Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tour life

We've been on tour for so long now (nearly 4 years) that I take a lot of ridiculous things for granted.  Like the fact that the kids never have any idea where things in our current apartment can be located - like trash cans, band-aids, drinking cups.  And often neither do I.  Today I was momentarily exasperated when I told Isa to go put her clothes by the washing machine, and she couldn't even guess what floor of the house the washing machine was on.  We've been here for a month.

I thought it might amuse some blog readers to know that your taxes have got to be less complicated than ours (pictured).  Greg has to file taxes, including state taxes, in every state and country that he works in.  Thankfully, Cirque handles most of this for us.  This year there were only 8 different returns that we had to sign and mail, not too bad.

Next week, on our double-dark, we're making a sudden trip to Seattle, because the children's passports have all expired.  We just found out about this today (again, thank goodness for Tour Services, who notified us) - and we have to be in Canada in 19 days.  Not enough time for even expedited passport services, so we have to make a trip to a special agency.  I am trying to get the kids excited about going to Seattle by looking at pictures of the Space Needle, but a little online research showed us that the Space Needle is TINY compared to the CN Tower, or even compared to the Stratosphere in Las Vegas.  Oh well.

Other snippets of our life here in Portland …. all of the families are living together in a townhouse complex.  The kids love to play together.  We live next-door to the Macks, so we frequently hear the thump-thump of a little djembe.  The older kids love to run around outside together, and I've allowed them unusually wide boundaries, having to be inside before dark and not cross any streets.  But most of the kids are still on much later sleep-schedules than mine - my kids go to bed between 9:30 and 10:00, and many of the others are up until midnight.  So last night I had to call one of the other kids' babysitters and ask her to please stop her kids from playing so loudly outside my kids' windows at 9:30pm.  I wonder what the rest of the neighborhood thinks of us.

More on our Portland experiences to come.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cast transitions, beginning

Lots of cast transitions are taking place this spring, as we expected.  While Totem has had a number of artist changes over the years, the pace is accelerating as we approach Vancouver (our last stop on the North American tour).  Here's a photo of our two new Pippos.  Roch (on the right) came in on a temporary contract, and has spent three months playing the Valentino character.  This week, he's handed over the reins to Jon.  On Friday, Jon did the first show and Roch did the second show, so they were both in makeup.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Bookworms on trains

When we travel on public transit, people frequently comment on my kids' reading.  They seem somewhat amazed, and charmed.  Today, a man commented, "It's so nice to see well-behaved children for a change!" and various other passengers happily agreed, "yes, you don't see that too often!"  I remember in Atlanta one time, a woman was so taken with Isa's absorption in a novel, she gave Isa a dollar.  I didn't even know how to explain this to Isa afterwards.

While I'm flattered, I don't really understand the sentiment.  First of all, reading does not equal good behavior.  Reading is a hobby, a lovely and quiet one, but it is not the same as being respectful, generous, obedient, etc.  Second of all, when did children reading become such a rarity?  Is it just the milieu (the public-transit-riding community) or is this a universal phenomenon?  I hardly go anywhere without a book.  My kids have been raised the same way.  We don't do it because we are trying to be virtuous.  We do it because we like to read, and we get restless without something to focus our minds on.  We are way better at immersing ourselves in text, than we are at letting our minds wander, or just being in the present moment.

I have a feeling that when we get back to Philadelphia, they will find more like-minded peers.  For now, they are weird (but in a crowd-pleasing sort of way).  I'll accept the attention (and get back to my book).

Monday, March 31, 2014


We moved to Portland, OR, in mid-March, and so far I love it.

After such a long time in Los Angeles, this place seems refreshingly down-to-earth, quirky but honest, generous and good-hearted.  I noticed right away there is a "class" difference.  In the LA area, there is a distinct underclass - people who are poor, uneducated, usually immigrant, the people who do the landscaping and the fast-food serving and generally keep their heads down.  Then there are the Served - the LA populace which generally feels self-important, which name-drops, flaunts its fancy cars, and is suspicious of strangers.  In Portland this is immediately different.  The people who come to clean our apartment, the people who serve in retail outlets and restaurants, are just regular people who are happy to offer their advice or share a laugh with me.  There is a lot of eye contact, and a lot of smiles, especially when they hear I've just arrived in town.  They are eager to share their local knowledge - the best bike route, the best pastry shop, the not-to-miss sights - and nowhere in their dialogue is any reference to celebrities.  It's like taking a deep breath of good, clean air.

I love that the Portlanders ride their bikes in practicality and not frivolity.  There is no beach-cruising going on here, but cycle-commuting, and lots of it, rain or shine.  Watch out for trolley tracks….

We were lucky to have a first few days of sunshine, but since then, we've had rain every day, and a chill, that has taken time for our Southern-California bodies to adapt to.

A few more images…

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Totem profiles - Sally Yu

Sally Yu is one of Totem's hardworking chefs.  In her 30 years, she has lived several adventurous lifetimes, with many ups and downs along the way.

It began in San Diego, where she grew up, with 3 younger sisters, and parents who owned a restaurant.    But in her early years, she didn't plan to enter the restaurant industry - she graduated from high school early, and attended college, intending to study medicine.  After a year, though, she realized that she wasn't following her true passion.  She left UCSD to enter culinary school.

By the time Sally was 21, she had graduated from culinary school and opened her first business, a hotpot restaurant in San Diego.  This business unfortunately collapsed after 2 years, due to a bad lease, and her space was yanked out from under her.  At 23, she was heavily in debt.

But she quickly tackled her next project - starting a business importing and selling high-end teas.  This business suffered in the early years of the recession, and she sold it.

In the following years she had success as a consultant, doing contract work for restaurants, helping them to improve all aspects of their businesses.  She then started another business handling catering and corporate events, and also worked as a private chef, doing nutrition counseling.  Sally has done so many different types of jobs in the industry - she has experience as a chocolatier, a line cook, and as a catering chef with Top Chef's Brian Malarkey's company.  She had an unusual break in 2011 when she was picked up by a TV series, Budweiser's The Big Time.  You can see one of her episodes here.

Not long after this, she saw a listing on Craigslist for temporary kitchen help for Totem.  The idea of working with a traveling circus excited her - after food, travel is her next passion - and she signed on.  For a few cities, she became one of Totem's "followers" - temporary staff who follow the show from one city to the next, guaranteed a position (but required to handle their own housing and travel).  In 2012, an opening became available for a permanent position, and Sally was accepted.

For Sally, touring with Totem, a job where she can cook and travel, has been a dream come true.  She loves to explore the cuisines of the different cities we visit.  Work in the Totem kitchen is not easy - the staff changes every city, so there is a lot more training-of-new-people involved (as well as ongoing patience and communication).  The staff is responsible for providing healthy, varied meals for over 150 people a day.  Sally does miss her friends and family at home, and her collection of (300!) cookbooks.  But the future of our Cirque community stretches ahead, and she's looking forward to accompanying the show this summer to New Zealand and Australia.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Isa, age 7

The little one is getting big.  She turned 7 this week, and is proud now to be able to make her own Rainbow Loom bracelets (thanks for the gift Auntie Erin!), just like the bigger girls at school.  Another special thing about being 7 - she gets to stay up as late as Baz and Ayla now.  (9:30pm bedtime - we keep later hours on tour)

She has a birthday party coming up on Monday (rock-climbing!) but for her actual birthday we spent the day at the Oregon Zoo.  

My three kids - freezing cold on a sunny spring day in Portland - we left all of our winter gear in Boston, and 55 degrees feels frigid to us after 6 months in LA!

They're all still so happy to play together.  One of the silliest things that happens in our household is when Baz, bored to tears, begs the girls to let him join in their games.  He usually marches over a Transformers or Lego character and tries to integrate himself into whatever they're doing.  This week the Polly Pockets were running a dress shop.  The giant Bionicle man tried very hard to be a polite customer, but eventually lost patience with the tiny dresses and insisted they should go on an adventure.  The girls refused "not until we've sold all of our dresses."  "OK" says Bionicle man, "I'll buy all the dresses!!" … and so it goes….

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Circus pilgrimage-ing around Los Angeles

My first circus school in L.A., and the one I spent the most time at, was Kinetic Theory.  I first went in late October, to see the production of Hauntings, their pre-professional students' rendering of the Dracula story.  I was dazzled by the quality of the show, and the potential of such diverse skills in their students.  There was a clear emphasis on theatre and performance skills, beyond just the technique.  I was drawn to come back, and over the next few months I spent time talking with Director Stephanie Abrams, visiting with coaches, observing classes and even bringing Greg and the kids for a talk about Life with Cirque.  

Kinetic Theory is an LLC.  It is housed in an industrial park, but has a great-sized space including a main floor, an adjacent theater, and several smaller spaces for classes, changing rooms, lobby, etc.  Their ceiling height is not impressive - it is less than PSCA's, I'd guess around 18' at the peak?  … but apparently they have the highest ceilings among any of the Los Angeles circus training facilities.  

For something different, I took a trip to the Inglewood Park Cemetery to see the graves of Lillian Leitzel and Alfredo Codona.  I have known the basic story of Leitzel and Codona since I was a teenager, when I first began reading circus history.  But I only learned their full biographies recently, in the newly-published Queen of the Air, and in that book I learned about their gravesites and memorial statue, so close to where we are currently living.  Long Beach, in fact, was Alfredo Codona's home, and the place of his violent death.

Inglewood Park Cemetery is an extraordinary peaceful place.   There are no sidewalks - appropriate for L.A., I suppose - so you have to walk in the roads, or in the grassy gravesite areas.  The place is so green and spacious and quiet... It has an air of privilege, an oasis from the grunge and hustle of of the city just outside the gates.
Leitzel & Codona's statue perches on a hill, flanked by trees. The graves are encircled with loving messages from siblings and friends. Leitzel's aerial rings are carved into the front, with one broken rope.

I was moved to observe their place of eternal rest. Talents, passions, and lives so fiery and beautiful, they drew the attention of the world.  They died in the late 1930s, and I imagine most people who come to this cemetery don't even know who they were.  But they are not forgotten by everyone.  

My second visit to a circus school in the area was to Aerial Fitness Orange County, where I had a great meeting with owner Doug Schulein.  Doug is a gym owner with a flying-trapeze background, and his goal is to integrate aerial training into a gym environment for private-lesson students and small groups.  It's a great example of how the studios in this area have each found their own niche, and Doug is working hard to build his.  A few months after I met Doug, he moved Aerial Fitness Orange County into a new and larger space.  (when I saw him, it was just a few pieces of apparatus in the corner of a standard fitness gym).  

The Ruby Karen Project was my third school visit.  Ruby launched an ambitious event last fall called the Aerial Arts America, with an "Aerial Arts Festival" which I attended in November.  While this was less of a "festival" and more of a "student recital", it was pretty glitzy.  Aerial Arts America also says they offer teacher certifications, though I have not seen that program in action.  In addition to the performance, I also went to see Ruby and her partner, Luca Cecchini, at their studio space in Costa Mesa.  As with all of the studios I visited in the LA area, we talked about the immense challenges of finding space with good ceiling height, and safe rigging practices, etc.    

I visited a fourth circus studio in January, Le Studio in Culver City (a couple of blocks away from Kinetic Theory).  Le Studio has a unique marketing position - owner Nathalie Gauthier says that she is not a circus school, but a boutique-style training program for youth.  She then chaperones her youth company, Le Petit Cirque, to professional gigs all over the world.  She takes great pride in drawing top-notch coaches, extraordinarily-driven kids (who train between 8 and 30 hours per week), and big-name performing artists to her space.  As she explains, she has a background as an entertainment agent, and working in the industry is her specialization.  

I finally made it to Cirque School LA on our last weekend in town.  Cirque School, run by Rex Camphuis and Aloysia Gavre, is on Hollywood Blvd.  Its location is quite remarkable - down a small alley between other shops, on an area of the Blvd. with plenty of street parking - and it has a very cozy feel.  The coziness, though welcoming, does have a disadvantage - the ceiling heights are low and the space is crowded.  They are currently seeking a larger space.  

Rex says that they have two main assets as a school - one is their philosophy, which is "learn like the pros" and "Cirque School for Anybody with Any Body"  … second is that they've built a very strong and supportive community of recreational and professional circus artists.  It has a good energy - everyone there seems to be non-competitive and having fun.  Rex and Alyosia have many contacts within the circus community, so they often serve as a venue for visiting workshop instructors, for auditions, and for entertainment producers looking to put circus arts into other media.  

It was great talking with Rex.  Cirque School has been around for 5 years, and is an S-Corp, and considers NECCA a bit of a sister school - so PSCA has a lot in common with them.  

Add Muscle Beach and TSNY to the mix - there's a lot going on in Los Angeles!