A Journey to RagTag…

Hi there! My name is Nina and I’m excited to join the cast of RagTag this summer. I first got into circus when I was 10 years old. My best friend came home one summer riding a unicycle and juggling, and I thought that looked like fun. After asking profusely to attend that summer camp, my mother signed me and my brother up the following summer. I don’t remember much about the camp, the food, or the people, but I do remember the feeling I got when I first tried the static trapeze- something just clicked. My mother was horrified that there were no counselors, so she asked around and did some research on other circus camp options. My brother’s classmate’s first cousin (shoutout to the Freymann/Galison family!) was performing with Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour at the time and recommended Smirkus Camp. So, my brother’s classmate, his sister, their older brother, and I were all shipped off from New York City to beautiful Vermont for the summer.

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Nina at Smirkus Camp  Photo Credit – Amira Silverman

Smirkus Camp accidentally changed my life. Instead of riding packed subway cars in humid New York City, I spent six summers surrounded by green mountains, European style circus tents, talented coaches, generous counselors, and fearless camp leaders. Moreover, I was surrounded by other kids who were just as passionate about climbing to the cupola of the tent, doing as many pull-ups as possible, juggling until forearms were sore, “pie-ing” people, tumbling until legs were shaking, and pushing all of the limits of “impossible” out the window (except nothing at Smirkus Camp is supposed to go out the window- lights, voices, or juggling objects). I also met Doug Stewart, Founder and Operations Director of Cirque Us, at Smirkus Camp. He claims that he thought we wouldn’t be friends because I screamed when I saw a bug. While my memory seems to fail me on this one, I wouldn’t put it past a 14 year old city girl to be a little freaked out by nature.

I assumed circus would end for me after I finished high school. I had outgrown Smirkus Camp, and I could no longer train circus arts in Manhattan as  I was going off to college. I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Industrial and Labor Relations, and a double minor in International Relations and Law and Society. I loved school, but I also really missed training circus. Every time I was home on break, I was training at a circus facility in NYC. During my senior year of college, Circus Culture opened in Ithaca, New York, and I found a familiar rhythm of training circus. The community was budding and vibrant at Circus Culture, and I remember feeling like I had found yet another circus home. It now feels like full circle to return to Ithaca to work on creation for RagTag and perform in Cirque Us’s 100th show there this summer!

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Photo by Elsie Smith

Perhaps inspired by training circus more regularly in Ithaca, I applied to the Professional Training Program at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA). I knew about ProTrack  since many coaches at Smirkus Camp attended that program. Doug encouraged me to apply since he had attended their Intensive Program a few years prior, and thought it would be a good fit. Unlike my usual studious, anal, and organized self, I applied to NECCA the night before it was due. Then, I somehow found myself at the live audition, and then enrolling in their ProTrack program. I had plans to go to law school, and even took the LSAT during my second year of circus school. However, I completely fell in love with the circus world, circus culture, and my circus family, and for now I don’t foresee that career.

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I finished NECCA’s ProTrack program in 2018 with a specialization in Aerial Rope, and furthered my circus training by seeking out master coaches, such as Sellam El Ouahabi and Emiliano Ron. Since graduating, I have stage managed for Acrobatic Conundrum, performed aerial at high profile events, such as Hijinx Music Festival, and New York Fashion Week. I also finished a mini tour with ABCirque as a featured aerialist. In addition to performing, I also teach circus arts all over the country, and feel very grateful to share my passion with both children and adults. While I may not be headed to law school, I have found myself doing more and more consulting/business administration and development for various circus schools, circus companies, and working circus artists/coaches. (Mom and Dad, I swear I’m putting my degree to good use!)

I cannot wait to start creation for RagTag. It has always been a goal of mine to create ensemble work and to tour it with fellow circus artists, so performing with Cirque Us is a dream come true. I am excited to see how this show develops, grows, and blossoms. It will be so special to make circus acts that feature multiple performers, instead of working on just solo material. While I don’t want to give anything away about the show just yet, I think this will be some of my favorite aerial circus work thus far!

Make sure to get tickets to see Nina and the rest of our RagTag group this summer! Tickets can be purchased at http://www.TheCirqueUs.com. And hurry, tickets are going fast!

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One Month Out!

Hi everyone! My name is David Chervony, I’m a juggler who is debuting with Cirque Us this summer. I’m so excited to get there, but in the meantime I have a ton to get done. I’m currently enrolled in the Actors Gymnasium’s professional training program and our final showcase goes up June 1st and 2nd. And before that, I have a thirty minute show to write, an opera to perform in, a youth circus spectacular to prepare, and Game of Thrones to watch. I’m not complaining, I’m loving the ride, but I’d love a moment to catch my breath.

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That isn’t to mention all the work we have to do in preparation for the tour. We have acts to polish, costumes to procure, storylines to solidify and then, when we all meet in one place for the first time, three weeks to create the show!

But before I go too far, I should tell you a bit more about me. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, where I was fortunate enough to attend a circus camp every summer. It took me until after college, studying biology assisting in the care of over 300 tigers, lions, wolves, and an assortment of other lovely animals, to realize that my true calling was to play with plastic objects in front of an audience. I miss working with animals, but I really love juggling. Other random facts about me include that my brain holds an encyclopedic knowledge of modern board games, I once jumped out of a moving golf cart for no reason whatsoever, and that my dog will never forgive me for leaving his side for most of the summer.

Anyway, I’m beyond elated to have this opportunity. After meeting Doug (the founder of Cirque Us) and Jesse (our fearless director) a few years back, I knew I wanted to work with both of them. And more recently, after getting a hardly-audible phone call following the silliest video audition I’ve ever sent, between fits of screaming with joy, I started wondering what it means to go on tour.

I mean, I’ve been on tour before. Once. In college. I was in a pretty mediocre band and we played seven shows along the East coast. So no, I have no idea what to expect.

Screen Shot 2019-05-04 at 1.10.02 PM.pngThe epitome of “professionalism” (read: embarrassment).

But I have high hopes. First off, the people in Cirque Us are awesome. In the skype meetings the cast has had thus far, we already seem like a cohesive group. And even though no one really knows what might happen to friendships after spending almost every waking moment together for two months, the cast is so cool that I’m willing to find out. Also, I have no doubt that RagTag will be fantastic. The wealth of skills people are bringing, mixed with the sense of play that emanates from everyone involved, is a recipe for a really fun, possibly exhausting, exhilarating time.

That’s not to say it’ll be a cakewalk. Long drives, short warm-up times, and fighting over control of who gets to DJ in the van next are just a few of the trials we may have to face–but I know I’ll be smiling through it all.

I hope to see you on the road. 

 

Tickets for RagTag: A Circus in Stitches go on Sale May 15th. Please visit http://www.TheCirqueUs.com for show dates and locations!

 

There and Back Again: Another Summer with Cirque Us!

Hello world! My name is Rena, and I am an aerialist and contortionist with Cirque Us this year. If you were able to catch StarStruck last summer, perhaps you will remember me as Mars (i.e. the one in red with the epic fight scene). I am very happy and excited to work with Cirque Us for a second season, although when I think about exactly why, it is for markedly different reasons than last year.

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Photo by Steve Sarafian

So, what has changed since last summer? What has happened in the last year? I suppose quite a bit. Immediately after bidding farewell to the Cosmic Circus cast in mid-July, I left for a 7-week rehearsal period in Hamburg, Germany to begin working with AIDA Cruises, an entity of Costa and Carnival. From there, I embarked on their ship AIDAmar for a 6-month performance contract. Over the course of my time abroad, I was lucky enough to see 13 different countries, taught myself to read small amounts of Russian, and binged a lot of Netflix (I may be the very last person to have finally watched Stranger Things, but at least I’m caught up for Season 3). I was also blessed with an amazing ensemble who became not only my friends but also my family, and a lot of my fondest memories are of us doing nothing in particular, but together. Ship-life taught me many valuable life lessons, but of all the things life at sea could have taught me, the most eye-opening was how grateful I should be, and am, for the life I have here on land in America, especially with my circus family.

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Photo By Gabriel Soares

There is a really tender moment near the end of the film Juno where Ellen Page’s character is at the doorway of her house after a key plot twist in the story, and she says “I never realize how much I like being home unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while.” That line has always struck a chord with me, but it has felt especially relevant as I’ve acclimated back to life on land, life back in Brattleboro, Vermont, and life back in training. Additionally, I think that the sentiment of this line, of appreciating home and what it means to come home after being away for some time, gets at why I am so happy to come back to Cirque Us for a second season. StarStruck was a string of “firsts”; first contract, first tour, first homestays, etc. AIDA was a whole other series of “firsts”- first time working abroad, first time working with Ukrainian trainers, first time living on a boat- but these two experiences when put back-to-back could not have been more jarringly dissimilar. Both were undeniably exciting and stressful and overwhelming in their own ways, but as far as comparisons go it would be like trying to draw similarities between a kangaroo and a gold fish. After living and working in the surreality of a cruise ship for half a year the familiarity of working with Cirque Us again is refreshing, even if the show itself is new.

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Photo By Amira Silverman

There are many things about returning to Cirque Us which excite me, but the one which excites me most is the creation period. In my own artistic process, my favorite span of time is when I am just able to experiment and make stuff. I love the lightbulb moments of discovery, the satisfaction of finding solutions to challenges, and the ownership I feel over the work. Creation inspires me to think harder and bigger, and the benefit of creating with Cirque Us is that it pushes you to do exactly that. From Day 1 it is a race against time to transform the themes, concepts and characters we brainstorm throughout the winter from abstract ideas into a very real, tangible show. It can be exhausting, frustrating and humbling to work so intimately and collectively every day for 3 weeks, but I also think that it’s that closeness, fostered both at work and at rest, that gives Cirque Us so much of its character. During the creation of StarStruck, I did not really know what to expect from working collaboratively within a 10-person cast, and I had no idea how intense the time crunch would be on creation. What excites me so much about creating RagTag is that I not only am lucky enough to work with 5 other incredible artists, but I am also able to bring more of myself to the metaphorical table. With the knowledge and experiences I’ve gained over the last year, I feel more prepared and able to face the challenges of a whole new creation phase, whatever they may be.

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Photo by Elsie Smith

As the first day of rehearsals quickly approaches (28 days!), the premiere of RagTag isn’t much further ahead on the horizon. We hope to see you there!

 

Tickets for RagTag: A Circus in Stitches go on Sale May 15th. Please visit http://www.TheCirqueUs.com for show dates and locations!

“Strings”

I’m Sam Gurwitt, a clown in Starstruck. I grew up in Norwich, Vermont, and just graduated from Yale. I was in Cirque Us’s first tour in 2016, and I’m thrilled to be back for a second summer. I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes this company and this show uniquely fun and challenging, and here are a few of my thoughts.

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One fundamental feature of a Cirque Us show is interaction with the audience. In traditional circus shows, audience interaction is a key component and happens in very overt ways; the show is presented as simple performance—constantly conscious of its audience and often literally pulling them into the action—to please the crowd rather than convey some story, theme, or emotion. As circus begins to enter the theater and dance world, it sometimes loses the audience interaction component, and becomes a highly choreographed exposition of skill and theme. Cirque Us tries to walk a line in between. Its shows are structured around a theme and through-lines, but its characters are always conscious that they are performing for a live audience, and they invite the audience into the world they create rather than allowing them to sink into their seats as passive spectators.

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This type of show is great for clowns. Clown is distinct from theater partly because it always breaks the fourth wall. Unlike theater, the clown exists simultaneously in his or her own world and in the world of the audience. Rather than just telling a story to a passive audience, the clown brings the audience into the world he or she creates so that they are an active part of it. The clown has to act as the bridge between the imagined reality he or she creates and the reality of the audience. By existing both in a place created by his own imagination and at the same time consciously on stage in front of an audience, the clown invites the audience into an imagined world so that for the duration of the performance, the clown and the audience float in a sort of suspension of disbelief which exists neither entirely in the audience’s reality or in the clown’s constructed world. One of the most important moments in any clown performance is the when the clown establishes a connection with the audience captures their attention, imagination, and sympathy so that they are willing to come along for the ride. Whenever I manage to do this and a performance is going well, it feels like there are strings attached on one end to every part of my body and on the other to the audience’s emotions. Once I’ve captured the audience, it’s as if I can pull gently on each of those strings and evoke a little giggle here or yank on another to get a large peel of laughter.

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Starstruck, though a great show for clowns, also presents an interesting challenge because every character has many moments of interaction with the audience but also has many moments in which he or she is on stage but not performing. We spend almost all of the show on stage, but only for a portion of that time are we the focus of the action. The rest of the time we support in various ways—by throwing focus, by moving props, or by doing choreography. For me, one of the most difficult parts of this show has been figuring out how to maintain the audience connection for the whole show while also spending a lot of the show on stage but not exactly performing. When I’m simply in the background—still onstage and a part of the world we create, but not exactly performing—I cannot keep one foot in the audience and one on stage as I do when I’m clowning because if I try to maintain a connection with the audience I risk distracting them from where they are supposed to look. During Lindsey’s (formerly Rena’s) contortion act for example, the cast moves chairs in slow motion upstage of where Lindsey is performing. In this moment, the rest of the cast has to be only in the world of Lindsey’s act, not interacting with the audience trying to bring them into the action. This in itself is not difficult. All it takes is moving a chair in slow motion. But the transitions between these background support moments and the active clown moments are one of the most challenging parts of this show for me because I have to be able establish my “strings” to the audience and then dismantle them without ever leaving the stage. The balance that the clown has to maintain in which he or she brings the audience into the performance is delicate and must be actively maintained at every moment the clown is on stage. In most shows, the performer drops that connection simply by leaving the stage. This way, the connection never has to be built or broken onstage; rather the entrances and exits to the stage do the work for the performer. In Starstruck, however, I’ve had to learn how to turn that audience connection on and off without ever leaving the stage, and without simply dropping character. My character is on stage for the whole show, but only sometimes is the character conscious of the audience.

Photos by Grace G.

Home

Hi there! My name is Rena, I am an aerialist, contortionist, and dancer with Cirque Us this summer. If you have already seen our show, StarStruck, you may recognize me as the character Mars. This summer and this production hold a particularly precious place in my heart for a couple reasons- this is not only my first season performing with Cirque Us but it is also my first time on tour, so naturally there are a lot of accompanying feelings. Now that we have been on the road for a few weeks, I have had some time to unpack my thoughts about it all.

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In retrospect, perhaps I did not really know what to expect of life on the road and how it would feel, although I knew it would have its share of highs and lows. Much to my surprise, the “work” side of tour (I say work with quotations because, in all honestly, it never feels quite like serious work) was the easiest part to adapt to, primarily because it was familiar territory. From setting up and tearing down the rig to long jump day drives, from rehearsals to shows and the gaps between them, these are all elements of working in circus and dance that I already knew what to expect and how to problem solve in, so in that sense life was not all that different than before. Rather, the part of this journey which has most made me think “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually on tour!” has been during the quiet moments, the late night conversations, and the breathtaking views of the New England countryside- the “muggle” moments, you could say. More than anything, these moments of pause have made me think a lot about the notion of home, and how that has changed for me since leaving my pedestrian life behind.

IMG_4230.JPGWhat first made me question my concept of home while on tour was when I realized, with great surprise, that I did not miss my physical home in Brattleboro, Vermont one bit. While there are certainly small creature comforts and routines I miss sometimes, I’ve never felt quite as comfortable and at-home in my identity as I do right now while moving around, meeting new people, seeing new places, and performing. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that home, or at least the sort of home I had found, is more abstract than a single, physical place. Rather, it is a collage of people, experiences, and memories, and this summer has gifted me with an abundance of all these.

One source of this sensation has come from our many homestay hosts, who have housed the cast from site to site. With every meal, couch, and conversation, I have been repeatedly both surprised and humbled beyond measure by our hosts’ warmth and generosity with their own homes. Another, related source has come from the many people, both within the company and beyond, who have made this tour so memorable. When I pause to think about my favorite moments of this tour, from backstage antics to family dinners to meet and greets with the audience (hands-down my favorite part, by the way), these memories are as special as they are because of the friends and family that they happened with. Lastly, at a more personal level, a critical source of “home” has come from within myself. Being on tour has shown me, more than any other experience in my life, the importance of striking a balance between social time and personal time. As cheesy as this will sound, this taught me that home, as a place to belong in and take refuge in, starts not with a place but with yourself, and recognizing what you personally need in order to function and feel OK as a person.

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As my run with StarStruck comes to a rapid close and I prepare to go back to my apartment-home in Vermont, I cannot stop thinking about how this summer has blessed me with great friends and unforgettable relationships, and this makes me smile. Without a doubt, I could not be more proud to say that my first tour was with Cirque Us.

 

 

Photos by Grace Gershenfeld

Cyclic car travels, bag draggings, and ambiguous meal opportunities

Hi my name is Lindsey, and this is my first year touring with Cirque Us. I am clowning and hand balancing in this year’s production of StarStruck: A Cosmic Circus. We’ve been touring for about one week and have thus far been to Brattleboro, White River Junction, Hartford, Brooklyn, Trenton, and Philadelphia.

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The structure of our lives has altered dramatically since creation. Where before we had an intensive 9AM to 9PM training, rehearsing, and rewriting schedule, we now are in an exhaustive cycle of performing and traveling. The Hartford, Brooklyn, and Trenton shows were on consecutive days, meaning that for three days we were on a set-up-show-teardown-go schedule. It’s amazing how the actual circus part is no longer the aspect of this process that saps our energy, but that the seemingly cyclic car travels, bag draggings, and ambiguous meal opportunities is now what weighs us down.

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However, once away from the woes of travel, we find ourselves in striking new locations and surrounded by diverse crowds of people with whom we can share our art. One of the highlights from the past few days was teaching a juggling workshop in White River Junction. The whole cast was burnt out from a dense training-creation process, and our first weekend featured back to back two show a day show days. On the second day of the site, we were scheduled to lead a free juggling workshop for folks from the area. Most of the attendees of the workshop ended up coming to the show, but one girl in particular who came to DreamCycle, last year’s production, had collected all the performers’ signatures, and had come back to retrieve this years’ cast autograph. She told us that she eventually dreamed of being on tour with Cirque Us. Regardless of how many tricks we may have missed or the number of people in the crowd, what she took away from the show was that we were all working hard to make our dreams a reality.

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At the end of the day, we’re doing all this work to spread our love of circus around our communities. We all start in small places, and inspiring just one kid to try circus makes up for all the travail of travel.

Photos by Steve Sarafian

 

We are officially on the road!

We are officially on the road! Which means that creation is over and we have a show. My name is Delaney Bayles, and this is my second season with Cirque Us. Long drives and messy suitcases become our lives, and a pair of head phones are the most valuable item I own. But in all seriousness, this is my favorite part of the summer. It is the time when the show takes on a life of its own and we see how an audience will react to all the hours of work we have put in. Over the summer the show will change some parts will speed up and others will slow down. A moment of clowning maybe added and a trick will change here or there. But the heart of the show will remain the same from opening to closing.

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Delaney Juggling Rings in DreamCycle

Our opening show went well. The audience was warm and filled with a lot of friends and family. Thanks to our director we were able to run the show five times before opening leaving us feeling prepared. The morning of the show was filled with last minute costume changes and early morning training. Before the show we met in a circle and did our cheer, a reminder that all we have on stage is each other. Then it was show time and the moment of truth.

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Delaney’s entrance as Saturn in StarStruck. 

Once the show was over we could all relax and catch our breaths only to remember that we had four more shows over the next three days.

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Rings Act in StarStruck 

After packing the cars and moving out of the house we were staying in we set out for our first jump. A nice hour drive up north to White River Junction. And that is were we are as this is being written. Performing two shows a day.

It is exciting and a little intimidating to look at the tour schedule that lies ahead of us. Over twenty sites to perform at and thirty-five shows. So much hard work has gone into the making of the show and the company. It is a great place to call home for the summer.

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Rings Act in StarStruck

Time moves differently on tour, days are long, weeks are short, and the next month will pass in the blink of an eye. The ensemble will grow close and inside jokes will pop up.

Getting to know the cast and hearing stories from their lives is fascinating, and the interesting thing is that we are all so very different yet each of us has found our way here and become seamlessly bonded by the same thing. We spend so much time getting to know each other, which makes the summer sweeter, and the idea of an end so very bitter. But for now we have 32 shows left and a summer of fun to look forward too.