Over the past ten-plus years of learning and performing circus, I have been so blessed to have been taught by some of the best. These individuals have shaped who I am as a performer, and many who I am as a person. I am so grateful to have known them.
Meghan was my first static aerial coach, as well as one of my first flying trapeze coaches. In the summer of 2008, I was at a charity barbecue and performance at IFly LI in Smithtown, New York, where I had been taking flying trapeze lessons for a little while. There, Meghan performed a solo lyra (aerial hoop) routine, and I fell in love. I had to learn it, and so I began taking private and semi-private lessons with her for the next two years. From her, I learned lyra and Spanish web, two acts I still perform today.
Meghan had come from a traditional circus background, having almost literally run away to the UK to join the circus many years earlier. She taught me clean lines, efficient movement, and was the first to impress the essential importance of pointed toes (and had beautiful feet herself!). Being from traditional circus, I learned a classic, stylized way of performing. Trick, hold for applause, trick, hold for applause, trick, style, hold for applause. Costumes were glitz and glam, bold colors, and classic shapes.
When I put together my first audition video for circus school, Meghan was there to help film it and to coach me through. She even taught me some basic hula hoop moves (that I still use and teach today) to help fill in the content of the video. She set my web (meaning, she spun the rope for me!), and helped me choreograph my lyra routine.
I owe most of my circus start to Meghan. Without her initial guidance, I would never have made it to where I am today. Had I never seen her performance that day at the barbecue, I might not have even started down this path. I am so grateful to her for opening up this amazing world to me. My life is a grand adventure today because of all she has taught me.
Bobby is a legend in the NYC circus community, and beyond. His extensive theater, circus, and general talent background are impressive, to say the least. But despite his amazing accolades, his work with Tony-award winning actors and shows on Broadway (as choreographer, coach, and consultant), and his own illustrious career in theater and circus, he is just a genuinely lovely man.
Everyone loves Bobby for his warm, friendly personality, as well as his amazing attention to detail and technique. He is highly respected in more ways than one. I trained with him at SLAM, The STREB Lab for Action Mechanics, in Brooklyn, NY. I also studied lyra and Spanish web (and even a little flying trapeze) from him, but to the next level. He was an excellent web setter as well, and I recall specifically the Halloween-themed charity showcase we were to perform at in 2009. He said, "Brittany, I have this idea... do you want to be a piñata?" His idea was that he would be a Mexican, and chase me on stage with a bat. I would then climb the rope to "escape", we would do our web routine, and then candy would rain down from where I was at the top of the rope. Sadly, we could not get the candy to come from the ceiling, but we did throw some into the audience at the end of the act. To this day, it is still probably the most fun and satisfying routine I have ever performed.
Bobby was there with me as I put together my second audition video for circus school (as I did not get in the first year, I had to re-audition the following year). He also wrote me a lovely recommendation letter. I believe (I hope?) he was a little proud of me when I got in that year. I could not have done it without him!
You can read more about his amazing career here!
Helene is also a circus legend. In 2010, I was fortunate enough to have gotten to study aerial silks with her at the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), the contemporary circus school I graduated from in Melbourne, Australia. Hailing originally from France, she has trained some amazing, international award-winning aerialists over the years, as well as having been a respected international aerialist herself. Though only having gotten to train with her for my first year in OZ, I learned things from her that I will never forget.
Helene's aerial style is very contemporary. She advises her students to simply "exist" on their apparatus. No matter how complicated or simple a move may be, it's about how you carry yourself while completing the move that matters most. Flow and transitions are also very important to this performance style, as the goal is to create a seamless, engaging performance; the audience may applaud at the end, or wherever they see fit, but you never "ask" for it, as you often do in a more traditional circus style. From her, I also learned stellar technique and efficiency of movement ("why work harder than you have to?"). Though today I primarily perform (and love) traditional circus for the glitz and glam, the things I learned from Helene that year are the things I hold most dear in my heart as I perform and teach my own students-- technique, poise, and confidence.
Outside of school, Helene was also an amazing and kind woman. I had moved to Australia by myself that year, I had no family there, and only had the friends I had just made at school and church. That Easter, she invited me and two other American girls over to her house for brunch. This gesture has meant so much to me. Similarly, I had also been studying Chinese martials arts, and she was even kind enough to attend one of my competitions. Helene was all about quality of movement, and felt that there was so much to be learnt by observing various styles. She always encouraged me to think and move creatively, and to have the courage to be myself and tell my story in the air.
Helene has shaped a huge part of my performance style, as well as my understanding of my body in the air. Though I have had a few other silks coaches since then, no one has shaped my style, my foundation, or my appreciation more than her. I am insanely grateful for that... even if she always called me out on my "bad American posture." ;)
I owe Derek a great deal of gratitude simply for believing in me.
Times were tough at circus school... I was studying full time, working what felt like full time, and volunteering at my local church. I was working hard at school, but was never a stand-out favorite student, as many of the more high-level gymnasts were. I always seemed to fall under the radar. I just could not seem to get ahead. But my third and final year at NICA, I got cast as a clown character in our classes' ensemble production, and Derek took notice. He saw something in me that I had almost lost-- passion and performance quality. Until then, I had been struggling to truly find my voice as an artist, having tried many different styles without much success. I had started circus in a traditional style and then gone to contemporary-style school, and just could not seem to pin-point what best suited me. But with Derek's help, I realized that character-based work was where I was strongest. He was also gracious enough to take time out of his busy days to help me choreograph my graduation act from school. (An act I must also thank Ludwig Schukin, NICA's clowning coach, for being a huge part of.)
Derek himself was amazingly well-respected. He was a rigger, a director, and a clown. He was one of the founding members of Rock N' Roll Circus, which later became CircusOZ, the national circus of Australia. He also helped to found a performance group called the Candy Butchers, and was in a dark-comedy clown trio called WE!3! He was extremely instrumental in the development of Australian contemporary circus in general. He could tie a knot in a rope with one hand. He was literally one of the coolest guys you would ever meet. Everyone loved Derek. When a man like that believes in you, you start to believe in yourself.
Sadly, in 2016, a few years after I had returned to America, I received the news that Derek had unexpectedly passed away. I was shattered. I had always hoped to return to OZ and make him proud of how far I'd come since school. Now, I will never get that chance. But in my heart, he lives on. Every clown or comedy character I do is for him, and I can only hope that if he could see me now, he would indeed be proud.
Throughout the years, I have been influenced by so many. Everyone I have met has left a little mark, circus or non, for better or for worse. But mostly for the better. We never shape our personal stories alone.