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Tiny Handed Unicyclist

Yo! It’s your tiny handed unicyclist, Kevin Flanagan. Let me put some words in your head.

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Photo By Steve Sarafian

Ragtag has been a real pleasure to perform. The cast is amazing and I’m really proud of the sense of ensemble we’ve fostered in such a short period of time. It’s a really dense show, we all have so much to keep track of. But lately we’ve been getting to a place where we can take a moment to breathe instead of feeling that constant need to scramble to make things happen. Not to say the shows haven’t gone well. There’ll always be hiccups but that’s another reason why this cast is so great. We’re all pretty adept problem solvers. But I mention it to point out the difference between having a show in your head as opposed to your body.

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Photo By Steve Sarafian

After today’s performance, this will be the longest I’ve ever performed a show. It’s a really cool feeling but it presents a lot of challenges I haven’t had to think about before. Like how to keep yourself invested in the content or how to keep surprising yourself and your cast mates. We’re really lucky because our show allows for a lot of play so it’s kind of like a game every time we’re on stage. We’re constantly getting to try new things and create within the structure of the show. If you’re someone who’s come to see multiple performances then you can back me up when I say it’s never gone the same way twice. They’ve all been fun but we’ve had some drastically different shows. Let me tell you about one of my favorites.

As you may well already know, I also play music in the show. I arranged and composed music for a few of the acts. It’s nothing too crazy, it’s mostly guitar but I do play in a couple of different tunings, which means during some of the transitions I am furiously winding pegs up and down to make sure I’m in the right tuning for the next act. I use the word furiously because a couple of shows back, while in the middle of this process, one of my strings snapped on stage. I like to think that I keep a pretty level head but for anybody out there who plays guitar and has ever lost a string on stage, you know that’s not always an option. I hadn’t even thought to plan for this because it’s never happened to me during a performance, so I didn’t have any extras lying around on the set. And like I said earlier, the show is super dense for each of us so I don’t have time to fix it until halfway through the show. So I have to play a couple of the acts down a string, which I’ve never done until that moment and I’m trying to keep it cool in front of the audience, and also trying keep it as close to the original for the sake of the performers’ timing. It sounds stressful, but honestly as I’m writing this I’m realizing how much fun it was to solve that problem and keep the show going.

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Photo By Steve Sarafian

Come see me snap a string sometime. See you soon!

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Responsiblity on The Road: Life as an Ensemble Supervisor

Hi there! Rena again. As I’m writing this post, RagTag has just passed the half-way mark of its summer tour. So far it has been an incredible summer, filled with beautiful sunsets, circus family from far and near, and a lot of hummus and ice cream (not at the same time). Since we hit the road, I’ve been thinking a lot about how different this summer has felt in comparison to last year while I was in StarStruck, and I realized that this is largely due in part to the fact that this season I am more than just a performer. This year, I’ve also been acting as Ensemble Supervisor for the RagTag cast, working closely with our Tour Manager to make sure day-to-day operations run as smoothly as they can. It has been an eye-opening transition, and it has made me appreciate being a part of this cast and company so much more than I could have imagined.

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Photo by Steve Sarafian

So, what does an Ensemble Supervisor do, exactly? Great question. When I first agreed to take on this role, I don’t know if I myself really knew. I had a general understanding that I would help organize and run rehearsals on the road, give show notes as needed, and be on-call to help with administrative tasks and support our super-hero Tour Manager as needed. However, it wasn’t until we left our rehearsal world in Ithaca, New York and began touring RagTag that I started to understand what this position really meant. I never would have anticipated how much more responsible I would feel for the way our days went, although perhaps this should have been obvious from the start. For example, when I was simply a performer in StarStruck, I was more than happy to make myself available and be helpful with loading in and out of our venues, setting up the sound system, etc. At the same time, however, I definitely took for granted the fact that I could focus on just my presets and my personal warmup once the collective tasks were done- I could sort of ‘tune-out’ and focus on preparing myself for the show that day.

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Photo by Steve Sarafian

This year, it feels like I do the exact opposite. Rather than ‘tuning-out’ to only focus on my own needs, I ‘tune-in’ to make sure that my castmates are able to do what they need in order to do their jobs as best they can. I think a lot more about what I can do to make sure their needs are met- how much time do we need for warming up? What acts need extra rehearsal time on the stage? When is a good time to eat? Questions like this remind me that it’s no longer about me doing my personal best in the show- it’s about the show being its best each time we perform, and the show is comprised of six unique bodies in space, one of which just so happens to be mine. 

At a much broader scale, I’ve also noticed how much more pride and ownership feel over RagTag. Not to say that I was not proud of StarStruck, but the role I played in its existence was much less integrated. As an artist in StarStruck, I felt most accountable for the two acts I personally had created and performed. This year, I feel this way about every minute of RagTag. Being able to witness how the extra rehearsals paid off, the notes were taken to heart, and the scheduling made everyones lives a tiny bit easier (hopefully), is priceless. It is hard not to feel proud of these people and the thing we’ve made, knowing how much effort and time and love has been put into it. To be honest, I feel lucky to even be a part of it all, regardless of the role I’ve played in its happening.

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Photo by Steve Sarafian

As the summer winds down, another season gone-by, I’m feeling a lot of things. I’m feeling tired, and very sweaty, and sometimes a little crazy, but at the same time incredibly full of love and hope. I’m excited for the future of RagTag and Cirque Us, and more than anything so incredibly lucky to be a part of this company, with these people, in this moment in time.

 

Yo, I’m Kevin!

Yo! I’m Kevin. I’m a circus artist from Bronxville, NY. I’ll be touring with Cirque Us as some sort of unicyclist musician hybrid. I don’t know what that means yet, but I am stoked to figure it out once our creation period begins. Currently I’m enrolled in the Circadium School of Contemporary Circus in Philadelphia, PA. I’m about to finish my first year here, and it all comes to a close on May 25th with our end of year show: Springboard. I’ve really been enjoying myself and I’ve learned so much, I’m so excited to have the chance to use the skills I’ve been developing for Cirque Us this summer. 

I started doing circus in college. My roommate could juggle and he found out about a circus club on campus. I didn’t really want to go, I didn’t know how to juggle. And aside from a couple of gymnastics classes when I was in pre-school, I’d never tried anything like circus before. But he was pretty persistent and I didn’t know a lot of people so I figured why not give it a shot? Needless to say I was hooked immediately. I spent the following weeks juggling incessantly in my room and making sure I was perfectly on time for the next circus club meeting.

 

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The flip side of the story is that the reason I went to college at all was music. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10 years old and by the time high school was coming to an end I was certain I was going to be rockstar. And I guess I am in some ways but it’s not quite the way I imagined. But rockstars have to go to school too. Even if they decide to study juggling instead of Mozart in their free time.

This summer is kind of like a culminating point for me. I’ve been really lucky to have my circus and music worlds interwoven. But never quite like this. I’ve written and played music for shows before, but a full length show is a different beast entirely. It’s definitely a daunting enterprise for me in some ways, but it also presents a welcome challenge.

I’m excited to get to work. I really like the people involved and I think we’re all bursting with anticipation to finally be in the same room and start making this show a reality. 2 weeks! I hope to see you all out there.

Kevin

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!

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.

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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.