A crowd of about 200 enjoyed the third and final night of the second annual Snake Oil Festival on Sunday (June 26) with the “Unholy Roller Revival” hosted by co-producer the Rev. Ben Wisdom, with Dr. Sick and the Asylum Chorus providing a mesmerizing soundtrack for New Orleans and visiting national and international performers.
I’ll have more fleshed-out thoughts on the evening once I nail down some details, but wanted to share this photo gallery (with a quick video) to give you an idea of how much fun the night was — a hellfire-and-brimstone celebration of dance, music and flight. And while the local performers showcased New Orleans’ burlesque and sideshow talent, arguably the most intriguing performance came from an out-of-towner — sort of. Lune Noirr, an Asheville, N.C.-based performer who reportedly will soon set up shot in New Orleans, gave a brilliant dance performance in a costume as kinetic (and timely) as one could see at the show.
Other performers: New Orleans’ Ember Blaize, Tsarina Hellfire and Queenie O’Hart, as well as Kitson Sass (Minnesota), Mariposa Bop (London), Mena Domina (Santa Fe, N.M.) and Miranda Tempest (Toronto).
The Snake Oil Festival was produced by the Rev. Ben Wisdom and Little Luna and featured about 70 performers over three nights showcasing burlesque, circus arts and circus sideshow acts, with workshops held during the day. Check out my preview in the New Orleans Advocate, as well as a mini-review from 2015.
New Orleans circus artist Clay Mazing continues his “Field Trip” travelogue, which chronicles his experiences with the Emergency Circus as they continue to entertain Syrian refugees across Europe.
Being a child with special needs in Turkey is even more difficult than being one in the U.S. Disabilities are more stigmatized and hidden by families fearing embarrassment. Luckily for these kids a brand new center is opening in a mystical landscape in the heart of Turkey. The Little Prince Academy is a place where children with all manner of different abilities can come for free to explore and create together.
Here, children leave their labels of autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc., behind. Differences are celebrated and encouraged. Little princes and princesses integrate to discover life in a safe and loving environment amidst the most unique geography on the planet.
Watch the Emergency Circus bring laughter and applause to christen the opening of the Little Prince Acadamy. This video shows the first time many of these “challenged” children played and danced with “normal” children. We all laugh the same.
Liza Rose continues her “Field Trip” journey to the U.S. Aerial Championships with a recap of Friday night’s competition.
I’m on the train back to Manhattan after teaching a workshop at the Muse in Brooklyn this morning, because I am a genius and figured it would be totally fine to teach this morning after doing the competition last night. I’m … awfully tired.
Last night’s competition went well, I felt. There were minor technical difficulties, which cannot be avoided in those kind of “one-off” show scenarios, but I felt like overall, I made a good impression. I performed in the New and Innovative Apparatus division. The act that I presented is “Parapluie,” on my aerial umbrella. I made the act in 2010, and have left it largely untouched for the last three years or so. I submitted a video of me performing it six years ago to U.S. Aerial in a whim.
I love creating circus acts that transform the mundane into something magical. “Parapluie” was inspired by a simple mental image of a girl standing under her umbrella. She became, in my mind, a Parisienne showgirl after a show, waiting in front of the theatre in the rain, an aesthetic informed by the music I’d chosen, Erik Satie’s Gnosienne No. 1. The act is the reverie she experiences while waiting.
The winners were announced in the women’s lyra and men’s silk divisions. Darya Vintilova (@charu_lova), the winner of the women’s lyra title, did a gorgeous, nuanced performance as a broken doll character to some great, spazzy breakbeats. Very mod. Very contemporary. I pinned her as the winner before I’d even seen the rest of the girls compete. Darya is from a circus family, and began performing contortion with her parents in Cirque du Soliel’s show Saltimbanco when she was just 4 years old. She also toured with Cirque in Kooza, and has already won a gold medal at Cirque de Demain, the world’s most prestigious circus competition. She is polished and perfect.
Brandon Hansen (@brandonscottacrobat) won the men’s silk title. Brandon is an incredibly strong performer. His physical strength and control are near perfect. He is very young, and his relative naïveté works in his favor. His face conveys everything. He is open to the audience when he is performing in a way that is not easy to fake. His authenticity shines onstage. He connects. It’s delicate and lovely to watch.
I also very much enjoyed Troy (@troydaboy1) Lingelbach’s silks piece as Hedwig to “Origin of Love.” His skills are over the top crazy difficult. His contortion is on point, and he’s just, for lack of a better term, a fucking baller. His character choices, his tricks, all of it was top notch. I loved it. There are two more nights of competition.
The awards in my division won’t be announced until Sunday. So now, I wait. This championship is fierce. I am energized and inspired by what I’m seeing here, and by the fantastic artists around me. I hope to make good connections and bring some of them to New Orleans in the future.
Max and I are sitting in a coffee shop in The West Village, waiting out a spring rain shower. I’m sitting in a window seat, watching the people pass with all their different umbrellas, and totally not feeling antsy. T-Minus 2.5 hours to call time.
I had my one rehearsal in the theater today. It was not without hiccups. The way this act is constructed, it relies on a pulley system to hoist me and the apparatus up and down to different heights throughout the performance. The system is operated by a team of four crew people who literally pull or let out a rope, and who must anchor the rope at all times, or the whole thing will crash to the floor. My life is literally in the hands of a couple of strangers.
Max knows the act and when to pull. He stands in the wings, watching and cueing the crew members, who are standing in a line down the hallway backstage, unable to see a single bit of what is happening onstage. The timing, the communication, must be precise. And I had one 30-minute rehearsal with them this morning.
Circus. It takes a village. A really smart, competent, highly focused village. I hope …
Liza Rose, along with collaborator and fellow producer-performer LadyBEAST, has been at the forefront of a fast-growing circus-arts scene in New Orleans. That’s one of the many reasons that makes her competition in the U.S. Aerial Championships May 13-15 in New York City — which was chronicled earlier this spring — so exciting. She will be competing among some of the very best in the form, representing New Orleans as well as herself. As part of a continuing series, “Field Trip,” Liza Rose shares her thoughts and experiences at the championships …
It’s the night before I will compete in the U.S. Aerial Championships. I’m sitting in my friend Cindy’s apartment in Chelsea, working on the website for the new Fly Circus Space because I suppose it’s true — when it rains, it pours. I arrived in New York on Tuesday morning, with my gorgeous valet/life partner, Max, and my aerial gear in tow. I used to live in NYC, and every time I visit, it’s a bit of a homecoming. I kept thinking how beautiful it was as the Uber crawled through Queens in traffic on its way in to Manhattan. If you’ve ever been to Queens, you’ll know how funny that last sentence is.
Liza Rose with New York Fox5 news anchor Simone Boyce.
It’s been a funny ride. I have never participated in an aerial competition before. I am not in the habit of making work to be judged. I make work to be enjoyed. I am a circus artist. My whole job is to remind people how to have fun, how to be inspired, and how to imagine the extraordinary. My job is not not to make sure I can do the most dangerous skill with the most panache in front of someone who will then later declare one person a “winner” and someone else a “loser” based on said levels of danger and panache. Where’s the joy in that?
I know that artists compete every day — for sales or audience, for grant money or Kickstarter dollars, but I haven’t ever stepped over the line and offered up a piece of my work purely and blatantly for competition. It’s well outside my comfort zone, and has not been an entirely healthy process. It has been important for me, in that it has made me look at why I do what I do, and reassess how I spend my time in the studio, and for what. My most fervent hope is that my participation in this competition will draw attention to the growing circus scene in New Orleans, and help audiences to realize that they have world-class circus artists in their midst. I don’t know if I’ll win, but it is an honor to be here in New York, and in such good company.
I would hate to be the judge that had to declare just one of us a winner. Perhaps they have the more difficult role here. Yesterday I traveled out to the Muse, a circus training space in Brooklyn where I’ll be teaching workshops later this weekend. I met and trained with a handful of other competitors. One is from Slovakia, one from Hong Kong, one from Australia, one from Las Vegas. We chatted openly about the nature of competition. We are all very different performers, and our work is difficult to compare. We all acknowledge that in the end, all we can do when we get onstage is try to let the artistry shine through and connect with our audience.
Meeting them made me feel better about putting my work on the chopping block. We all train endlessly. We all fret about details. We all strive for that one skill that eludes us. Why in the world would we ask someone else to join in the critique? We do it to ourselves constantly! I think we do it because as artists, we all just want exactly the same thing: connection. We dream of circus as a common language, and this is a way to know how articulate we have become.
When asked whether an encore presentation of “Vaude D’Gras” came from either people telling her they’d missed the first production or wanted to see it again, circus-arts producer-performer basically answered “yes.”
The show’s popularity, combined with a busy and distracting Carnival season, necessitated a re-launching of the delightful circus show, held in February inside the dilapidated but soon-to-be-renovated Happyland Theater in Bywater. The new shows run Friday-Saturday (April 8-9) at Happyland (3126 Burgundy St.).
“For so many people every Mardi Gras, for some it’s become a part of their experience,” she said of the show, now in its third year after changing its name this year. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s their Lundi Gras, or their Friday before Mardi Gras. And I’m stoked about that because that’s how I want to do it. I want to put on a ridiculous circus show. Some complain that they miss it each time, and they’re bummed. I want to show it to them so they’ll, ‘I won’t miss this next time.’
“It’s a show that people go to for more than one night, also. (Burlesque producer-performer) Bella Blue sat in the audience two different nights and said, ‘I fucking loved it!’”
The same basic cast will reunite with LadyBEAST: Clay Mazing, GoGo McGregor, Guglielmo, Madame Daggers and Sarah Stardust.
In a sense, LadyBeast — an aerialist and fire and escape artist when not producing — is taking one look back before vaulting forward. The following weekend (April 15-17), she will finally bring back “The YardBaret,” a backyard-style circus show in a private Bywater location. The show will include some of the “Vaude D’Gras” performers but also featuring frequent collaborators including The Lady Satine, Penelope Little, Liza Rose as well as aerialist Laughing Sky Diamond and drag performer Golden Delicious. Also: Marlo Winter, a Washington-based aerialist who’s working in New Orleans now. (And giving lessons, too.) And formerly New Orleans-based contortionist Sam Aquatic will make an appearance.
Guests also can enjoy a dinner from pop-up chef Louie the Greek.
LadyBEAST loves this show “because it’s not a standard venue – performers can take their work anywhere. This setting gives artists the freedom to do what they want to do, Plus it’s ambient. You’re outdoors in this lovely garden.” She said one performer from last summer’s presentation “described it as if she was playing in a secret garden party in Europe.”
Next comes the show LadyBEAST has been working on for months, a continuation of sorts from the “Cirque Copine” show she has brought with Liza Rose to One Eyed Jacks. Her monthly “LadyBEAST Cabaret” will make its debut May 7 inside the French Quarter club. The performers include Guglielmo, Liza Rose, Sarah Stardust and LadyBEAST as well as touring artists. There’s Gretchen in Motion, a popular touring hand balancer.
The hope is to make the cabaret a monthly show with “Cirque Copine” filling in one of those months on a quarterly basis, though a second production inside One Eyed Jacks isn’t expected until after the summer — a popular touring season for performers. Still, these productions underscore a more consistent presence of circus-arts productions in New Orleans.
“It means that us circus people are here to stay in New Orleans and we’re just going to keep going,” LadyBEAST said. “We’re setting a standard of quality of circus entertainment in New Orleans.”
Each month, it seems, the Fly Movement Salon at Café Istanbul has become a showcase with a purpose. Previous showcases of circus-arts works in progress — always free and open to the public — have included opportunities to support related efforts. There was the solicitation for donations to help the folks behind “Vaude D’Gras” get their Mardi Gras-timed show off the ground inside Happyland Theater, and then came the push to help Clay Mazing’s Emergency Circus continue its work entertaining Syrian refugees in Europe.
And while this month’s show, on Tuesday (March 1) at 8 p.m., will showcase the works of salon students, the hat will be passed around to support Salon founder/producer, instructor and performer Liza Rose and her impressive springtime trip. Rose, who instructs at LA Motion in the Irish Channel and at the International School of Louisiana’s (ISL) West Bank campus, will compete in the U.S. Aerial Championships on May 13-15 at the Rose Nagelberg Theatre in the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City. (See the Facebook event page.) Rose is one of six finalists in the inaugural New and Innovative Apparatus division, where she will compete with her aerial umbrella, which she designed and created in 2009, with an act titled “Parapluie.” (Other categories are lyra, pole and silks.) Rose is among 42 finalists overall from a pool of more than 400 applicants.
“I created this act for the 2010 Seattle Erotic Art Festival for Roger Bennington’s show ‘Cabinet of Curiosities,’ which also starred burlesque star Dirty Martini and Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist of ‘Savage Love’ fame,” Rose said. “I was then invited to perform it (and did perform it) in the Moisture Festival, which is the largest vaudeville and variety Festival in the world. I have also performed this act in “Mezzo Lunatico,” the late-night show at Teatro Zin Zanni in Seattle, and here in New Orleans in the first “Storyville Rising” at One Eyed Jacks in 2013.”
At stake is a $1,000 grant and an audition for “Le Reve,” a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. There also will be casting directors from several American and Canadian circuses, including Circus Flora from St. Louis and Cirque Eloise in Montreal.
“I am hoping that my involvement in the competition will help draw national attention the New Orleans circus scene, and help establish it as a place for serious artists to create circus,” said Rose, who co-produces the all-female Cirque Copine troupe with LadyBEAST.
Rose’s exploits are further evidence of New Orleans’ growing circus-arts scene, the foundation of which often can be found in the classroom. Rose has been an instructor with ISL’s circus-arts program, which was founded several years ago by Meret Ryhiner in a collaboration with KIDsmART. Ryhiner, a native of Bern, Switzerland, is a longtime veteran of the circus world who was trained in Europe and has performed a variety of circus acts.
Under her tutelage, ISL students at all grade levels have the opportunity to learn everything from balancing and clowning to acrobatics, juggling and theater. Ryhiner has become such a strong influence that she will help Rose train for the aerial championships. The ISL circus-arts program has gained so much respect that it’s starting to get national attention, recently becoming a recognized Social Circus Program of the American Circus Educators Association. This means, among other things, that it can expand its offerings through the obtainment of more grant money.
“Some of the many things we look for is that the organization or program serves a specific identified “at-risk” population (as opposed to the more common instance of offering general financial aid or community outreach),” said Amy Cohen, executive Director of the American Youth Circus Organization, which oversees social circus programs. “They also must show a dedication to measuring the outcomes of their program to reveal the impact that circus has on the populations they share it with. Measuring outcomes is especially important, as there is a lot of anecdotal evidence about how and why social circus works, but only a select group has been actively measuring the outcomes, something that is worth celebrating and supporting.
“Measured outcomes will serve the entirety of the social circus sector and beyond — those who are currently recognized, and those who are in the process of working towards recognition, as well as recreational programs that aspire to develop their programs to serve specific populations via social circus.”
Zoe Brookes, the lead consultant who worked on the project and recognized the first batch of programs, was impressed with ISL: “We recognize programs that identify a specific population with a specific need, and design circus-related curriculum to help meet that need. We also look for programs with a commitment to evaluating results. The circus program at ISL meets all those criteria.”
Indeed, the ISL program focuses on both diversity and community at a school where more than half the students are on free and reduced lunch programs. According to the school, it follows the National Arts Standards for dance and features circus arts skills. There’s more here:
Emphasis in K-1st grade is on practicing executive skills. Emphasis in 2nd and 3rd grade is on exploring core subjects with circus arts integrated curriculum units. Emphasis in 4th-8th grade on building the skills necessary to use the circus arts medium expressively and creatively, as well as to participate in community events performing and presenting workshops as circus arts ambassadors.
Ryhiner, the ISL’s circus-arts program coordinator, appreciates how as a part-time instructor Rose has been able to duplicate the school’s work at its West Bank location in just a year and a half on the job — all while excelling as an artist herself.
“Circus arts are extremely demanding, athletically. You have to perfect and maintain a high level of skills and mental acuity, and artistically, you have to be inventive with your apparatus, the composition of your act and your signature tricks,” Ryhiner said. “I am happy Liza has made New Orleans her home and brings this caliber of professionalism to the City, and to our community as a teaching artist for the circus arts program at the International School of Louisiana.”
“It’s not burlesque,” Ryhiner said. “It’s circus arts and it’s a wonderful artistic discipline, and New Orleans should have that as part of its palette of colors.”
Tuesday’s Fly Movement Salon’s student showcase will feature the new works by students Becca Chapman, Stephen Kernion, Dallas Alexander, Sean Maloney, Virginia Sibley, Laughing Sky Diamond and Cassie Palmer. Along with Liza Rose, Penelope Little, a fellow Cirque Copine troupe member, also serves as an instructor at the salon.
LadyBEAST’s revamping of the Mardi Gras-timed circus show, “Vaude D’Gras,” took over the old Bywater Happyland Theater house on Sunday (Feb. 7) with a rousing ensemble performance that included acts by burlesque performer GoGo McGregor, opera-singing clown Guglielmo, knife-thrower Madame Daggers, whip-cracking/gun-slinging Clay Mazing, aerialist Sarah Stardust, and LadyBEAST herself.
They all performed to the music of the Vaude D’Gras Band, including Sarah Jacques.
While last year’s theme had a kind of post-apocalyptic vibe, this year’s show was sort of pre-apocalyptic — the notion being that vaudeville was being threatened by increasingly modern forms of entertainment (movies, TV, the Internet), and it’s up to the troupe to up its game to keep the customers coming on in. On this chilly Sunday night, the disheveled Happyland Theater, once a home for vaudeville and then movies in Bywater, seemed an apt setting. Almost the entire interior was a study in patchwork coverage, from the flooring to the side walls to the shutters that lined the back wall of the unused balcony. Artisans pushed trinkets, including vintage hats, and most of the modest-size audience showed up in period attire. With no heat available, it indeed felt like the lights were about to go out on vaudeville, but for the efforts of this rag-tag troupe. (If only the one woman sitting near me, with her vintage coat and floral headdress, could have gotten more into the spirit of the proceedings and not texted on her phone half the time.)
Guglielmo, as he’s done in the past, proves a genial emcee, growling and barking his lines. He and Clay Mazing make for a fun comedic duo, especially in the introduction, with Clay Mazing constantly winking at the audience using period references (“Can I bum a fag”?) to underscore how times, and language, have changed.
They’re in constant survival mode with the “show,” especially troubled by the diva/star GoGoMcGregor, who is restless with vaudeville and wants to gain her fame on the silver screen. She spends much of the show serving as the cynical counterpoint to LadyBEAST, who as aerialist and escape artist seeks to preserve all that’s good about vaudeville.
Much as it was with Cirque Copine’s “In Wonderland” at One Eyed Jacks, it’s when LadyBEAST and Sarah Stardust take flight that “Vaude D’Gras” does the same; their aerial performances, together and separately, turn the shabby Happyland into a little palace of magic. While it’s perhaps best to leave the details vague, LadyBEAST’s escape trick at the show’s end is also a moment to behold, if for no other reason the degree of difficulty.
Similarly, the troupe’s greatest strength is when everyone’s onstage creating mayhem; while some individual performances are good but not often great, their collective energy, spirt and humor thrives in ensemble delivery. GoGo McGregor especially excels in these moments; though she’s one of the city’s most popular burlesque performers, and delivered a solid fan dance here, she’s an even better comic talent and wise-cracker, getting her bitch on with every single member of the cast. (Watching them break character with her one-liners is a particular thrill.)
Guglielmo is similarly versatile, whether he’s emceeing or singing arias or performing familiar sideshow stunts such as getting a tattoo on his ass and then a nipple pierced. This was a highlight of last year’s show. (Afterward, he combined the two by performing the Neopolitan classic “O sole mio” before morphing into Elvis and transitioning it seamlessly into “It’s Now or Never.”) The capper was a double busting of a cinder block on his stomach along with GoGo McGregor (with LadyBEAST and Clay Mazing doing the honors.)
Clay Mazing possesses a similar charm, even when not every one of his whip-cracking tricks hits the mark. My only real wish was to have seen a little more of the knife-throwing antics of Madame Daggers, who spent most of her time playing violin with the excellent Vaude D’Gras Band (led by Sarah Jacques, who also performs in the Cirque Copine band.)
“Vaude D’Gras” could use a little tightening of the performances, but it remains a glorious celebration of both the circus-arts talent in the city and the chemistry and spirit of an ensemble that plays well together and off one another. Monday night is the last chance to see them before, like Carnival itself, it vanishes for another year.
Cirque Copine, the all-female New Orleans circus troupe, debuted its “In Wonderland” show with two performances Friday (Jan. 29) at One Eyed Jacks. Both shows were packed, and earned standing ovations.
I’ll have a more expanded look at the show, but the first impression is that this is the kind of anchor show that can help further establish the budding circus-arts scene in New Orleans. Co-producer LadyBEAST will begin her monthly “LadyBEAST Cabaret” in the same space, but this was a chance for her and co-producer Liza to showcase the Cirque Copine performers on a grander scale than they did back in 2015.
The troupe features Liza Rose and Sarah Stardust performing all manner of aerials; LadyBEAST alternating between aerial and escape acts; Penelope Little alternating between aerials and clowning; and the comic and sideshow antics of mistress of ceremonies GoGo McGregor. Opus Zeo provided a stunning musical soundtrack to each performance.
Stay tuned for that expanded look; in the meantime, enjoy these photos.