NY Circus Arts – Did the Circus Leave Town?

I’m not sure what happened to the NY Academy of Circus. It seems to have become Circus Warehouse. I’m curious as to what’s happened as I was quite impressed with what I saw back in February. I know one of the teachers at the old NYAC and one at the new Circus Warehouse so I’m gonna try to find out.

NY may have lost its Academy but at least it hasn’t lost circus. With Circus Warehouse, Streb and the Trapeze School New York circus isn’t going anywhere just yet.

***UPDATE***

NY Academy of Circus has become Circus Warehouse. I don’t know the whole story but apparently it has something to do with NYAC not being run very efficiently/practically/properly/professionally, and it has been taken over by two ladies who are said to be doing a great job of it.

More news as it reaches my wiggling ears…

The Galilee Arches Circus – What Circus is all About

In the summer of 2010 the St Louis Arches Youth Circus and the Jewish Arab Galilee Circus came together to form the Galilee Arches Circus.

If anyone ever asks you what the benefit of circus is, this is the answer.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WKGRUiAK4E]

Original Circus

This evening something interesting happened. Something that hasn’t happened in many years in fact. Someone asked me some original questions about what I do.

Usually I get the standard few questions:

  • What circus skills do you do?
  • How did you get into circus?
  • Are you a clown?
  • Do  you have to be flexible?

I get pretty bored answering those questions. But I can’t not answer them; that would be rude. So I have to recreate the questions as if it was the first time I’d ever heard them, and answer them as if I’d never answered them before. But it’s tiring. Sometimes I just think I should make something else up. I long for someone to ask me original circus questions.

And tonight they did.

In fact, not only did they ask me three original circus questions, but they didn’t ask me any of the standard fare. The questions they asked me were:

  1. If I were a trapeze artist, what three qualities should I look for in a catcher to be sure that they won’t drop me?
  2. If I were a trapeze artist, what age would I peak?
  3. What do circus artists do to relax and unwind?

What original circus questions do you have?

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Between blog posts you can hear what I’m saying on twitter if you like.

In case you were wondering, the three qualities I said I’d look for in a catcher were 1) strength 2) being present 3) trustworthy.

Circus Schools, Circus Shows

Over the past four days I’ve been to two different circus schools, one circus training space, and seen three different circus shows in two different cities. It’s been a busy few days.

Over the past year my cousin, Stephen, has been attending Circomedia in Bristol. Circomedia is the second biggest circus school in the UK after Circus Space. (Interestingly, Bim Mason, who founded the school, describes it as a Physical Theatre school that teaches circus rather than a Circus School. No one else I know describes it that way. We all think of it as a Circus School.)

The two show’s I’ve seen were Circomedia’s end of year show, Touch & Go, by their first year students on the Foundation Degree, and Circus Space’s end of year ensemble show by their second year students. The two shows couldn’t have been more different, although I didn’t enjoy either of them particularly. Don’t get me wrong, each show had some great moments, and each show had some great skill, I just didn’t really like the shows overall.

On Thursday, Circomedia’s show, staged at the Bristol Old Vic, was mostly solo acts or duets, some distracted by a cast of performers surrounding them. The trouble was that there are around 25 students in the year, some performing in more than one act, leading to a show that was far too long – nearly three hours including an interval!

With one or two exceptions, the students’ skills were not of a high standard. Feet were lazy and unpointed or sickled, legs were bent, timing was out, double lunges were necessary, comedy wasn’t funny, dancing was scrappy, and more than a few drops were made. It strikes me as odd that after one year, with the school focusing on physical theatre rather than circus skills and technique, Circomedia would stage such a lengthy ‘solo’ show rather than an shorter, tighter ensemble.

It seemed to me that the best performances were either physical-theatre-based (Dare Devilina and many of the links) or were done by students who had come to the school with a high skill level to begin with (such as the jugglers and beat boxers – both highlights of the show for me) or were the performances that kept things ‘nice and neat’ such as the doubles trapeze.

The next day, Steve took me on a tour of Circomedia’s two sites, the school and the training space, and then also the Invisible Circus, an amazing venue based in an old fire station. That evening I returned to the Invisible Circus for ‘The Last Resort’ which was great fun. The event was part party, part event and part cabaret show and was in stark contrast to the previous night’s student show. It was a slickly produced affair with some sharp acts (including some Circomedia graduates) and a big dose of fun. I’d strongly recommend their next event, The Swing Thing, which will combine classic circus with lindy hop and swing dance.

Then last night came the Circus Space second year ensemble show, ‘I came to live out loud’. The show was short, tight, and had some nice skills (I enjoyed the Chinese Pole the most) but lacked something. Maybe it’s just that I don’t really care about any of the student shows apart from their solo acts in their third year, maybe it’s that I don’t really get to know any of the students and have no personal connection to them. But I don’t think so. I think it was really lacking in it’s direction. The comedy wasn’t funny, the drama undramatic, and the romance flat. I was left bereft of any personal connection to any of the characters. And even though it was far better (and shorter) than the Circomedia show, I just wanted it to be over.

It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel about it. I haven’t seen any of the second year Circus Space student shows in a few years so, with the exception of the Touch & Go, I don’t have anything recent to compare it to, and I feel it unfair to compare a first year Circomedia show (where their focus is on physical theatre) with a second year Circus Space show (where the students’ focus is on skills).

What I do know is that with 40 – 50 students at Circus Space and Circomedia every year, and with the growing number of circus schools, circus clubs, circus workshops, circus shows, circus seasons, circus classes and circus courses, things can only get better.

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Adam tweets as CircusBoy1 on twitter here.

Learning to Juggle

I learnt to juggle when I was about 10. I was home ill for a week and my dad had the classic juggling book Juggling for the Complete Klutz so I taught myself to juggle. It took me most of the week with a bit of practice each day to really get it solid. I’d tried once before when I was 6 or 8 years old but I think I was just too young at that point to really be able to get it.

Anyway, with a week of practice under my belt I was a juggler. I went back to school and started teaching the other kids in my class how to juggle. I’ve got vivid memories of standing in the hallway outside our class 6 classroom teaching two or three people how to juggle. But they couldn’t get it and didn’t seem to have the patience to learn. I’m sure that I, at 10 years old, didn’t really have the knowledge of how to teach them either. Twenty years later I think I’ve now mastered the art of teaching someone to juggle.

Everyone Can Juggle

After 20 years as a juggler, and over a decade as a professional teacher, I’m pretty confident in saying that anyone can juggle 3 balls. I’ve taught thousands of people to juggle over the years and in around 80% of cases I can teach you to juggle in 45 minutes. Some a little longer, some a little quicker. I’ve had people pick it up instantly and I’ve had people who can’t quite crack it after an hour and a half.

However, it always surprises me how many people come to my juggling workshops and right at the beginning – before I’ve even started teaching them – tell me they can’t juggle. “If you say so” is a fairly standard response. There is only one thing that stops you from being able to juggle. Saying “I can’t juggle”. This is the one and only thing that is going to get in your way. You may think your mal-coordinated, or think you have bad hand-to-eye coordination but the truth is probably more like you haven’t ever spent much time practising catching.

I come from a very sporty family. From a very early age – literally from as soon as I could walk – my dad and grandpa were teaching me to catch. Then it was constant hand-eye coordination games: football, tennis, table tennis, baseball, cricket, etc. It was constant and it was fun. I practised. By the time I taught myself to juggle I’d amassed a huge number of hours practising hand-eye coordination. I guess a lot of people don’t get that.

Teaching Juggling

You Never Learnt To Juggle

I’ve done a lot of work coaching, both in personal and professional settings, and I coach from an ontological perspective. When I teach juggling, I teach in much the same way. If who you are is that you cannot juggle then you’ll be right. I don’t mean to say that you should be telling yourself “I can juggle” as that kind of affirmation very rarely helps. Instead, confront (stand and face) the simple reality of the situation: you’ve never learnt to juggle.

That’s it. You never learned to juggle. It’s a good job you came to my workshop because I know how to teach you to juggle.

How do I keep all the balls in the air?

That’s probably the most common question I get about learning to juggle. And the simple answer is: You don’t.

People often think that you have all three balls in the air but for the most part, you only have one ball in the air. You only have one thing to deal with at a time. And we can all handle dealing with one thing.

Juggling is very simple. It’s one action repeated over and over, first on the right, then on the left. Right, left, right, left, right, left.

Driving a car is far more complicated. You have to carefully and precisely coordinate a steering wheel, gears, three pedals, mirrors, indicators, wipers, lights as well as all the other vehicles on the road, pedestrians, animals (even a circus Zebra recently!) and concentrate on where you’re going!

You can drive but you think you can’t juggle?

People have no problem spending weeks, months or even years learning to drive. They expect driving to be difficult and have no issue persevering with learning. However, there is a clear pay-off in being able to drive. There isn’t often a clear pay-off in being able to juggle. So there has to be something else. You have to create for yourself a desire to be able to juggle. You’ve got to want it. If you don’t want to be able to juggle, learning will just be a chore. And if it ain’t no fun for you, it just ain’t worth it.

Throwing, Catching & Dropping

People think that in juggling catching is really important. One of the hardest things to get people to accept is dropping. People think that if they drop, it means they can’t catch, it means they aren’t any good at it. People get embarrassed when they drop, they wonder what other people think of them when they drop. And sometimes they’re so afraid of dropping that they’d rather not try to learn.

And dropping really isn’t a big deal. Dropping certainly doesn’t mean you can’t juggle. Juggling has been around for thousands of years (since almost 2000 BC). There isn’t a juggler in the world that hasn’t dropped. But people are so fixated on not dropping that they forget the most important part of juggling: a good throw. If you do a good throw a catch is easy. If you do a bad throw a catch is difficult. Jugglers are concerned with throws not catches. If you can do good throw, after good throw, after good throw, your body will take care of the catches on it’s own.

So if you can get that you simply never learned to juggle…

And you can get that the simplicity of juggling is not beyond you…

And you have the desire to learn and don’t mind a drop or two along the way…

Then you can learn to juggle.

The New New York Academy of Circus Arts

Since Monday I’ve been in New York.

I love New York. I don’t love old York but I’ve only been there once and that was when I was about 11. (We went to the Jorvic Viking Centre for a school trip. I think everyone goes to the Jorvic Viking Centre for a school trip when they’re 11 years old.)

Yesterday afternoon I went into the city and met Susan Voyticky. Susan is an old friend who also went to Circus Space with me in 1999.

Susan took me to New York Circus Arts, which opened in September. As far as I can tell, it’s the only dedicated circus training centre in New York – which is slightly hard to believe! New York is one of the biggest cities in the world but has an incredibly small circus community. New York has a thriving arts scene but hardly any circus.

The first thing that struck me as we walked through Queens was NYCA’s sign that can be seen from the street. For a long time Circus Space has struggled with ways to promote itself but Circus Space’s location is prohibitive for such a prominent sign. NYCA has a location that can accommodate a large outdoor sign that can be seen from a long distance. And it works.

If you’ve been to the Hangar Arts Trust in London it’s fairly similar. NYCA is also in an industrial unit on an industrial estate. It’s one large training space. They have a trampoline with an inflatable pit, a custom-built free-standing arched “spider” rig, a small dance area, and mats covering a large sections of the floor.

As a brand new circus training centre it’s very impressive. Good equipment in a good facility, with some nice touches (a live-feed video setup, anyone?). Perhaps the NYCA is shooting a little high in some areas – they have a ‘gear store’ and their website states “After 10 years in the biz, we’ve learned a few things about gear” – but I think they should be shooting high. At this stage they need to be promoting themselves, swinging out, taking some risks, and making big promises. But then they also need to fulfil them. Nothing good ever came from playing small.

While I was there, the centre seemed under-populated. Perhaps that’s because it’s new, perhaps it’s because NY has a small circus community, perhaps it’s because NYCA’s international reputation is poor. Or rather, the founder’s, Cypher Zero, reputation is poor. I don’t think that being known by “Cypher Zero” really helps him create a credible reputation – regardless of whether it’s his (now) legal name; it seems ostentatious or pretentious. It’s a bump in the road that you have to get past when you first meet him and I don’t think it lends itself to the credibility that he’ll need as a businessman running an arts organisation on the world circus stage (ring?).

However, I’ve met Cypher on a few occasions over the years and he’s never been anything other than affable and enthusiastic.

But in one of the biggest cities in the world, a city with almost no circus, he’s the one man who has taken it upon himself to create a Circus School and raise the level of participation of circus. And perhaps he’s the only man that could.

 

Who Wants To Try Flying Trapeze?

Tonight New York Circus Arts will be installing their new flying trapeze rig. And, even though the NYCA is not big and has only one training space, they’re installing a Grand Volant (a Big Fly rig). This could be both a good idea and bad.

The bad thing is that it will take up a huge amount of real estate in an already limited training space. The safety net will span the width of the space, interfering with any other training; no other aerial skills (static trapeze, silks, corde lisse, etc) will be able to be rigged while the fly rig is up. And given that no one at NYCA currently flies this could severely interfere with the training of the already limited number of users (professional and recreational) that attend NYCA.

The good thing is that  having a flying trapeze is a huge attraction both for recreational users and corporate training. Without some kind of financial support, corporate events are one of main ways in which training centres such as NYCA can survive and support their other activities.

I’ve been a flyer, I’ve taught flying trapeze, and the only people I’ve ever met who don’t want to try flying are people who are severely scared of heights or are obese and afraid of being able to hold their own weight – and more often than not they really do want to try it and they just can’t conquer their fear. And jugglers.

If NYCA can get a good flying trapeze teacher, some regular and talented students, and sell themselves as a provider of unique and valuable corporate training in NY they could just be on to a winner.

Having this kind of draw could be just the thing that NYCA needs in order to become a mainstay of the NY circus scene, and a financially secure circus training centre with a great reputation.

And I hope it does.