So that already in those first steps we are dissecting tricks not only for technical reasons, but for creative ones. You’ve learnt your rope climb? OK, show me the variations, and tell me what they change internally as well as externally. Show me a rope climb I’ve never seen before, and build me a sequence that highlights each element within it. Good technique doesn’t need to be at the cost of creativity, or of exploration and play. And that play could be introduced at the same time as the technique, rather than as a separate factor, in a separate class, with a separate teacher.

I experienced an example of this technique/creation separation recently when I found myself in the slightly surreal situation of working for 45 minutes on someone’s finished act: a graduation piece after a four year circus education, which was already six months old and oft-performed. Despite it’s “finished” status I was expected to bring something new to it, and was being watched by two performance teachers. The act was a solo using the Chinese pole, and before the session I was asked “Have you worked with someone on Chinese pole before?”. My answer was “no.” If I had been more brutal and honest, then after the session I should have added “and I still haven’t.”

There was a major disconnect between the technique and the theatrical setting. It was to me a clear example of the wrong way to make modern circus. It was “I do this technique set, what theatrical story can I drop on top of that to make it more interesting?” Rather than making some kind of statement using circus technique, here was someone using the circus technique purely as punctuation. It was something in parentheses, something which was referred to rather than being the main event.

I believe this to be the direct result of separating technique from creation. Of learning the words, rather than coining new ones for the required intention. Of theatre teachers dropping circus into theatrical situations, rather than delving into the situation that is the circus discipline itself. And if the students say “yes”, if that is their final statement after a long and intense education? I find that to be a shame.

I don’t believe that there are no more tricks to find on the Chinese pole. Or on the Corde Lisse or the cradle or any other apparatus. Why don’t we see as much new technique from those disciplines as we do from the jugglers? Yes, the risk is a factor, but so is the psychology of the teachers and the students, and that is something we can take responsibility for. If there really are no more tricks to find, then let’s give up all those other disciplines and all be jugglers together!

But in the mean time, and after so many years of talking about how to create creative circus performers, let’s start by being creative circus teachers: teachers who can kick their students to learn pure technique, but who can also communicate the need for new technique. For technique that tells it’s own story, that is specific and personal and high level. Technique that contains it’s own theatricality, in addition to risk and spectacle and difficulty.

Theatre should deepen and clarify reality: so let’s start with our reality, circus techniques, and see if we can tell some new stories using that language.

Questions | creating VS making a living

Is it possible to be creating the new, pushing yourself and shifting paradigms (and any other clichés you can think of) while simultaneously earning bread and getting out in front of the public and strutting your stuff?

Does making a living from your art mean you limit your possibilities?

Are you a sell out if you don’t dress up as a rabbit, repeatedly jump through a hula hoop and shout “gangways” over and over again?

I think you can do both (but I’m not sure I do) but not many manage it at any rate!

Staying healthy on tour

Traveling to a different venue each day can be exciting, fun and refreshing. But it can also be gruelling, hard on the body and mind. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way…

Photo by Sura Nualpradid

Don’t be afraid to get away from the group. A common mistake to make when working/living in close proximity to your fellow artists is not taking time for yourself. Of course you want to be a team player but it’s important to have some alone time, space to think. Don’t be afraid to miss out on a nights socialising to keep your sanity!

Watch a film, read a book, surf the net – anything that gets you some personal time and not thinking about the show or tour.

Exercises. This can be a tough one, particularly if you’re doing get in/build up, performing and traveling all in the same day but it’s important to do if your used to training hard and will make you feel better. Get up 30 mins early and go for a run. In every show run I’m in I try and find a point in the show where I’m not needed and do some simple conditioning, that way I don’t need to ‘remember’ to do it, it’s as much of a habit as putting my costume on.

Eat healthy. I’ve always found this one tough but when on tour it’s even harder. Eating out can really start to lose it’s appeal when you have to do it all the time. Take any opportunity you have to cook something for yourself. Smoothies also help!

What are your tips for surviving a tour? Please leave your suggestions below!

Poor Lighting

Being able to deal with less than idea conditions has been massively helpful to me over the years, particularly in the past few weeks on tour where there is little time to spend worry about lights after the get in and prop setting has been done.

Poor lighting affects almost all circus disciplines but none more so than juggling.

Here are a few training methods (some more useful than others) to help you train for poor lighting:

Practice in sunglasses
Practice directly under a bright light
Set up a bright lamp to shine in your eyes
Practice in low level lighting
Practice outdoors on a sunny day
Run your routine with someone switching on and off the lights
Practice with one eye shut (I’ve had to do a routine immediately after being accidentally poked in the eye!).
Practice with both eyes shut (are there tricks you can do blind, if so can you take advantage of this on stage?!)

Any suggestions? I’d love to hear how you train for poor lighting, leave a comment!

Kiev – Part 2

Part 1 | Part 3

The beginning of the day

Warming up, stretching and meeting people

When I arrived in the morning I would have to shake every male’s hand, that was their culture, (would take a long time if you were last) I would also kiss the girls on the cheek but that was seen as odd at the beginning because the girls should come to you. (Oh yeh lol)

By 9 o’clock, half the school would be waiting to be let in (not like my school -The Circus Space – that’s more like 9:04, you can already start to see why they are better), when we get in everyone has their place to warm up, it’s an unwritten rule, front half – hand to hand, contortionist and jugglers, 2nd half – everyone else. The warm up was self done like everything but all anyone did was sit in box splits and talk, that’s all anyone really did. Now, I’m flat in all splits but not at 9am in -20 degrees. It would take me a good half an hour to get there, for that I was laughed at, they laughed at my inflexibility and asked if I had ever been stretched, nearly everyone there could lie on their back and have their legs on the floor in box if not by themselves with someone pushing. The best box splits I saw by a guy was a hand to hand base, extreme over splits, why? I do not know, jealousy? YES. So for the warm up, no one ran, jumped or did anything to get the blood pumping except two lads who warmed up by round off back tuck which annoyed everyone on a daily basis.

The first people to stop stretching/warming up would be the contortionists and jugglers which would be about 9:30, then the straps artists would stroll in, topless, no matter how cold it was (they were known as the crazy ones of the school). 9:30-9:45 would be the handbalancers and then finally the hand to hand pairs. It was like clockwork every day.

As we are warming up the teachers start to arrive. First at 9:15 is Yuriy Pozdnyakov the juggling teacher (also head of the school) most students would go over say good morning (most formal way possible) and shake his hand. Secondly would be all 3 hand to hand coaches all ex-sports acro world champions, ALL hand to hand students would race over, I mean race pushing each other out of the way just so they could stand at the start of the line, each teacher would come over and shake their hand – No one wanted to be at the end of the line. Then my teacher, Victold a 73 yr old man would come at 9:50 and would go to lots of students and shake their hands and give them a hug – he would say how beautiful the girls are and how strong the boys are looking, he was such a lovely teacher, wasn’t your stereotypical blunt grumpy Ukrainian.

Before I left for Kiev everyone was telling me how much I was going to cry, how much they were going to push and stretch me, but I only saw that with 2 girls, it happened everyday at the same time 10:15 one girl will start crying, 10 weeks went by and it was the same, same stretch, same time, same crying. By the end, everyone had lost their sympathy…

After the warm up and throughout the day the students would stretch each other. The main ones were:

Toe point; you would have someone stand on your feet and walk pushing with their heel into your toes.
20110604-115444.jpgKnees; they would stand in turn out on your knee joint and bounce up and down, oh, your legs are on something high so there is a gap between your legs and there floor, (this one I hate and wanted to cry every time) a perfect example of this knee and toe stretching is Pavel Stankevich.

The most outrageous stretch was the elbow; some girls would try and hyper extend their elbows. I asked why and they said Anatoly Zalievsky had told them to, well you know what; I would probably do anything he told me to do as well.

The Handbalancers

So the handbalancers were split into 2 groups. 1 group focused on contortion handstands taught by Nataliya Pozdnyakova and the other one was just handstands, with exceptions.

From what I gathered the students didn’t get to pick their discipline or their teacher, they got told what to do (very harsh If you don’t like that discipline but sometimes TCS gives its students too much freedom so I see the pros but also the cons). In the group that mainly focused on contortion, all the girls were ex rhythmic or already contortionists, I have never seen the flexibility like these girls, 1 girl had her leg on a gymnastic horse (around 3 foot high) and was flat in all splits without warming up or any pain, there teacher would make them pull their legs past the line of your hips, so when they were in a handstand there legs were in over splits behind them, this I didn’t really like, I think it’s beautiful when they have a flat line. There was one boy who was 19 (I think), from France and was a very highly skilled gymnast – he will be the next Sergei Timofeev. Every morning once the girls are stretched and warm, they would then condition 1 arm leavers on a single cane, their teacher would spot them and sometimes they would hold an ankle weight. There teacher spent a lot of time with them correcting, spotting and telling them what to do (interesting in the contrast with Victold the other Handbalancing coach) though they are different styles I would say Victold’s students were better due to their own self motivation and drive. A comparison can be with Victold’s student Artur Bezkorynny and then Nataliya’s students Sergei Timofeev and Anastasiya Mazur.

So all the girls trained 1 arm lever, 1 arm lower to croc and 1 arm gufus/figure (seen here). 20110604-115452.jpgThey were the main tricks, you started learning them on day one. Again different to Victold, his was more like; you get one trick then move on (which is like my teacher at TCS)
Theory 1 – Why do 1 arm lever if you can’t 1 arm?

Theory 2 – When you get 1 arm you are already strong enough to do 1 arm lever.

Again, I see the pros and cons.

The girls though could not jump up onto blocks or leaver and on the floor they would struggle getting into a handstand, they would go too far and fall into a bridge and then press it from there, which I thought was crazy, once they were in a handstand they were doing amazing things it was just getting in to a handstand was a problem.

One exercise I enjoyed to watch was when the girls were in scorpion and were trying to kick the feet under their armpits, they would get their feet in and then they would pop straight out, it was just funny to watch. I guess though if I tried it, it would be funnier.

There were 3 girls that I think were in 4th year. 1 girl I could watch all day training, she just had ever muscle in her body working exactly where she wanted it, every finger was in the exact place and it looked so elegant and easy for her. She would do her act on tall canes I think 4 or 5, she would do 1 arm turning and she was trying to get a full pirouette on 1 cane. She was very close at this, it was just a hit and miss trick. However when I saw her act I was a little disappointed, her movement was beautiful, her handstands were stunning but she lacked performance, fun and excitement.
I would rather watch her train than watch her piece and I think it’s such a shame but I also think that’s what makes what we do so hard, you can technically be the best but if you can’t put it into a piece it doesn’t matter. (This is only my opinion so people may disagree)

Then there was a girl who would do her act on a round table, so she would be on a flat surface doing every handstand shape you can think of. She was super strong doing planches and 1 arm lower to croc and flexible so doing all the contortion handstands, but, the interesting thing about her act is that she was doing contact juggling at the same time. So, I have seen contact jugglers draw a square with the ball when they are stood up, well she did it in a 1 arm changing positions with her legs whilst drawing a square. She would have up to four balls in her hands and rotating them all while lowering down to the floor. Then have four in both hands while balancing on her elbows. Ridiculously impressive – two extremely hard disciplines put together and both at a very high standard. Again I felt disengaged as with the other girl, something was lost when she did her act, I don’t know if it was the music and because it was all very one level and had no contrast but I just felt like we miss something and it doesn’t show off how good and how hard it is. It’s such a shame because she is so talented but again I felt her piece just lacked a spark.

The last girl would perform her act on about 24 wooden blocks; she would start on the floor and stack them all up transferring from one arm to the next changing and again doing every position you could think of. Before you have realised it she has stacked all the blocks and is at the top and she is still in a handstand about 4-5 mins later with no rest. Hardcore, especially when people don’t realise. She hops up and down the blocks, turns and just looks phenomenal and so at ease but again I feel she lacks something and I think its life, happiness and enjoyment. I know she does have all that but it doesn’t come across when she performs and it’s such a shame.

Kiev – Part 1

So, I had just graduated from The Circus Space and had been working for a few months but for a long time I had wanted to go to the circus school in Kiev. Finally I had got it all sorted but now I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go because I had built up consistent work in London. I kept changing my mind until one thought prevailed; screw it this is a one in a lifetime chance to go and train a little more and learn the secret of handstands. From day one I have always heard that Kiev is the best school, from all the videos and circus festivals like Cirque Du Demain all my favourite acts (that I consider the best) come from Kiev. I wanted to know why they were so good what they were doing differently to me, what was their secret. So at the start of October I went to Kiev and trained handstands for 8 weeks.

I’ve had many people ask me about it, so this blog is about my journey, my experiences and my time in Kiev and I truly hope it will answer your questions and help you.

http://circusacademy.kiev.ua/perspective_of_development.html

KievThe circus school and its surroundings

Circus Artist Hotel

I stayed in the Circus artist hotel, which was about £15 a night for me; in my room I had 3 beds and 1 wardrobe. The decor was absolutely sublime; blue painted walls that if you ran you fingers down, the paint went onto your finger tips; along with bed covers that had dolphins on (which kept you safe during the night). The kitchen had an oven which didn’t work and 3 hobs, a sink and a fridge. So we had to make a cup of coffee the old school way. The bathroom had a normal toilet and then a TUB, it was a bout 2ft by 2ft, it was tiny and not comfy or in the slightest practical to have a bath in.

Again with showing how well they have moved with technology there was no washing machine and there were no laundrettes so it was hand washing (you get very sore hands) but at least the heating was good. It was also cockroach infested, which really hindered my sleep because I have never seen cockroaches and I’m not that brave (being in a different country, not speak the language was bad enough).

The walk to the circus school

The school was a 20 minute walk from the Circus Artist hotel where I was staying; it is situated in the middle of a military training base and looked like an old derelict Olympic area. It had a football pitch surrounded by concrete seats, a sand pit for long jump, high jump and pole vault, around the edge it had the running track and also had rugby goal posts. It is very old now and has Kiev graffiti all over it and is reddened with a lot of very cute stray dogs, but it was still being used everyday either by young students running and jumping or by older lads playing football tournaments.

Then you come up to the military base, where you’ll see the police marching around, they were any age from 16 to 40 and they rule – you don’t mess with them and you get out of their way – which I learnt quickly. They have to keep the whole place tidy, digging holes for trees or digging up trees. The main chore they had to do was sweep up the leaves, it really showed how traditional Kiev still is because they swept the leaves up with a bunch of twigs bundled together. It took me a while to get used to these traditional things still in their culture, to me they seemed really contrasting to the Ferrari garage that was down the road, and the ‘super cool’ sushi restaurants that all played dance music to having no washing machine and everyone sweeping up leafs with twigs and branches.

Then there is a swimming baths, I never went in them which was odd (I had a lot of spare time) but it’s this big blue building which was always being used. Then you come up to where I was, first of all it just looks like a average sports hall, you have 5 a side football courts and male and female changing rooms and communal showers, the Ukrainians there were very homophobic but they are a lot more comfortable with getting changed, showering and talking in front of each other than people are in the UK which was very interesting (I began to realise they are all much more mature for their age). I saw that they also had fencing classes there and there was an outdoor cinema but I never saw that being used.

The School

So you then get to the circus training space which starts at 9am. Every morning all the students will be waiting outside for the doors to be opened, we tried to go in early and warm up but we would get shouted at by the cleaners who every morning vacuumed the room and washed the floor, they would also sow up the crash mats (every morning!) they were like patch works (not very reassuring!)

So the space we trained in was one massive room, it looked like an old male gymnastic room, it had a Olympic size sprung floor for FX and sports acro routines and another sprung floor half the size which wasn’t very sprung more soft floor. It had 3 sets of rings (low ones, high competition ones and a pair in the pit) which we used for muscle up competitions, conditioning and a laugh. Nearly everyone in the school could muscle up – it was a basic strength move. The gym had 3 pommel horses ranging from on the floor to competition height, one mushroom into the floor which most people could do 1 double leg circle and bail, 4 parallel bars: 2 about 4 foot high and then one at competition height and one beside the pit, which ended up getting kicked and punch by the handbalancers, then 3 high bars: 2 in the pit and 1 low one on the floor which was used so all students learnt Split leg rotation/mill circle and up start and finally a tumble track running into the pit that really wasn’t that sprung just soft.

At times it was warmer outside than it was inside the training space, me and the other handbancers sometimes wore gloves to train in and lots of layers but you always got the odd guy still walking round topless, generally the straps boys they were known as the crazy ones. The windows were not double glazing and they had been broken, usually from the jugglers throwing their juggling balls in anger. We commonly had little birds flying around and trying to find out how to get back out, the lights and heating only came on when it was really cold and dark because of cost but also the lights got broken a few times – again from jugglers getting angry. There are ceiling rafters which all the circus equipment was hung onto which would never happen in the UK due to health and safety but also the jugglers would climb up the walls and walk along it about 30 ft high and place a ball up there just so they could try knocking it off with another juggling ball from the floor, again something that wouldn’t be allowed here in the UK, safety safety safety.

From what I gathered circus was in 9-1 which was students and professionals, after us was professional time and then sports acro but they sometimes trained with us, Shcherbak and Popov were sometimes there when we were but mainly after or before. On a Saturday younger boys about 8-12 would come and train from 12 doing gymnastics, they would always come early so they could throw them self into the pit before their coach came.

One last thing about the space, the toilets are just a hole in the floor, you didn’t really go for many number twos there.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 10

This is the tenth post in a series where I set out to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Ten: GetMoreCorporateGigs.com

Get More (Corporate) Gigs

Circus has always had strong links with marketing, if you don’t promote your show/act/you well enough then you don’t eat. One of the greatest marketeers of all time  P. T. Barnum, was a circus proprietor who mastered the art of how to grab attention, create a buzz and sell a show.

I understand why so many circus artists shy away or despise ‘selling themselves’. To do it well you do need to be brave, go out on a limb and invest time and energy. If you really have no interest in marketing then get someone else to do it for you. But understanding the basic concepts behind marketing is important to any artists whether you plan on creating the next Cirque Du Soleil or not.

This is why I’m recommending you sign up for the free trial of GMCG, it gives you some great starting points and some basic principals. The course is delivered by Barry Friedman, a real expert in this field.

The name may be familiar to some of you as Barry has been performing half of the legendary double act, The Raspini brothers for over twenty years. Without a doubt one of the most original, funny and financially successful juggling acts around. So well respected in their field they were asked to give their own TED talk (now a personal goal of mine).

So when I found out about Barry’s online marketing course it was a no brainer to join up.

I loved doing the online course, learnt so much about my own approach to marketing, work and life. I’ve improved my business and continue to read and occasionally post in the forum which provides excellent feedback and support to your efforts in a really positive community of performers. Every week I revisit one of the lessons and see how I can make improvements on my work.

I would recommend GMCG to anyone who has the drive to make their business better. It does centre around the US corporate sector but the underlying lessons can be applied to any market your interested in; from writing proposals for funding to selling your shows to theatres.

I know the full course is not going to be everyones cup of tea but you can get a taster with the free 7 day training course. Even the information from this freebie could transform your marketing approach and I’m sure some of you will see the benefits in signing up to the full course.

Sign up for your free 7-day training course here.

Oh and incase you’re wondering, I’m not on commission or anything like that, it’s just a service I think is really useful.

If you do sign up let me know your thoughts!

http://www.getmorecorporategigs.com/

I’ve always been interested in business and marketing but since doing the course I’ve become more passionate about these subjects. I want to learn more about selling shows and building websites, so perhaps drop me an e-mail if you have an interesting project you think I could help with.

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Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 7

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number seven: Use YouTube

When YouTube started to attract attention less than six years ago I was skeptical, even a little fearful. I made a video in early 2006 which was uploaded to YouTube and attracted 70,000 views and was featured on the home page, all within 4 days and without my knowledge (and most importantly) my permission.

But 5 years later and I’m a total YouTube convert. It’s quickly become the industry standard for sharing work with agents and clients, replacing DVD as arguably the best way to share your work.

There is a great feature you might not be aware of, setting your video as unlisted. This means the video can’t be found by anyone who does not know the url which you can distribute as wish.

You can rename the title of the video once it’s uploaded os get rid of that ugly ‘whateveryourtitleis’.mp4 extension!

For promo videos it’s best to have your url link in the first line of the description with the full http:// included so it becomes an active hyperlink to your site.

Read more YouTube tips here.

Also worth remembering is jTV, a site setup for juggling videos but also contains some great historical circus videos.

 

 

Warming up

Just like athletes or actors, circus performers warm up before a performance. While a warm up may not prevent injury as many think, it can be helpful to refresh the skill set and frame of mind before one steps out on stage.

Having said that, is it a good idea to run your routine in full before your show, should you touch base with the skills or should you do something completely different?

When on a 4 month contract (all the performances were in the same venue), I charted the number of technical mistakes (drops, being behind on cues etc.). For two weeks I did my act on stage before the show, for 2 weeks I did some of the skills in the act before hand, for 2 weeks I warmed up with something completely different and for 2 weeks I did no warm up.

I found despite the warm up method there was negligible difference on my technical performance on stage. It’s hard to be objective as to how well the act was performed but I do feel that the two weeks where I did no warm up were a little harder for me in terms of performing and connecting with the audience. Therefore personally speaking there is little difference in the out come of warming method but it is preferable to do some kind of warm up.

From a phycological point of view I prefer to warm up with a little of the skills I use on stage and then move onto something completely different. For instance in my act I don’t juggle balls so I like warming up with a few short runs of 5 balls, maybe 30-60 seconds. This is enough to relax me, make me think about my posture and enjoy the pattern. I don’t do anything hard as I want to keep drops out of my head and keep my confidence levels up.

I know some artists who like to run their routine in full, others like to run their routine in revers while some like doing each trick 10 times clean. For me this is too much but if it works for you then great. One thing to consider when devising your own warm up methods is where are you going to do this warm up at your gig? I can do mine in a dressing room or in a corridor, anywhere really. It’s worth coming up with a warm up that can fit into a stairwell or other relatively small places that you find backstage as few venues have good warm up facilities.

One specific thing I would recommend is balancing an object on your face, doesn’t mater if you’re a juggler, acrobat, aerialists, actor, dancer or snake charmer. Once learnt, it takes up no room and is very reliable. With in 15 seconds you become still, focused, increased spacial awareness and reminded of your posture.

I would recommend coming up with your warm up plan and then test it out a few times. Get up early, go into your warm up and then do your full routine. If it worked out then great, if not, you either need to change your warm up or make your routine easier.

This is all fairly personal but through planing and testing you can come up with a warm up that will give you the best chances of nailing your perfect show.

Good luck!

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 5

The fifth instalment to the series which aims to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Five: Use an electronic calendar

There is something brilliant about a Moleskine pocket calendar but times are a changing and using the calendar on your smart phone and desktop is the way to go.

It’s fine to keep a handwritten diary, there are some advantages but my suggestion would be to fill the information into a digital back up. If you lose a pocket calendar then you could be in real trouble.

If you lose a phone with your digital calendar then at least you have your backup on your home computer and online (if you have set it ip to sync!). If you don’t know how to do this then have a look here. I’d recommend Google calendar as it’s free and works across most platforms, Mac or PC, iPhone or Android etc.

The great thing about a digital calendar is you can setup reminders. Set alarms and text messages to go off at any point of your choosing before an event. Say you want a 1 week, 3 day, 1 day and half an hours notice before a meeting, you can easily set up a message to appear on you phone or computer to do this.

If you use this system correctly you should never forget about an appointment again! Learn how to do this with your Google calendar here.

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 4

The fourth instalment to the series which aims to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier. This tip should keep you inspired.

Tip Number Four: Watch TED talks.

TEDI became aware of TED talks in 2007 and ever since I’ve been hooked.

TED is a non profit organisation set up to spread interesting ideas. Originally focusing on Technology Education Design (TED), but now encompassing a vast range of subjects, everything from horse puppetry to the future of wireless medicine.

You can read more about TED here.

I think it’s worth stopping for a second and taking note of the amazing value of the internet. We are now lucky enough to able to watch and listen to some of the most knowledgeable experts from around the globe talk about their most cutting edge and exciting work and ideas, all from and comfort of our own home, for free. It’s an example of the internet at it’s greatest.

Some of the TED talks have entertained me, informed me, challenged my opinion, inspired me and even moved me to tears. The best have all at once.

My challenge to you is to watch a TED video a week. It will make you a better artist and more importantly, a better human.

Here are a couple to start you on your way…

If you you find any inspiring TED talks be sure to share them with us, particularly if they are circus related! As ever, if you have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 2

This is the second in a series of posts aiming to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number Two: Signup to Twitter.

There are still so few circus artists using Twitter, this is changing but I hope I can convince you to sign up today.

People often ask, “What is it? What’s the point? How can it help? Isn’t it a total waste of time?”. Watch the video below and read the Twitter FAQ.

Basically the more circus people that are on Twitter the more useful it becomes, the more connected we all our, the more experience we can share and the better informed we all get, creating better work. This will increase the interest and eventually demand in circus which in turn means there are more jobs for us all. Sounds a bit hippyish but it actually makes perfect sense.

If you don’t know who to follow (receive updates from) @CircusGeeks has a lists of circus artists, venues, employers and our very own bloggers on Twitter. You can just chose to follow our lists and you don’t have to go searing around for hours on end. If you want to be included on our lists just send us a tweet (message via twitter).

Still not convinced? Get an account and follow our lists, you don’t have to tweet but I bet something will pop up that sparks off your interest and before you know it you will be addicted!

Just don’t get too carried away with it all and avoid making embarrassing mistakes.

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below or better still tweet at us!

Technology Tips for Circus Artists – 1

In this series of posts I’m going to give tips on using technology to make your hours behind your desk that bit easier.

Tip Number one: Use RSS Feeds.

RSS stands for ‘Really Simple Syndication’, you will probably recognize the logo as it’s on most websites. Basically it’s a neat way of reading all of your favorite websites news from one convenient place. Meaning you don’t have to waste time checking each site individually. I’d recommend using the Google Reader as it’s simple and will work with 3rd party Apps on iPhone, iPad, Android phones etc.

You can learn more about RSS in general here and watch this video about Google Reader…

Once you’ve set up an account be sure to add our RSS feed to your list!

If you found this tip helpful or have any suggestions please leave a comment below.

Prop Stands

After my prop building post I thought it might be nice to look at prop stands in the context of juggling routines, they are often over looked but can dramatically change the structure of an act.

I thought it might be interesting to analysis some routines to see what kind of prop stand they use and note some of the positive and negative aspects of their stand. If you know of any interesting examples or points don’t forget to add a comment below.

Before I get too deep on this subject it’s probably best to define what a prop stand is. I’m defining it as an object created for the purpose of holding a performers props, allowing them to quickly or elegantly transition from one prop to another. Fairly simplistic but I think it’s a workable definition.

So first up I’d like to look at Donald Grant’s diabolo act.

http://juggling.tv/1798

I love this act; it’s well choreographed and full of character, one of my favorites. In the act Mr. Grant transitions from using one diabolo to two. His prop stand is either the floor or sometimes an assistant brining on the second diabolo. It works because it’s simple, it doesn’t distract from the performer and gives him a quick transition from one piece to another. The drawback is should you have an act with more props, the stage could become unworkable and if the stage is not level then it could easily cause problems.

Having said that a few months ago Jay Gilligan and Wes Peden released a video called “More Fun Than Visiting a Zoo Volume 2 – Instant Prop Stand” in which they explore the concept of using the props themselves as the prop stands.

The set up required for some of the tricks is slightly mind blowing but besides the practicality it produces some very nice and original work. You can buy the full video download here (and no I’m not on commission!).

Kris Kremo is another favourite of mine so let’s have a look at his work with regards to prop stands.

Kris uses more props than Donald but works around the problem by having his props on a convenient table or ledge usually off stage. This way Kremo avoids having a distracting prop stand on stage, he also doesn’t have to worry about having his prop stand set correctly. The only draw back is he must exit the stage momentarily to change props. However this also helps in the structure of the routine, for a moment the audience doesn’t know if he will return to continue or take his final applause. It’s interesting to note in this fascinating interview with Kris Kremo he mentions his farther, Bela Kremo who taught him much of the act. According to Kris, Bela liked to use a chair as a prop stand because (like the props in his routine) it was an everyday object that the audience was familiar with.

Gandini Juggling, who I occasionally work for, use many different props and have simple methods to store their often large number of props on stage.

For standard small balls they have simple buckets which stop balls rolling about the stage. The only draw back is that it’s difficult for more than 2 performers to access the balls at once. The Gandini glow club stand solution is extremely elegant, the props and stand are displayed to the audience rather then hidden away and are particularly atheistically pleasing. I think this is a great example where the prop stand adds to the routine rather than distracts from it. On a practical note the only downside I know of is that they weigh a fair amount and do not fold down.

http://juggling.tv/633

Dieto another gentleman juggler that has a particularly interesting prop stand. Parts unfold revealing small characters presenting props, very unusual and well crafted. I like that a visit to the prop stand is as entertaining as the juggling and manipulation (which I also really like). Some people will say it’s too gimmicky but personally I love this act and would love to have a prop stand as equally as eccentric!

http://juggling.tv/343

The god father of technical club juggling, Alexander Kiss had some amazing tricks and some very impressive props that bordered on the line of prop stands. My favorite of his was a device which fired clubs into the air (he then perform a trick which has become a measuring stick for many of today’s jugglers; 5 club backcrosses). The magical quality in which he is given his clubs makes you question if he is also just some kind of ingenious machine built in one of the circus workshops behind the Iron curtain in the 1950s that surely existed. Given the tricks that he and his sister (Violetta) performed I would not be massively surprised to find out they were both robots.

http://juggling.tv/163

Evgeni Biljaure (Or Ewgenie/Evgenie Biljaueis depending where you look on the net) is another juggler who pushed the limits of what was thought was possible. 2 ball head bouncing, 5 club forward rolls, 7 rings with a balance, an amazing juggler. In his routine props were thrown to him from all different directions, props flew in from all around the ring. This kept the audience guessing, used the space well and kept the energy of the act up. The only downside to using faceless assistants is you have to trust that the ring boys are paying attention to your act and waiting for their cues, otherwise you might be waiting for that 3rd ball for an awfully long time!

http://juggling.tv/1516

Bert Garden a comedic gentleman juggler, has a automated moving case that appears to interact with him. At one point Garden is even handed a ball from an arm that protrudes from the case in a comical manor. I’d say the main draw back with this particular prop stand is that the performer has to bend over each time to get a new prop. Bending over looks a little unsightly and doesn’t seem to fit well with the character of a gentleman. However I like the idea of the prop stand having a mind of it’s own, it reminds me of ‘The Luggage’ from the marvelous Disk World novels by Terry Pratchett.

More recently Christoph Rummel uses a club firing device in one of his routines. Interesting to have the workings of the device on display, it seems more robotic and less magical, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

I’d say there is still so a lot of potential in using prop stands in creative ways but building interesting stands can be tricky. If you’d like to learn more perhaps reading this article about implementing a propstand into a routine written by the brilliant Steven Ragatz over a IJDB is a good place to start.

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