On Our Own Terms

by Alyssa Hughlett


Back in January, we leapt with full hearts into our residency at Circus Center armed with a great deal of enthusiasm and gratitude. Nicholette, Juliana, Hannah, and I were looking forward to having a longer than usual time (i.e. more than two weeks) to create a new work. This would also mean more room for training and new skill development and the opportunity to try new things in the creation process. The only way this could get better was if we were being paid a salary for our work (which we one day hope to accomplish).

Now, fast forward to two weeks later, whereupon if you peeked into our rehearsal and internal group communications you would see the opposite picture: a huge shadow of doubt, fear, and stress hanging over us all as we prepared ourselves for, not a full length show, but two short cabaret performances. Our aim was to take material that we were developing and show it off a little bit within the acrobatic and circus community to see how it plays in that sphere. The purpose was to not make material specifically for cabaret, but simply to perform our work for the community and meet people.  

Yet, we were back in that all too familiar mode again, which I am sure many performers and artists would recognize. The mode where it feels as though all the organically discovered creative material you have developed is being thrown on a conveyor belt headed directly for the meat grinder to be processed and packaged for a performance or two. Things really do get nihilistic at that point. You find yourself saying “I have no idea why I am moving this way now, but I guess I have to do something,” or “maybe I was not doing anything different after all.” In our case, we wondered if we were ever going to have a chance to create a new work without the stress of having it finely packaged up and ready to go in two weeks or less.

This is the point where I could now diverge from talking about our process and begin to write extensively about the REAL NEED for more federal and private support of the Arts and Artists. I mean what happened to the day when a company was given money to pay their actors, directors, and designers what they needed so that they could simply do what they do? This is not an extinct thing, it is happening for several established theatre, dance, and performing companies, but the opportunities are rare for the smaller, and at times, more innovative companies to be able to make the kind of work that breaks conventions or standards.

I have already digressed.


The thing is, we made it through those two and a half weeks of stress and doubt, emerging from it all with having learned a great deal more about the physical and emotional nature of the relationships in the work we have begun to develop. We also learned that we want to start doing things “on our terms,” which is just another way of saying that we are learning to discriminate more clearly between what is really important to us versus where we think we should be at any given point. This carries through on every level of operation within our company: from rehearsals and show creation to the administration of our company. Now that we are back in rehearsals after the two cabaret performances, it seems as though we hit a reset button, only we have not lost any work or material. We have fully committed ourselves to making our performance on mid-March at the Circus Center a works-in-progress showing, along with a three hour workshop to precede the showing. Sometimes, even works-in-progress showings can put pressure on actors and performers, but we really hope to fully generate and develop up until that day when we present our “research” or the bare bones of a new play; bones that may not even be fully arranged into a working skeleton.

"Beauty cannot be forced. It alone decides when it will come and sometimes it is the last thing we expect and the very last thing to arrive." -John O’Donohue

For the past two weeks, Hannah, Juliana, and Nicholette have been following a detailed rehearsal structure that I issued as soon as they finished the cabaret. The structure is very detailed in its instructions, including what to send back to me if I could not be streamed online (I gave them them the times that I would be available online). I asked for free writes, open explorations that had a given context, scenes to be written, as well as new material to be created. I sent them pictures and videos that I felt represented something of what I was trying to describe in words when this was necessary. I also gave them time to do some “uncensored play” or training. What we mean by “uncensored” is that we give ourselves license to do, say, or explore anything without worrying what the outcome will be. As the videos, audio recordings, and writings came in, I set about reviewing them. I then had a notes session online with Juliana, Nicholette, and Hannah at one of their Circus Center rehearsals, saying what resonated with me, images or ideas that came up for me, directions to move toward, text that should be kept, and thoughts about what is happening in the dramatic circumstances of the play.


I once thought that I was not putting in the effort or time that Hannah, Juliana, and Nicholette were putting in for rehearsal, as I was not having to travel or show up in the room with them. However, now I very much feel that I am rehearsing with them as well as equalling their time with my own work. I use an hours tracker app on my iphone to keep track of the time I spend with their material from rehearsals, and it shows me in a concrete way that my effort is significant. Looking ahead, we have about 40-45 hours left of rehearsals until the works in progress showing and workshop on March 13th. We will be in full gear rehearsing and playing, “on our own terms,” and maybe we will see you at the public showing March 13th, where we can get your thoughts and ideas about what you see.  We will return to develop the play and have it ready for premiering and booking by Fall 2016. It is still unentitled, but at this point, I am holding off on giving it a name until the name gives itself to us (in the past, we have had to name our play before even having a play).

On our own terms.

Aging Acrobats

by Juliana Frick

As mentioned in the previous blog post, we are making a new show! A lot is different this time around. From an ensemble of eight we have become three. Our last show we were a mixed-gendered group, in this iteration we are all female-bodied. We are all roughly the same size, meaning there is not as clear a distinction between the classic base and flyer roles (not that we have ever been interested in adhering to that formality). We are giving ourselves longer than two-weeks to make a show.

And finally, the difference that I am most interested in:

We are building a show with acrobats who are all in their thirties.

My sister, 13 years my senior, would laugh at me for making a big deal about being thirty. Yes, yes, yes, we are still young and all that blahblahblah etc. etc. BUT in the lifespan of an acrobat, we are entering into a different phase which more acutely begs the question:

How do we continue to gain highly-physical acrobatic skill while also gaining years (and all the wear and tear that comes with it) in our bodies?

Some of us began training our various physical disciplines when we were young. I started on the trapeze at age five, acrobatics at age nine and partner hand-to-hand at age ten. I had a beautiful short-lived career touring with youth-circus Circus Smirkus until I got kicked out for shoplifting when I was 14 (seriously). I stopped doing acrobatics at that point, picking it up again in my twenties where I promptly learned my first lesson of post-adolescent partner acrobatics: I can not simply rely on being smaller than everyone else. In my adult-body, I have to be smart. I have to think about form and efficiency and working with my partner to find the place of ease between us.

Now, a decade later, I’m undergoing a similar process. My primary mode of play is to SMASH. I love throwing myself into things, gaining power from high-velocity impact. For the last ten years my body could do this with little warm-up and recovery time. Lately though, it takes longer to get my wrists ready for weight-bearing. Impact with the ground echoes through my joints. I have to be more proactive in reminding my spine it is more related to a snake than a stick.

What I am discovering is that, once again, I have to be smarter in how I train. As Director of Training (capitalized to represent how ridiculously pleased I feel about this title), I’m undertaking a research project that looks closely at all the joints in our bodies. I’m trying to define in very specific terms what we are asking those joints to do in our work and then creating a training program to facilitate that.

UpLift is not interested in creating a spectacle of impressive physical feats. We are interested in using a highly-physical vocabulary to tell human stories. We are both acrobats and actors, athletes and poets. As I embark on this little research project, I will look at the physical forces acting on our bodies but I will also look at the stories we are telling, what qualities those stories require us to step into. To that end, my job in UpLift is to liberate us from anything holding us back from the full spectrum of physical expression.

I’ll let you know how the research goes.