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S2 Episode 78: Starting to Perform


In this episode Emmet and Mikael discuss starting to perform, how you can approach this from the ground up and the emotional rollercoaster that might happen from this journey.

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S2E78 – Starting to Perform

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Transcript of Episode 78: Starting to Perform

EL: Hello, and welcome back to the Handstand Cast with me Emmet Lewis and my glorious co-host Mikael Kristiansen. How is it going, Mikael?

MK: Extremely busy bee. Extremely glorious. Awesome, awesome, yeah.

EL: I can see your training space is back open in Stockholm.

ML: Yay. Finally. Yes, it was great. I’ve been there for a couple of weeks now. And yeah, now like, what’s it called, there are less restrictions on how many we can be and so on. So, it is pretty much back to how it was in most respects. So quite a lot of people there and yeah, good times, a lot better than training alone all the time. So, yeah, I can certainly not complain about that. 

EL: Awesome. Awesome. 

MK: How about you? 

EL: How about me? For once, I actually have some news to go forward or something different happening. So, yeah, we just dropped our Kickstarter for our M three flexibility courses. So, if you’re listening, check that out on Kickstarter, because there’ll be also we’re going to drop in five courses as the first batch. So definite sweet deals on the sticker price, if you’re going to buy a bit early and commit. 

MK: Definitely. 

EL: Thanks so much for the support already. We’re already recording this on a Wednesday, and we’re about three hours into it really like nearly fifty percent funded, so it’s awesome.

MK: Sick, yeah. 

ML: Yeah. I’m very happy with that. 

MK: Yes. Yes, then you’re probably more busy than I am. I’m not in fact, a busy bee that is extremely glorious, it is all a lie.

EL: Yeah, I’m busy in that way is like a made myself a fucking desk job, and that’s all I do. And yeah, so hopefully once this project is done, I will have more time for myself to do self things.

MK: That sounds like something you need as well, I guess.

EL: A desk job? No one needs a desk job.

MK: You need a monastery Emmet.

EL: That’s one of our stretch goals is to help us try to get this monastery which will be awesome. Uh, yeah, I think it’s one of those lies of like movement coaches or online movement coaches like move more, move more, and then anyone who’s got like a good, thriving online business essentially has a desk job. What you said, the squat when you’re doing your phone checks. That’s OK.

MK: Now you just refrain from doing the thing more and more. You tell others to do it because you’re bored. 

EL: But that’s essentially what it is. Yeah. I just remember having a conversation with another movement coach about this and how, you know, he started out with the illusion that I can just sit in all these resting positions and, you know, squat and blah blah blah. He’s like, by the end of his business going quite well. And then by the end he’s like, you know, I just cracked and got a desk and a chair because it’s the most efficient way to do computer work.

MK: Yeah. Fucking hell. I mean, imagine trying to be so fucking postural and you’re just slacking off in your couch. It, I think it is very healthy to be able to slack off on your couch. At least for the brain and probably for a body. But as usual, we have a theme. Do we not?

EL: Yeah, our theme is do reptilians exist, and how can we get in contact with them?

MK: Oh, yeah, I was watching some, like far out shit yesterday or something like, what was it, some UFO dude who got like, how was it, like he was doing something like studying some shit around an area where apparently was blah blah… And then the other guy, he was a counterintelligence officer who basically kept feeding him to keep believing it was UFOs and having moved to another area. But then again, he too was a faker. It was a total clusterfuck with just a bunch of people. And you have no idea what to believe about any of them. Yes. How to contact them…Go to the zoo, I guess, yeah, the best way.

EL: I’ve seen one glorious one on confirmed UFO sightings from 19- whenever we started tracking them to now. They put one light on the map where there was a sighting and basically around the world, and it was basically like USA was lit up, like all orange in the map. The whole thing. And the rest of the world was basically dark. Yeah, does that mean USA is de facto world leaders and not? Who knows?

MK: That’s where the aliens go. Yeah.

EL: An actual topic tonight. Not to answer basically because we got this question a few times, actually more so than the answers before, “When to start performing?” I think it’s a pretty good question, because, you know, obviously a lot goes into this. And yeah, I think we’ve done a few of them before, but I think we can give some other stuff. So, when do you start performing? 

MK: Hmm. Yes. I mean, it can happen almost at any point, I guess. But it’s such an individual thing, because I mean, like you have some people who are just like they’re just used to doing stuff like that since they were a kid from either just being the funny guy or doing sports or being used to standing in front of other people doing something. So that like, there are a bunch of kind of shortcuts into it in that sense but speaking more circus and hand balancing perspective and stuff like that. You do need to feel a certain level of confidence with your skills before you decide to perform them. And that would be, I think, the crucial question for many is maybe the first one is like, when am I good enough? And then they look at all their favorite hand balancers on Instagram and then they think they’re never good enough or and the other one is like, OK, I know I have some skills, but I don’t dare to, or I don’t know how to make an act or just any kind of performative skills. So, I think those are two like large hurdles to pass for many.

EL: Yeah, I think it is. I think this is the kind of thing because everyone thinks Stage and Cirque, that’s kind of, “this is your performance”. But I think there’s a lot of gateways into performing that are very much lower pressure, that can be easier, easier entry points. I remember, when I first started performing general circus stuff. I was doing, just general circus stuff in nightclubs and street performances. A lot of that. It started off essentially just doing training, doing juggling on a street with fire. I could not do anything in terms of what I can do now but you know, people were willing, at the time, I was like, you know, I think I was whatever, 17, 18. I was just like, oh, stand on a street, put a hat out and just, you know, do what I would be doing in a park anyway and get paid for it. And that was very low pressure because you get an audience, people throw money in your hat. I was not doing a show. No interaction, no planned routine. It was just kind of like, “Look at me do this. It’s on fire.”

The fire’s gone away. And then I’ll just set the thing on fire again. And I know this is of like, you know, these kind of lower entry points where there’s no. There is pressure, obviously, but the people aren’t paying audience and they’re not captive. I think that’s kind of interesting as well because I get a lot of jugglers around the continent in Europe who do traffic light shows and they can be quite lucrative. Whereas like they run out of the stock at a traffic junction stoplight, they’ll do something. It could even just be like one trick like, ta da, I’ve done my thing. And then just go collect money. And that’s like, you know, it’s not for everyone, obviously, but it’s incredibly these low barrier entry ways to performing are very good for building confidence of just like, Oh, I can, you know, I might not have a full routine or a full lot of material, but I can be entertaining for 15, 20 seconds.

MK: Yeah, yeah. I think that those types of things are quite useful for many as a kind of place to begin. And there is also the thing with, I mean, if you kind of think about what an audience is and what performing is and stuff like that. The issue with performing on stage is that people already decided to look at you. They have already decided that you were worth watching for whatever, they paid to go into the theater or into wherever to see you. So, like, there is an expectation that this this has some sort of quality and therefore you need to be then quote unquote good enough in whatever metrics you have to be quote unquote worthy of doing stuff there. And the problem with street is the opposite. No one has paid to see you. So why the hell should they bother staying to watch you? And that might be an extremely good thing for someone who is completely new to it. 

Like you said, you don’t have a routine, you don’t have a thing that’s going to happen. You don’t need a 15 minute to each show, but you’re there, you’re present. You get to handle your nerves a bit. There’s a hat, maybe you get a bit of money and maybe someone come and talk to you and stuff like this. So, you just, yeah, you just get used to doing stuff in front of people. I think that can be very helpful for many, like the actual speech or context when you want to stand there and get people to form a circle and all that, that is a different skill set. And that is something that does take quite a lot of work to be able to do successfully. 

Just like on stage, except it’s a completely different skill set because again, you’re competing with people’s time and the things they are walking towards or walking from in on the street. And why are you funny or interesting enough for them to stand around and watch you and then bothering you afterwards? So, there are very many different abilities within that within the performance field, too. You can be excellent at one and just not experienced or terrible at another, just because, it’s not either what you’re used to or what you’re comfortable with.

EL: Yeah, it’s definitely that thing. Just to keep on these kind of low barrier or entry kind of ways of performing, which I think are kind of interesting gates. And then like, obviously, we can’t even list any of them, but like some of the other kind of beginner circus shows, or, you know, family birthday parties for like my nieces and nephews or my cousins who are much younger to me at the time or the younger ones. And just, oh, go over, do something, Happy Birthday. But all these kinds of low barrier stuff, even if you get into more paid work like Walkabout, where you just have a costume, you’re walking in a crowd, mingling, doing a handstand, doing something very low like this is the kind of thing a lot of these low barrier to entry they have a low. 

Let’s face it, when you start performing and you’re not used to handling the nerves and handling the stress, you’re going to fall out and fail at things. But having these things where you can fail and then it doesn’t matter, and then you walk away and then you just go over, do it again, then it’s successful. Someone gets their photo, or someone gets their other stuff. And then, you know, it gives you a chance to experience like, OK, how do I process adrenaline? How do I settle into it? Hmm. And this is kind of like, yeah, it’s true.

MK: Now, I think to find a couple of criteria like when would you be ready would be one like, do you have a skill set that you would want to perform in front of others? Because if let’s say that you’re just not happy, let’s say you can do a handstand and you feel that doing only a handstand isn’t enough, which I would. I would argue that might be a little bit on the low end to be performing because you would want to. 

Because as I look upon performing, the more I try to distill the concept of performing them, like I’ve kind of ended up somewhere around like, you’re trying to dictate attention. That is what you’re trying to do. So, you want someone to look at or to pay attention to a certain thing going on. And as with everything if you start, as you begin, it is easy to keep attention. But as it goes on, it becomes harder because you need to either be doing something interesting or you need to be changing what you’re doing or do something new, et cetera, because the attention easily drifts, and you need to be offering something and be presenting something. And in some cases, that can be very slow and processual and very kind of take a long time. But then it also needs to be well planned out if it’s going to take time and keep attention. 

I mean, think of a good movie versus a bad movie. Speaking of, yeah, I watched Dune yesterday. Perfect example. Like to me, I loved it and I love that story, but it kept attention. It was very good that like using even slow kind of things where it was setting the stage and stuff in a good way, which kept the tension. Other movies or shows or whatever where the attention easily drifts because like, either it’s the same for too long or even too much variation, you never get to settle in a mood or atmosphere. But you need to have something, I think, and let’s say that you have something  you can do and you would like to do. And then I think one of the next things is that you need to be and maybe a thing that, like most, don’t think about and start.

But you need to be ready or you need to become ready to eat shit. 

EL: Yeah. 

MK: And feel really bad about it several times. And then slowly but surely, you will start feeling great about it. It’s an activity that is quite similar to public speaking in many ways, like many people are very worried about that and they feel that they stutter or they are very self-conscious and that’s what you become. You become self conscious in the beginning and then you hear from all these experienced artists. Yeah, you just need to feel it and you need to relax. You need to be yourself. You need to convey some sort of emotion and you’re like, What the fuck do you mean? I’m just like stressed the shit out there like you will be and you accept that you start with something to perform, something that’s rather simple. And then slowly but surely, you scale up as you become more confident. But building that confidence can be really painful because, yeah, you you will not look that great up there the first time, but you need to be able and willing to take that step and kind of push through that.

EL: Yeah, it’s definitely… I always think about performing no matter how well you’re prepared. And I’m sure there’s probably some more listeners who have worked with children and done kid shows or Kid Circus or, you know, something in performing arts involving kids and like, it’s so funny, like when you’re dealing with these kinds of groups because you’ll have rehearsed the show or rehearse something they’re going to do. Even it’s quite simple, you know, age group dependent and it’s all smooth and everyone knows what they’re doing. And then it’s literally when you put them on stage, it’s like throwing them into water when they can’t swim those first few times, and they just have to flap their arms and legs and try to stay above the water. And then eventually they kind of get used to it and then they can do a bit better. 

Like, there’s plenty gymnastic things I’ve been to or not plenty but been to a few where, the kids who had known the routine, forget them. Start crying in the middle of the floor and the coach has to kind of go on and like, you know, do the routine standing beside them. So, they remember it.

MK: I’ve been there when I was teaching breaking.

EL: It’s just like that kind of sudden pressure of like, Oh, you know, I could do something. And it’s just like, it’s just funny and it happens to adults as well. We’re just better at not like breaking down in tears until afterwards.

MK: Yeah, exactly. You contain it until you come off stage and then you are more soul crushing than this because when the child comes off mom and family and everything will be fine and it is fine. But when you come off as an adult, like, you know, they saw it and everyone suffered a bit with you. But it’s OK. 

That’s what I think is really important. If you should pat yourself on the back for anything, it’s the bravery of going for it because it’s tough and some get it sooner than others and all that crap. But well, yeah, it’s very much kind of like a trial by fire sort of thing. I remember, my first times. Holy fucking shit. I went on stage with this little kind of very traditional hand balancing act sort of thing. I’d put together for this little culture house in Oslo. It was for a winter show where I was teaching. The kids were performing and then also the teachers. This was my first time doing any balancing on stage. And I jump up and I do a tuck jump and I fall straight over from the case.

I just let go. I don’t even stop in handstand. I jump and I fall and fucking 250 heartbeats per minute kind of nerves. The rest went actually fine. Like, OK, it’s very shaky, but it happens like, the act of doing it and you use exposure therapy, you get better at handling the nerves because suddenly that context is no longer, what’s it called? Your hormone system no longer thinks that you’re going to be shredded by a tiger, so it’s not sending out the don’t get shredded by a tiger hormones. And then you, you’re able to control it. 

And with hand balancing, oh boy, it is terrible the first times, like where is my arm? I have zero sensation in my arm that I’m standing on right now. That is a feeling that can occur and likely will occur to many there, like starting out with it. But don’t get discouraged. Go there, do it.

EL: Yeah, it’s felt like the adrenaline dump when you start performing as well. Like, it kills all your fine motor controls. Yeah, and that’s kind of like, in juggling they have a metric or a rule of thumb or heuristic where everything you can do in practice drops to 70 percent in performing context. So, if you can do a scale ten times out of ten, well, you’re about to be in for a rough lesson, you know? Oh, you know, if you can do a thousand times in a row, OK, you’re getting somewhere better without dropping or  fucking up, which is pretty hard for any kind of skill. So, it’s the same with handbalancing because it’s so precise. You’re just like, Oh, suddenly what you thought was balancing was fine, but you didn’t realize your hand sweat that much when you put them on the floor.

MK: Yeah, there’s so many of those variables, and you’re limited to kind of like, not necessarily first try, but that’s what you’re aiming for. You have the judgment of the audience, your own judgment of yourself, the extra stress if something happens and so on and so on. So, there’s like a list it can have a kind of a cascading effect of kind of losing touch and getting too self-conscious. 

But it does leave you with practice. And I think there is, of course, the good side of the adrenaline. It’s like a rush when you come off and let’s say you did your performance and it went a bit better than you thought or you nailed one thing or you performed it three times and the third time you actually you got it and you feel good about it, then it’s a massive rush. And it’s important. There is always a little bit of this adrenaline thing, and it’s a great feeling when you go out there and you pull it off and you feel that you’re  able to use your abilities. 

And I notice this within, relatively recently formed community of people that do very high level handstands, really, but don’t perform them. I’ve noticed among many a wish or kind of like a drive towards performing at one point among many, and I totally understand why, because you’re training and training and training, but just a word on training itself, like you are training to do something right? But if it’s training to just go into training and do more training, which in many ways that’s also why I like the word practice a lot better, because that’s eventually what it becomes…It’s kind of something you do for other things. Then only the training part is important, but it becomes a transformative experience in a different way as well. 

But I think many start feeling that and that’s because they see hand balancers and they’re like, why? Shit, I wish I could do that too. And they know they have some skills and they’d like to try them out. And it is that type of trial, right? Yeah. It’s the proving to yourself that you can do it sort of thing. And there is this sort of direct payoff. I did the performance. I did the skills in that context, like the specific context where it is culturally done for display and so on and where it’s extra hard. And yeah, I totally understand why…. Mainly because I know so many were like, yeah, you know, performing isn’t for me. And then three years pass and they’re like, Yeah, I’d like to do an act, that would be kind of cool, but then they’re pretty uncertain on how to begin. And for sure, I totally understand that. I mean, like having gone through circus school and you get all of that stuff as part of the curriculum. So, it is different than having to enter it without any kind of laid out preparation for it.

EL: And it’s definitely one of those things. But like even going into circus school. Like anyone who’s applying for circus school already has a decent amount of performances under their belt. Basically no one is getting into circus school unless they… Well, unless, even then like I’m going to say lesser gymnastics mega bits. But then gymnastics, basically, your gymnastics competition is a performance. It’s not like on a field against someone at the same time. It’s like, OK, here’s an audience or judges or other team, whatever, and you have to go do your thing in front of them. So even that, it doesn’t have the same emotive context or the kind of performative aspect, but it still is performance. So, it is kind of, even when you say, oh, you know, how do I go to circus school? Well, you probably need about 100 performances under your belt. 

There’s that kind of thing like, I don’t necessarily agree with what I’m about to say, but I do want to say it because it’s kind of it’s interesting to put things into context where, like so many people are trained powerlifting as a thing. They go to the gym, they train powerlifting. But then they don’t get on the platform. And I know and compete at powerlifting like the sport of powerlifting. I know some powerlifters who do lift and also in their context in it is: You’re not a power lifter until you’ve actually stood on the platform. Something that’s a bit more harsh is you’re not a power lifter until you’ve actually like peered on the platform. 

And that’s kind of interesting if we flipped that to hand balance, as I said, I don’t necessarily agree with this, but you could say that you’re not a hand balancer until you performed your skills for someone. And say you’re just training handstands. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with that, but it is an interesting thing to say because like you know hand balance as an art form? You know, obviously like art form has a context that is done in like paintings or displayed in a gallery, you know, sculptures displayed in the gallery or, you know, all art has a venue it’s performed in. So, until you are doing your art in a venue, maybe you’re not. No, I don’t necessarily agree with that. I think you could just do your painting in your bedroom at night or do your hands stand on the floor and no one is watching. But it is just an interesting way to say like, you know, what’s the difference between someone who does handstands for fun and what’s a hand balancer? And it’s like, well, you know, I have heard some people saying this online, oh, you’re not a hand balancer until you know, you’re a professional making money from it. I disagree with that. Well, you know, it is just interesting just to put that out there as a way of thinking about it.

MK: Yeah, yeah, definitely. I mean the term used to mean that’s a hand balancer being a profession, the discipline of circus. That is the presentation of that skill. And I don’t have a problem with that. Like it being an expanded term at all, really. But yeah, there is certainly something to that. Yeah, as you say, I don’t feel I need to see it like this. I feel it’s totally fine to identify strongly with what you do and stuff like that, like regardless of of the specific motivations in terms of doing that. 

But at the same time, I do think that if you’re very invested in your skills and if you have an interest in performing it for someone, I think doing that is very rewarding in a multitude of ways, which, yeah, just doing the training doesn’t become….To be fair here, if we didn’t have a platform of presentation of what we do, very few would bother sticking with it for a significant amount of time. Yeah, what is that right now? That is Instagram. That is the platform which the community of handstands that are outside of the other than sports or kind of circus. That’s where it leads. That is where it is being presented. It is a curated way of performing skills and then displaying them. I think a lot of people really love the practice but if it was banned to post anything of handstands online for a very long time, I think a lot of people would lose interest in doing it probably including people like me. 

Because yeah, if you’re not, if it’s not being communicated, if it’s not being shown, I display, and then it can either be discussed around it or people find it impressive or interesting, whatever. If there is none of that, the practice itself, becomes a very lonely one and one that I think quite a few people would not bother doing. So, I think it’s a good thing that you have this kind of social media thing that allows people to, yeah, to nerd out about it and talk with people they never met about, you know? Yeah, that skill is really cool. I think that’s great. But there is something again, if you think about what does it mean for you to look at people doing this, to communicate with them, to show what you do, either for your progress or something you are really happy about that you learned or managed. In a real time context. That’s not to say that it’s worth less if you’re not doing it on stage, but I think for one’s own kind of experience of it, I think it’s a very interesting thing to do and I think it’s just rewarding. 

EL: You know, there is a certain social capital that comes with being able to do something that wows people or impresses people. Obviously, there’s cultural contexts that are impressive. Like, what’s impressive for people who are into hand balancing versus what’s impressive for your neighbors who have never seen someone do a handstand, you know, are very different things. 

So, it can be… That’s the thing on the lower context performance like I said at the start. You could still be very impressive to someone if you can do a straddle handstand or a Croco or something, but not necessarily like in a circus hole, where everyone could do that. But it does come like if you have put a lot of time into your skills, it does become like, you know, having a practice is like being a craftsman to a certain degree or craft woman or craft person. Where it’s like, oh, you know, I have made a table or I’ve made a chair. I’d like someone to, you know, use the table and chair and appreciate the thing I’ve made. And that kind of goes, you know, and how do we use handstands when we’re not doing them? We look at them and we go, oh, that was kind of cool. So, there is a certain amount of to get the satisfaction of your skill. Performing is quite good for it or showing it off on Instagram is also good. 

MK: I think that moving a little bit back to, I mean, we’ve talked a lot about, the kind of when. I think the how is an enormous one. I mean, that’s the big one, I guess, for most people. And what I usually say, I had this discussion with a guy not that long ago who’s pretty capable on his hands. Could easily be… His performance level in terms of one arms already. And just like, how do you do it? Because yeah, again, like it feels alien. It feels scary. It’s like, well, how do you even begin? What’s an act? What’s it consist of and so on? And yeah, this is a very kind of hard thing to quantify and to make a specific method for because it’s a kind of convergence of many skill sets of a person usually, or even persons it can be like many of them make it. But I think if there is one thing that like kind of… that I usually recommend people to do, if they don’t have anything else in terms of other skill sets from before, such as performative, I usually say “Start taking dance classes, start taking theater classes.”

The reason I say those two is because in circus school, that is part of your education. And like, I mean, I did bad dance classes. Or dance classes I didn’t like in circus school. I’m sure that most people that would just go out and try to find some dance classes, they wouldn’t be the best dance classes in the world. But for someone who hasn’t done it before, it doesn’t matter. It matters if you have a degree. It matters if you have a teacher who can actually transmit knowledge, but what matters the most is again, did you expose yourself to loads of movement stuff and stuff? I need to kind of get into and understand, this is new, you might have to stand there and do choreography together with a group and you’re learning to deal with that stuff, which is alien and weird. But OK, you’re doing it. Maybe you have to do theater classes. Maybe you need to make up a character and shape it or whatever it is you’re being put in a point where you need  to dig up some shit inside and like you need to play with your imagination a bit like if you’re going to be just doing a basic theater exercise such as like, OK, now I’m going to go from annoyed to sad or whatever the hell it is, you need to start working with your imagination and put yourself into various states and say, OK, if you’re learning choreography, OK. So, let’s say it’s a good teacher, teaches you something very basic. OK, so here you go down to the floor and imagine that you really relax when you land on the floor, you breathe and then you go into the next movement.

Even stuff like this, it means you need to put yourself into a state. You go to the floor, OK, you relax, you find the sensation and then you move on. You’re finding these kind of, even at very basic levels, these kind of imaginary things. Because again, you need to learn to build the kind of performative state and you need to be able to move. You need to be able to just be able to or to sense your body in different ways. And so, dance class is brilliant for that, theatre it can vary immensely what you’re exposed to. But again, it’s new, it’s different. It’s out of your comfort zone and there is a level of performativity in it. 

And in the beginning, you won’t understand what it gives you, and neither did I. When I look back at how I was in circus school, I went to these classes, oh, they suck. I don’t like the method of this teacher or whatever I went to. Went to class, I didn’t skip out on stuff and I just did it. But later on, like the amassment of all those things made me able to perform, do things, to improvise, to do all this crap. But I couldn’t have done that if I just refused going to the dance classes of like one teacher that was OK. But it was kind of boring. But you were saying, yes, you were going into it. You were just doing loads of things. And over time, it just builds this kind of like core confidence in your ability to create some sort of presence and all of that stuff. All of that stuff doesn’t go into your first act because in your first act, you’re still just doing something very basic, so you need to start out. Also, when you begin, you’re not going to create an act that is going to go into the best show in the world. You’re going to do something very simplistic, very basic just to get through it without having a heart attack.

EL: The very first hand balancer performance I did in circus school… There was the balance teacher, and she is just one of the teachers who covering for the main teacher as well. But she’s also a good coach in science and acrobatics. And she just came and said, OK, for something different today. Instead of working on skills, you’re going to make acts. I’m going to set this little challenge for people, and the criteria for your handstand act was you have to do three sequences on your hands. Finish with something impressive. And if you fell out, you weren’t allowed to repeat it and you have no choreography between your sequences. You’re just to pick like three points on the performance. Based on the stage, you have to walk over, you have to face a different direction each time you’ve done it, so you could have something facing on the side, on the diagonal, whatever it is, what shows off the skill in an interesting way. 

So, this was my very first handstand performance. I fell out of everything and like we were kind of making the act like over the course of an hour, hour, and a half long class. It was fine. I ran it a couple of times by myself. And then the second, then everyone in the class had 20 people in the class, a couple of the other teachers around who are going to be the audience to watch it at the end of the class and watch everyone do their one-minute-long act.

And then it was kind of funny because like I fell out of everything. I’d say, like seventy five percent of the group fell out of everything, whereas she was also like, you have to be, she said, you have to be ultimately confident that you are able to do the skill. So don’t put in your fancy stuff. Don’t, you know, don’t try and blag things if you’re not certain you can’t get it has to go. You have to have an act that you can do without question and then put us all on stage. And then basically everyone but the hand balance specialists fell out and she was kind of making the point actually about the performance. Like, once you’re in a performance thing, all your skills drop and all these precise skills you think you can do actually drop much lower than you think. I was going to put other kind of interesting framework having my own students when we’re like, start working on this, it’s like, OK, we’re going to make a one-minute-long act and you got three sequences in it and one of them has to be your power sequence that you finish on. 

MK: Mm-hmm. I was working once with a girl who is going to apply to circus school, whom I was online coaching. I was giving her kind of a little bit of tools and exercises on how to create some sort of act or some sort of concept.

And for her, for example, she had done a little bit of gymnastic stuff. So, I gave her, for example, find an object that you relate to during this act of yours. And then she would find this one band. She would bind her wrist into a leg and she created some cool sequences with it. And through the weeks, I would give her so now let us say, like, now you try to do the band between your legs. Let’s say the band goes to the leg or maybe the band can tie to the canes if they can even pull the canes like loads and loads of ideas. And many of them won’t work. But it’s about churning through these ideas until you find something that sticks and it’s very broad stroke, but there’s kind of a little bit of a categorization that I’ve become fond of using four acts. And what I’ve noticed is that you can have very, very different energies in your act, they can be atmospheric, they can be funny, they can be like just like epic and impressive.

There’s loads of different things you can do. And then again, it’s building dramaturgy, which is totally another thing again. But what they often tend to do is that you have acts which are built on movement that you have. 

Let us say that you’re doing handstands and some sort of dance-y movement material…Let’s say there’s a certain way of moving that’s being repeated and done and that happens also in the handstands and stuff. And I’ve done a lot like that. And then those are very often kind of atmospheric, there’s rare that unless you do physical comedy, that you can make movement funny in that sense, like those are more atmospheric and impressive and you’re looking at something smooth and interesting and well choreographed to a degree. And then you have something, which is more character based. It’s like, OK, I am some sort of person, like, I am this guy who’s funny that can be like a comedy act, for example, or like my thing in the bathtub. I was in the bathtub. I was a guy that came home to his house, his house, a fucking nightmare full of plumbing, monstrous steel pipes everywhere. But I was immensely comfortable in this home of mine because I’d lived here for 50 years and like, like that was where my character started. And I started rummaging around my house, finding this and that and going into handstands and then smoke and all that crap. But it was kind of a character driven thing. And then the third part that I noticed is also one that is task oriented, which is I come on stage and there is something I have to do. And then that can be both movement and character based. But there is an object that needs to move from A to B or like that. There’s kind of a mission with a thing like juggling does that, obviously, since its object manipulation. But juggling can also just be like movement based completely. So it is task oriented like a lot of comedy does not like, OK, my entire act is trying to turn on my computer that won’t turn on, and I try in very ridiculous ways, for example.

EL: Yeah, I think these kinds of task and object acts are … They’re the ones that normally if I have someone trying to get into the circus school, they’re the acts I go to immediately because you have an object to interact with. It’s much easier to keep the fourth wall. The fourth wall for those that know is the space betwee you and the audience. Whereas if you have to interact with the audience and look for their approval, that can get you very, very quickly or very into trouble where you’re just kind of like, oh, I’m, you know, shit, I, you know, shit, they didn’t laugh when I thought they’d laugh or they didn’t applaud when I thought they’d applaud. Whereas if you have something on stage, it’s just like, Oh, here’s me in a box and I’m going to my interaction. My dance partner is the box or the ball or whatever it is on the floor or the umbrella or whatever. Whatever you want to do, your act becomes much easier, I find, for people to keep their focus and to keep their state. Then if you’re expecting like, you know, oh, I’ve done my handstand and then, you know, I thought they would clap, but then they didn’t clap.

And that shows you where you’re just like, OK, I’m just doing my thing. I’m telling a little story of a beginning, a middle and an end. And then it’s done. But it’s all in this kind of containment. We always think about it like it contains the energy around you, rather than having this kind of expansive energy that you want to draw. So, it’s the difference between, I’m a shining star on stage and everyone look at me versus I’m a focus of light and everyone has to kind of come into my world a little. 

MK: Mm-hmm, yeah.

EL: And that can be quite easy until you’ve kind of developed a presence which takes some time and takes practice and is a skill in and of itself. Then having that kind of like, oh, watch me, do something with this thing for a while? Oh, isn’t it interesting? I find it interesting enough to show you. And then it becomes very, I don’t know. Obviously, there’s risk, but it’s very low risk in terms of hoping that you have the interaction with the audience.

MK: Yeah, I think like, yeah, there’s many of these types of choices you can make like I’m an introvert and am I extrovert, for example, like very, very clear kind of decision that can be made in terms of in your performance. And like, you can be introverted but still look out towards the audience like you don’t need to look down all the time just because you’re in an introverted state like extroverted would be more like I am searching either the approval of the audience or you’re making a thing out of then seeing that you see them like a.k.a. breaking the fourth wall kind of thing. Ok. I am. Now, I’m actually, classic thing. 

Like a lot of people that are good. It’s kind of funny stuff and clowning do this if something goes wrong on stage and the audience laughs because they like something goes wrong on stage, they will clown it and they will make make fun of the thing that went wrong and look at the audience and the audience laughs because they see the person onstage acknowledging the mistake that happened. That’s a very powerful way of taking something that went wrong and kind of just like going with it. One time I remember I did that was the bathtub act, because in that one, there is a tap where there’s water running through and I was going to close the tap in the end of the act and it just didn’t close and I was turning it and turning it and turning it.

And then, I was going to pretend that OK, this was almost closed. So, I kicked. I kicked the bar, then the pipes because my character was ruffian type a guy. I was in bed but  the entire kind of thing just falls over and water splashes everywhere. And I’m not sure if the audience, I think they kind of got that, OK, this wasn’t exactly supposed to happen because I got pretty wet, but I kind just shrug my shoulders and pretended that, oh yeah, you know, that’s how it is in my home. Turn off the thing and then went on with it. And it worked. The mistake gave me further energy. It gave me more from the audience and the audience maybe noticed the mistake. But they also noticed me not being bothered by the mistake. And that’s kind of the more complex and the more kind of experience based things of performance.

Being able to handle it in the moment, being able to kind of like this. Like I, I remember when I started circus, I was very confused by it. It is very important that this kind of feeling the audience and feeling the energy and being able to project to the audience these kinds of actually very advanced things, which I guess it was good that people told me about them back then. 

But they told me about as if, Yeah, you need to tell a story or need to make the audience feel things. And I’m just like, I don’t know. I don’t know what that means. So, when I tried, I inevitably failed because I didn’t know what it meant. Like, because it isn’t about like when people say, you need to tell a story it doesn’t need… like you don’t need to fucking do Shakespeare out there necessarily. It can be that you are having an ID or a kind of an image or a feeling or some sort of, yeah, again, imagery or imagination that drives you or drives your attention. Because in the end, performance is some communication. So, if the audience perceives you as interested, now then you become interesting. And that is the thing that if you are committed to whatever the hell you’re doing on stage, then it works.

Now I’ve seen people do so much weird shit on stage that has worked absolutely amazingly well. I’ve also seen a lot of years on stage that doesn’t work at all. But when people have that kind of commitment and they’re very invested in what is going on, you become invested too. And I think the best example I usually use for this is like, I’m sure most people have met someone who is just incredibly interested in their hobby or in something. And when they start talking about it, you just start listening. You don’t really care about the subject matter, but you’re just like, Yeah, this is fascinating because, this person is so invested. That is the thing, that is kind of the energy that one ideally takes out on stage, and that is where the perceived confidence of a performer is as well because the performer is out there has been there a thousand times. They are confident and they go there, they do their thing, they do the right motions at the right times to smile at the right time, like make the audience laugh all of that. But it’s because they have gone through that process. And as I said again, it’s sort of trial by fire. 

EL: I want to stop you there because there are some interesting points for people starting out. I had one theater teacher called McBrien father, who does physical theatre, clowning and kind of comedy would be his specialties. And he always had the point of like whenever you go on stage, either by yourself or with a group, you’re playing a game. And as long as you keep playing the game, the audience will be invested and like it, and they don’t even need to know what game you’re playing. They just need to know that you’re playing a game and you’re enjoying the game and the game has rules. 

So, this is one of those interesting things if you want to start out performing, have some rules and this could be like, “Oh, my character would never put their right foot on the ground.” You know, it could literally be as simple as that. Like, how do I do a whole handstand? I could not put my right foot on the ground. You know? Does it have a dancey framework? Does it have a funny framework as a character? Is it just show and tell like, these kind of acts are quite good when you’re starting. Oh, I’m going to show and tell the audience like, I’m just going to show some skills. I’m just going to do them, but I’m going to give it a little framework where I just, won’t put my hands on an even surface or I won’t put my right foot down.

And that’s my little game. I’m playing with myself. And if they figure it out, they figure it out. If they don’t, they don’t. But it still gives you something once again. It’s like that little something to do on stage that you know the rules and you’re inviting them in. And that’s kind of what you were alluding to there and different way of saying it. It’s just like, Oh, the person knows what they’re doing, they’ve done it. And this kind of way is like, OK, we can hack this process slightly, and then it’s kind of like, OK, cool. Maybe they’ll catch up. Maybe they’ll get it. But even if no one gets it, they’re just kind of like, What the fuck was that? It was still, you’re playing the game, so they’ll know you do something and they’ll feel dumb because they didn’t get it. You won’t feel dumb because you know you’re doing the thing and then, you know, that’s OK. They’re feeling something versus like, Oh, that’s not entertaining. It makes it intriguing.

MK: Yeah, I think there is another thing that we now have access to, which is great and that is we have cameras 24-7 that we can use and that you can kind of film yourself quite a lot before you go on stage or if you’re just like, if you’re really shy about these things, you can start out by, even if it’s just improvising to your favorite song or whatever the hell it is, you can start out like that. And again, same thing I said before. Just you need to get used to not cringing at yourself too much because you probably will. At some point you’ll be OK. I hate to watch myself or like, oh yeah, I look bad when I do this, but it’s like, get used to watching yourself and just drown out those parts. Look, it doesn’t matter, you know, you’re not there yet, you know, you’re not used to moving. You know, you’re self-conscious, but go along with it, do it for a few weeks. Film yourself and you will notice certain moments where you’re like, OK, that was bad.

You will notice this and like, but you need to be kind of hard. You need to be hard on yourself. Not on what you see. You need to be hard on yourself to not criticize yourself to death. You need to be like, I am not going to judge this now because it’s not the time to judge it, right? And you begin at that point so that your first mission is getting used to watching yourself. Second mission is OK, I identify, was there something that worked in there? Was there even like one second when you turned it around like that? Ok? Yeah, that worked well. See if you can copy it. See if it’s something you can write down. See if it’s something you want to keep in some way. Maybe modify it. Go from there and add another thing like just in terms of a very practical framework for doing it. Just fucking start somewhere. Like because in the end, you’re going to start somewhere where if you spend three weeks or if you spend one day.

EL: Sorry, my mistake, my mistake,

MK: Disaster!

EL: I can edit out, but maybe I’ll just leave it in.

MK: No doubt. Now we’re now, we’re now talking about that word.

EL: Yeah, see, just what a mistake. We’re going to go with it.

MK: Yeah, you just run with it. And now we’re sitting here performing for you guys. And just like trying to pretend that, like even though it wasn’t supposed to happen, we’re trying to milk it and I’m going to stop milking it and then go on with what I was supposed to say. But I don’t really remember what…

EL: I actually want to say. We’re back to something you said about watching yourself and resisting the urge to just be harsh on yourself. One of the youth circuses I worked for a bit teaching. They had a framework, established what was termed the shit sandwich, and it was for a younger group. It was the doo-doo sandwich or the poo poo sandwich or something like that. And it was because they were always pretty good on like encouraging people to come for today’s record, what you’re doing. And then there was self-critique and group critique either shows whatever it was we were doing when they’re doing their performance parts of the year and the shit sandwich was basically, you have to say something good about yourself first. I like this or that was good. Then the shit was like, OK, something you done wrong or something you didn’t like or blah. And then you had to finish off with finding another thing you liked. Mm-hmm. 

And that was, you know, when I heard it coming from a youth group. I was like, this is so much better than the self-critique advice we’d been given in circus school, which is just like tear yourself to pieces and display your emotions and blah blah blah. Whereas this was just like, oh yeah, just find something good. Say that. OK, now find something you want to criticize, or you think you could do better and then finish with something else good. So, you’re basically double stacking the things you’ve done right versus, you know, just going, oh, I didn’t point my toes there. My knees weren’t thin. My shape wasn’t exactly as I wanted. 

MK: Yeah, I think that is a good place to begin for many things like that. Once you get started, it is easier to change something you have than to make up something completely new. So, begin somewhere, create a couple of sequences, see if you can put them together, maybe sequence A and sequence B and then you change them, sequence B and then sequence A like. It is a lot easier to just like, make stuff happen from that when there is something that exists already. Yeah. So um, I use that quite a lot where I’m just like, OK, I need to make something, OK, fuck it. I’m just starting here right now. Done. Ok, that is my starting point in space. My canes are over there or I do floor. Ok, I start over here. I am going to go there first. 

Like I remember when I was in circus school in third year, it was this legend of a dance teacher I had, or she was my outside eye for my process of making my act. And Cecilia Rouse was her name, and she came to the studio for the first session. Kind of like I had prepared some material and she comes in and says, OK, so where are you at? And I’m like, I just front load her with all my fucking problems. Oh, yeah, but you know, I was this and that. I’m like, I’m amateur about this act, and maybe I was just going to go with this again. And she’s like, yeah, but don’t you remember this thing you did before that? You were quite happy about it. And you were considering using that part? Yeah. So that starts like this. And she stands in one place and she walks forwards in line. That would end roughly here, wouldn’t it? Yeah, that’s right. And then you were working on some sliding sequences. What if those go this way and she walks to the right? And if you see here now, then you’re quite far in this side of the space. You can have space for that big sequence that you were having trouble fitting. Yeah, right. And like, that’s exactly what I stuck with, like the first thing she did, and she was just good. That kind of like seeing people where they were at and stuff. But she saw, OK, he’s making things way too hard for himself. So, she was like, OK, what if you start here, you go there and then you go there? So, it would literally three lines in space and like 70 percent of my act was solved. It was hilarious. 

EL: That’s the kind of thing when you have someone who is like, it always comes so easy when you’ve done it 10000 times. 

MK: Yeah, but there’s a lot that goes into it. But as I said, I definitely recommend if it’s something that you would have wished or if it’s something that you wish you would have done in your life and kind of daydreaming a bit or whatever, just find a way to get on with it because it’s pretty cool, and you would be very happy that you did it. And if it’s something you really wanted to do and you kind of didn’t, I think it would be one of the things you would regret. You’d be sitting there and thinking about daydreaming, thinking, oh yeah, but what about imagining being on stage? And then it works like, OK, if you have those thoughts like, yeah, it’s possible. That’s basically what you’re trying to say. Here it is. It is possible. It’s a process that can be learnt in the same way as learning a handstand. It’s just that it’s more personal and it feels like you’re putting your dignity at risk, which you aren’t really. You’re actually being fucking brave for just sticking with it, biting your teeth together and going through a quite rough process, which in the end, yeah, it doesn’t even need to become a career, but you can just be there and be like, hey, yeah, I did this thing. I was pretty cool. And then you see, OK, was it for you? Maybe not. Ok? Try it.

EL: That’s the other thing. You can perform without it becoming a career. Like, it doesn’t have to be a moneymaking endeavor. It could just be something you do every now and then. I think there is kind of always this leap of this, like there’s tiers of these things like this person’s professionally performing all around the world. I’m not as good as him, but you can probably still be entertaining in a kind of amateur context, and you don’t have to quit the day job. You can just do it.

MK: Exactly. 

EL: You know, that’s the kind thing, and particularly I like the community grows like, you know, what was the name of that (inaudible) ….? Handstand Extravaganza? Like, you know, these kind of events like, you know, we’ll be seeing more and more like community events and smaller events and these kinds of things, where it’s like, oh, cool, I know you guys, the coaches doing little performances there, but I still think, you know, these things will expand to be room for community performance for non-professionals.

MK: Yeah. They were doing that there to like anyone could perform things and stuff. And it was quite nice to see people do various stuff. It’s actually very interesting that time to take an example that I did exactly the process that we now talked about when I did my performance because I didn’t have anything ready, but I was like, OK, I have a few hours to make something, and I was like, I made the decision. Like, I knew everyone there would expect me to do a lot of really hard handstands. I was like, not going to do any hard handstands. I also mentioned the expectation. Basically, I wanted to perform on the floor. It’s really hard to perform floor. I was fucking tired after the week, and I wanted to show that you could do performing without big skills. In that sense, I took some of my dancing material and stuff that I’m reasonably comfortable with. And I was like, OK, start here in space. I walk in a spiral inward until I reach the middle of the spiral. Then I started creating some mental imagery, what the spiral was and what I was seeing and what kind of state it put me in.

And I came to the middle of the spiral, which made me go into one of my old sequences, which went into another of my old sequences. Then I created one sequence quickly, which went into a fourth sequence, which was the ending, and it ended up being like a four minute something piece, which wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever done. But it was cool and it was nice to do too because it put me in that state like, OK, now I just need to make something real quick and like, Can I put myself in the state? Can I  get into that zone? 

And it felt a bit like being back in circus school because the time constraint, the fact that you have to present it soon, you just have to choose a song, let’s go. And they’ve had that kind of mode to it. But also it was very rewarding to me to do that because there was the expectations from myself were different than I put that challenge on myself. Can I now pretend I’m in circus school and create a piece really quickly? And yes, I have fun.

EL: That’s the voice of experience speaking as like, I’ve done this so many times. It’s no big deal. Whereas when you start out, it is a very big deal and it takes a long time. Uh, with that in mind, I want to wrap up this topic now and close to the end of time. But I would just say one thing. 

So, our last episode of the podcast When It Just Doesn’t Work. I think it really hit a note with a lot of people out there. We’ve got a lot of nice comments from people, resonated with it. So, you know, anyone who reached out and, stuck a note and said, thanks or shared or whatever, whatever. Just thank you so much for reaching out and letting us know that you really enjoyed it. For me, it was one of the best episodes, actually. I think it was one of my favorite ones we’ve done. Yeah, it was cool. Yeah, I’m glad it resonated with so many people. So, thank you to all our listeners out there. Rock and roll. Other than that, I’ve been Emmet, he’s been Mikael and we’ve been the Handstand Cast. Yes, we have. We have. Or have we?



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