YukkiYoYo

It is with great sadness that I bring the news of Yukihiro Suzuki (known onstage as YukkiYoYo) passing away on the 27th June 2012. My heart goes out to his friends and family and I thought it might be fitting to share a few thoughts here…

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Around 2000 when internet videos were starting to really open my eyes to the wider yo-yo community I came across a few videos of a ridiculously talented boy doing things with two yo-yos that I didn’t know we’re possible. I’d watch them over and over hoping some of it might rub off.

In 2002 I watched Yukkis worlds freestyle, it floored me. It was the most raw freestyles I’d ever seen (and possibly will ever see). Such style and energy.

A few years later in France I had the pleasure to meet Yukki in person, I remember being genuinely nervous meeting someone who I had admired and watched for years. Yukki struck me as a humble, kind and generous person. I spoke to him about circus school and performing, at the time I was in a similar position to him, although I was just starting out at circus school.

I remember Yukki talking about originality, being true to yourself on stage and finding your personality in the technique. Sometimes a slightly abstract concept but with Yukki you could really see this ideal on stage.

Yukki had the rare insight and abilities to combine a supreme understanding of technique with a truly unique aesthetic, provoking emotion like any great piece of art. Yukki was a true Yo-Yo Artist.

The world is a worse off place without Yukki, so many audiences robbed of seeing such a talent, ideas the world will never see, such style…. Gone.

5 things that suck about Circus Artist’s websites

Here are 5 (of many) things that suck about the average circus artist website…

  • Flash. It’s amazing that in 2012 there are still people posting links to new websites that have Flash embedded. Flash doesn’t work on any iOS devices (iPhone, iPad), is buggy and is unnecessary. If you really want spinning animations or even some tasteful crossfading photos then HTML-5 is where you need to head. Leave the Flash in the 90s!
  • Splash pages. No one wants to land on a page that is just a photo of you with ‘click here to enter’ (BOOM,BOOM!) written underneath. It’s pointless and ups the chances of someone giving up on you before they get to see what you’re really about.
  • Homepages. Circus is a visual, live medium. Obvious I know but clearly some of you need reminding of this because you don’t have a video on your homepage. Why not?! Having great images on your site is important but not as important as showing what you actually do! Embeding a YouTube or Vimeo video is super simple, if you don’t want their logos involved they pay for a Vimeo Pro or VideoPress account (personally I think it’s fine, people trust YouTube and therefore more likely to click play). Don’t make a potential booker have to search for your video, it should be one of the first things they come across.
  • Use of lingo. Your site is probably not aimed at people who understand circus lingo so avoid specialised words and phrases.
  • Ego (I’m learning this one the hard way). You don’t want ego on a site that is about you. Sounds odd but it’s true. Your design, layout, copy, video, blog and social media should be aimed at a particular type of customer. You need to address their worries and wants rather than use your site as a chance to show just how really great you are. That’s not to say you won’t show your strengths, it’s just you want to do it in a manner that connects and engages rather than shows off. It’s possibly the most important thing to learn in marketing and particularly important for artists who have to promote themselves. If your sites going to be effective at driving you business then you need to study this stuff and more!

Teachers Week

Right now I am sitting in the backseat of a small van / large car: sandwiched comfortably between a yoga teacher and an aerialist. In the front seats are a burlesque performer and, driving, one of our two producers. We are en route to our second venue as part of the Cwtch Cabaret tour in Wales.
www.cwtchcabaret.co.uk

But I want to write now not about touring in the UK (which is a great and wonderful novelty for me!), but about a project which shows once more that jugglers are the geekiest of the circus community.

Earlier this month I was in Berlin for a week, participating in the first Juggling Teachers Meeting, held at the Berlin Juggling Center. Arranged by the centres owner, Alan Blim (the original founder of Berlin’s Juggling Katakomben), this five day workshop was supported by a European initiative for teaching, and had participants from Hungary, the Czech Republic, the UK, Italy, Spain, and of course Germany.
Berlin Juggling Center

So in all we had around a dozen students, and four teachers completed the group: myself, Alan Blim, Marco Paoletti, and Tim Roberts (long-time juggling teacher at the Chalôns school, now head of Higher Education at the Circus Space in London, and president of FEDEC).

Each of us was to teach a day (and to participate as students in the other days), and a target of the week was not only to teach our usual workshops or themes, but also to go deeper into the actual teaching theory behind our work. Each teacher had their own style and manner of course, which also meant that different teachers went at different levels, and in differing depths, into the theoretical aspects behind their teaching.

It became clear by the third day that teaching juggling in general can be divided into two large and different themes: long-term teaching (such as at a professional circus school, with the same students over a period of years), and short-term (like an hour workshop at a juggling convention). Knowing the context that the teaching is happening in informs the content and the detail of the work that is appropriate. Long-term teaching allows more personal research, and the teacher-student relationship can be more equal, with the teacher taking on something of a professor or mentor-like role. In short-term teaching, quicker results are usually desired by the students, and it can be more important to place focus on quick results – cool tricks or simple sequences.

Each of the four teachers material and teaching styles were very different from each other, but common themes showed themselves each days: suggesting that there is some common or shared vocabulary amongst us all. Building a strong foundation of technique and content, creating neutral space for new creation, exploring existing elements as deeply as possible, and noticing (and then breaking) habits we have formed.

Another major topic of discussion was a theme which I have talked about in previous blogs here: the reasons for, and the consequences of, the lack of permanent juggling teachers in comparison to those of other disciplines. As I have also postulated, I believe this is part of the reason for jugglers, historically speaking, pushing further creatively than other artists. But that has always seemed to be an accident of the situation (caused by students having a multitude of visiting, performing teachers), rather than the schools explicitly choosing to provide teaching in that manner.

The desire was always to create something more tangible from the weeks research, and through Tim’s involvement came the decision to write a juggling teachers manual for FEDEC. FEDEC has an ongoing project to create training manuals (free to download from the FEDEC website) for the circus disciplines, to promote exchange between the schools and a good level of teaching across all subjects. There are ten “chapters” so far, and two further (single wheel and straps) already in production. They start with the most basic of technique and preparatory work, before moving onto more advanced material. It became clear that the juggling manual doesn’t need low-level teaching material (the juggling students at the professional circus schools already enter with a high technique level), and so the focus shall be more directly centred on the artistic and theoretical aspects of the work.
www.fedec.eu

Perhaps that approach can then feed back into the other disciplines, just as we jugglers can learn from them. It is also hoped that the work that was begun over the week can be continued and added to: to arrange another meeting, perhaps in London, with a greater mix of teachers with a greater range of experience and styles. Although the week was inspiring and felt very important, it also felt very much like a first step – a step towards a bigger and clearer project.

Circus Sideshow “Geek”

GEEK: \’gēk\, noun
From the low German geck, meaning “fool” (1914).
1: A carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off of a live chicken or snake.
2: A person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.
3: An enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity (computer geek).
— geek•dome, noun
— geek•i•ness, noun
— geeky, adjective
— geek, verb

Merriam Webster On-Line

I am actually considered a geek because I eat, or geek, fire. Any time we eat random items nowadays (lightbulbs, bugs, etc.) it is considered geeking. Though originally this term was reserved for biting (geeking) the heads off of chickens with great show, usually dressed is white.

Shiny, Dangerous, New Toys

I got new toys Thursday. Shiny new toys. Sharp, dangerous, shiny, new toys. And I’m so giddy I may throw up 🙂

I bought the swords I need for my Ladder of Blades act. I’m building the ladder from scratch. I like this idea because in the process of building it not only will I learn a lot, about the blades and the construct of the ladder, but I will gain a stronger connection to my gear. I’m hoping it’ll end up feeling like an extension of myself. This is really important because I’m stepping it up with this act, it’ll officially be the most dangerous act we do. Let me reprise a part of an earlier blog where I mentioned injuries I normally only associate with shark attacks. And then Thursday I was additionally cautioned against loosing my acheles tendon. So this is where I say “Don’t Try This At Home,” there is no please about it. As if filleting my calf wasn’t caution enough, or repeatedly cutting my feet; but for some reason I am still gung-ho about this act. Thank you Mom for the ballet lessons, they are about to come in very handy. I need to work out, build my muscle strength up so I don’t wibble wobble. My center of balance has to be true. I can’t make a mistake. Which is why I was insistent about spending my own money to build the ladder so it would be mine, so I could connect with it. Any blood will be my own. Slightly grotesque, maybe, I prefer to think of it more as ritualistic. Like tearing down and rebuilding your first motorcycle engine.

First thing I did was to go to someone who knew what the hell they were talking about, our trusted Mike Todd. Sideshow, sword-swallower, weapons-master extraordinaire, he has even defied death in the name of Circus Sideshow. A wealth of facts and a library of history, he takes our art with an air of respect and glee. Needless to say I trust him. So I called him up, 6 months ago, just to get info and the specs of the ladder, what I would need and the like. He took the time to expand on the info and give me more information I would need, cautions, etc. He even went so far as to say that when I was ready he would go with me to help pick out the blades. Disco! Because you know I don’t know what I’m doing with it comes to swords you step on. Besides, I’m a knife girl, short blades I understand, but long blades escape me.

Thank you Dad! He’s the one who insisted on giving me an American Express gift card for my X-mas present. He said that if he gave me cash it wouldn’t feel like a present and besides I’d just spend it on bills anyway. Dang you Father and your generosity! (shaking fist in the air) What am I going to do with a gift card? Bing! My dad totally solved a problem for me, because all those blades were not going to come cheap and I had been saving up – sorta. I called up Mike and he was a bright ray of sunshine on the phone, I nearly fell off my chair. Hey I live in LA, no one is that happy on the telephone here, we think you want something. But it’s Mike, so I was okay. We went last night to a couple of shops, turns out military supply shops are a good place to start, but apparently they had a run on their machetes – which makes me concerned on a few levels – so we went to the mall. You know those Oriental stores in the mall full of things you can get in Little Tokyo for cheaper? Well as it turns out in the back there’s weaponry, who knew? Oh what a plethora of swords, knives, axes, and blades they had; but I had criteria to stick to. The blades had to be of stainless or carbon-steel, preferably shiny and wide because it reads better from stage. Some blades are harder to walk on than others while they might seem easier to the audience, and other turns of thought. But no matter what it’s still a blade that can cripple me, there’s no faking it, so no matter how giddy I was I had to take this seriously. Fake or cast metal ran the chance of breaking under my weight and that’s when I lose a body part. I took a few deep breaths while I was there. I was nervous no matter what.

But I found four beautiful blades, I want one more. I think an odd number is more pleasing to the eye. I am happy. I picked out four different shapes and looks to go with an aspect in the show we are working on. Since the ladder itself is being custom-made this is not as big an issue as we can design the recesses in the ladder to match the blades to make them as level as possible. I’m going to help with the design and the building so that I know my ladder that much better. The way I figure it, the better I know it the better off I will be. But for now I’m enjoying being giddy over my new swords. The simitar is awesome, I finally have a pirate sword, one is super ornate – which I think is good for stage, and one is a down and dirty machete – though it may need to be prettied up just a bit. You gotta just love new toys!

Holding Friends Hostage Proves Useful

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Oh, it proves ever so useful. Just strap them down. I prefer to use straightjackets, double reinforced cotton duck. Or if you find yourself without, and following a theme (I love themes) use duct tape. In this case tape them to their chairs. I am also fond of packaging twine. Thin yet strong these little wonders are very deceptive. Bonus – got some old dentist chairs lying around? They allow you to strap their heads back so they’re always facing towards your stage. They won’t be going anywhere. Now you have yourself a captive audience. If you feed them and promise to release them unharmed they also might provide you with some (honest?) feedback.

Ladies and Gentlemen, enjoy the show!

This gives you a chance to improve, to work out an idea you’ve had, to stretch out something to an extreme to see if it works. It’s like a mini workshop. You want to try out a new character you been batting around your head for a month, whip it out. Want to see if that extra flip or stunt will fly or flop with the audience, let ‘er rip. How about that secret new act you’ve honed on your own, shine baby shine!

Performing in front of your friends isn’t just a great workshop it’s also great chance for simple practice in front of an audience. Cirque and Sideshow performing is still performing and some still have stage fright. Wonderful point here is that with your bondaged audience members they really are captive and they aren’t going anywhere, so you have no fear of someone getting up and leaving for any reason. Potty breaks are just going to have to wait. You can relax, breathe. Take an extra moment and then start. Adrenalin will be pumping and half working against you in this respect, so just breathe.

Friends are wonderful, so giving, so accommodating, so selfless in giving up their time without hardly having to be asked. Their gift to you is your extra preparation and workout with your art, act, and self. *Just allow an hour of lead time to catch and tie down said friends.

(*this blog is assuming an audience of 5-10 friends, depending on how fast they all are)

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 🙂