Letter back home to my family and to the director of the Masque Youth Theatre where I first learned about physical acting, stage combat, and stage acrobatics.
It is the Sunday before Labor Day. If I were back at a conventional university I would probably be out with friends, enjoying the last two days of freedom before classes begin. As my body is quick to remind me, however, I am not enrolled in a conventional university – I am in my third week as a circus student.
Homework here is replaced by a background hum of pain in one body part or another; as each minor ache heals, another one crops up in its place. A person really begins to feel like a conveyor belt of injury. During the week, the classes come so fast and furious that you never really have time to take inventory of the state of your body. “Just keep moving,” you tell yourself, “it only hurts when you sit still.”
Fortunately, sitting still is one of the few physical activities not included in my schedule. I might find myself refilling my water bottle in the three minutes between my three-hour Lecoq movement-theater class and my “Introduction to the Aerial Disciplines” class, in which I learn two different aerial disciplines in every class. During a rare twenty minute break in the schedule, I might be found in a corner of the gym using a wooden rod or giant rubber band to pull my arm behind my back – opening my shoulder line enough for an hour or two of private handstand instruction.
My classes fly at me in a dizzying barrage: Acrobatics, Tightrope, Trampoline, Hand to Hand, Juggling, Movement, Dance, Flexibility, Nutrition. Every day I understand just a little bit more French, the comprehension improving so slowly that it feels almost like my eyes are slowly adjust to blinding light.
The instructors here expect many of the same life skills that I learned as a student at the Masque. Discipline. Self-motivation. “No whining.” The ability to accept criticism without involving your ego. Focus. Taking responsibility for your own actions, strengths, weaknesses. The lessons I learned at the Masque give me the confidence to literally hold someone’s life in my hands, thirty feet above a hard, wood floor. They are the same lessons that allow me to trust two people that I have known for five days to flip me twenty feet in the air and then catch me, unhurt, with their bare hands.
This school for me is an extension of the pedagogical methods of the Masque, and as such, I feel like a representative of the Masque. “Have you ever done something like this before?” “Yes,” I reply, “at the Masque Youth Theater and School in Rochester, Minnesota.” I am quick to involve my history and training at the Masque here because I believe that it is almost impossible to succeed at circus school alone; when I mention the Masque at this school, I never feel like I’m travelling this road alone.
I was lucky enough this summer to put on a show at the Masque as a personal thank-you to all of the people who have taught me and supported me throughout my years of involvement there and in Rochester. That show was my defining moment as a performer, not because I feel like the show itself was fantastic or because I didn’t drop any lines, but because I felt the strongest connection with an audience that I have ever felt in my life. It makes sense of course, because it was my whole life in that theater: my family, people from the Masque, my teachers and friends from as far back as preschool!
These days, my eyes fly open before my alarm goes off. The first thought in my head: “I get to go to circus school today!” I start school at 8:00 in the morning and stay until 9:30 at night, feeling like the luckiest kid in the world.
Realistically, I know that it will not always be that way. The stress and the pain and the constant mental pressure to excel will make getting out of bed difficult some days. For those days, however, I have a little box in my room. In it, is all of my mementos from this summer’s show: the script, the soundtrack, several letters and cards, the guest book, and a clown nose made of red foam. Looking at that box and knowing what’s inside – all the people and all the support that it represents – will always give me the strength and energy to face the next day. No matter what.
Thank you for that.