Thursday, July 31, 2014

Settling in

Theme song this week:  "Our House"
two versions:  Crosby Still Nash & Young
and the Madness version

We've been home now for two weeks.  And while I had intended to post beautiful pictures of our finished rooms, the truth is, we're still living among boxes and clutter and half-finished projects.  I think this is partly the nature of moving, and partly the nature of our house, which is big and old.  While our property manager and tenants did an admirable job keeping up with the basics, the bigger stuff just needs work - the fence is falling apart, coats of paint are needed on everything, the basement is damp.  And with five of us tearing around the place living our lives, getting anything to a state of "finished" might just be a futile endeavor.

Neveryoumind.  The important thing is, we're here.  And our days are, as expected, jam-packed, but with all kinds of refreshing things.

Greg split his first couple of weeks at home between furniture-moving and working on the new show he's creating, Theorem, which goes into rehearsals next week.  There is a ridiculous amount to do for this show - writing it, building the props, finding housing for the cast, training the new business manager, setting up the rehearsal space, marketing, getting the music written, designing the lobby installation, lining up a photographer/videographer, etc. etc.  He's thrown himself into it, but August is still going to be a doozy.

As for me, I've jumped back into work at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.  For these first few weeks I'm technically only part-time - but that means I'm there every day from about 9am-6pm, and just running out frequently throughout the day for house stuff and kid stuff.  Starting next week, all the kids will be in Circus Camp every day, so we can all just live at PSCA during the week.

The kids have done a variety of things since we've been home.  They spent quite a bit of time setting up their new rooms.  They've been immersed in our book collection (oldies that they haven't read in a long time) and photo albums.  We've had doctors' appointments, one school visit, a get-together with Greg's family, a couple of playdates.  They've helped Greg in the yard - weeding, taking out trash and compost, watering our trees, cleaning up the front walk.  The girls spent 1 week so far at Circus Camp, and now all 3 of them are enrolled for 1 week at Penn Charter - Baz in Robotics Camp and the girls in Day Camp.  That's been a decidedly mixed experience. But for the most part, I'm trying to give them every possible opportunity to be around other kids, and to grasp this community they are (already) a part of.

They definitely have some awkwardness around other kids.  I waver between trying to step in and mediate it, to just letting it play out.  The girls especially seem to stumble around these first conversations, when kids ask them what school they went to last year and they have to explain about Totem.  Ayla is already discovering that it's easier to dodge the question.  They do sometimes get "Wow!"s when they explain that they were on tour with the circus, but they are just as likely to get weird stares.  Other friends assure me that it's not just my kids - that all kids in elementary- and middle-school are awkward in trying to socialize - so we'll give it a little time.  All of them are eager to meet some of the kids they'll actually be going to school with.  (I'm trying to arrange those meet ups this summer).  In the meantime, they remain good allies for each other - used to being a threesome, spending lots of time together, playing and squabbling in equal measures.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The sentimentality of objects

Being at home is surreal.  
And just to make sure I'm using that word correctly, I looked up the definition:
having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream;unreal; fantastic.

At first, approaching it like any other new apartment, efficiently hauling in cases, finding things, assessing the scene, unpacking.  But slowly, with each little step - knowing exactly where the silverware should go, and exactly where the outlets will be found, and the feel of running up the steps for the millionth time - it begins to be familiar.  I am re-discovering this place, with every creaky floorboard, and every dusty plate coming out of storage.  There's a resonance here.

The kids are freaking out.  This is not home to them.  It's just another new place - a particularly strange place, bigger and rougher than they are used to - and they're being told that this is their Forever Place, the home where they're expected to make their life away from their old friends.  In three different ways - hyperactivity, tears, and aimless wandering - they are all showing how lost and scared they are.  And for Greg and me, it's important to take the time to talk with them and comfort them and answer their questions, in the midst of all of the moving madness. 

Every time I unpack a box, I discover some gem of my past life.  I'm learning about myself again.  It's astonishing how many cookbooks I have!  (for someone who never cooks).  I have a massive binder with printouts of all the important social emails I sent during my first year of college - this is back when email was a new thing, and I didn't trust "Saved Messages" to preserve these conversations.  There's my collection of artist business cards.  And the clock radio that woke me up in this house for the 10 years I lived here before Totem.  And my favorite spoons.  And the books, and the books, and the books….

Thursday, July 10, 2014

We travel

We decided to drive from Vancouver to Montreal (3000 miles) in 4 days.  We had to get back to the East Coast anyway, and our East Coast arrival coincided with Montr√©al Compl√®tement Cirque - a chance to see a few more shows, and spend a couple of days in one of our cherished travel cities, before calling this journey finished.  We could even use Greg's final Cirque du Soleil tickets bonus to see the brand-new show, Kurios.

I have to admit, though, that two days into the travel my mental state was fraying, and by today (day 4) we are all seriously questioning the decision to do this.  Our stress levels and exhaustion levels are running high; we are all worried about getting home; and travel mishaps are starting to add up.

First, I left my cell phone behind at a rest stop in Michigan.  We went through all kinds of stress and planning, trying to figure out if it was stolen or just sitting where I'd left it, deciding whether or not to go back, considering erasing the phone remotely, considering purchasing another phone.  I'm glad we waited - today we got a phone call from someone who had found it, and now we are just trying to figure out if I can get it shipped back to me.

Second, on our way out this morning the bike rack fell, dragging and damaging the bikes.  Of the 5, one was deemed un-salvageable - my 20-year-old silver Jamis Coda hybrid, the one I've had since college, which we hauled all over the country even after I got my shiny red road bike.  We sadly left the Coda behind, beside a dumpster.  (we had already abandoned Isa's little bike in a similar way in Vancouver, after we decided that she is outgrowing it and we couldn't carry it).  The other bikes suffered only some minor bumps, we should be able to straighten them out.  But now we're worried about that rack, which has taken a lot of weight over the last two years, and recently took the impact of us being rear-ended. 

Then this afternoon Greg pulled out of a parking spot too quickly - his visibility is poor with our car jammed to the gills, and the kids were having a loud distracting squabble in the back.  He bumped into another car, and one of our bikes left a little scratch and dent on the other car.  Exchanging of insurance info ensued.  And now we've been talking a lot about the stress that we're under and how it's impacting us.  Maybe taking on a trip like this, at this critical juncture of our lives, wasn't the wisest choice. 

We're not turning back now.  Just a few more hours and we'll be in Montreal, where we'll have two days of R&R. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Goodbye Totem

And finally, after final parties and gifts and cards and flowers and thank-yous and tears and hugs and applause and bows, the curtain has come down.  Greg performed his final show with Totem on Sunday, July 6.  The kids and I were in the audience with tears streaming down our faces.  We watched him take off that wig for the last time, and do the finale dance for the last time, and get the traditional pushed-to-the-front-of-the-stage moment of an artist's last show during the bows.  The entire show reminded me of Annette's beautiful poem, copied below (it also appears in the kids' yearbooks) - every moment seemed more vivid - I was keenly aware of every breath of timing, every movement of choreography - so familiar, soaking up the details for the last time.  I think I have watched Totem at least 100 times.  It is never completely the same; the differences are subtle, and I cherish them - never more so than during this final performance.

From Annette Bauer:
the countdown week(s) before big goodbyes: invoking the past, feeling each present moment grow more dense and more precious, slow down the days to the hours to the minutes to the seconds, breathe it all in, eyes wide-wide open, the beginning of the other-kind-of future is so near, (feels like being on a raft and knowing there is a crazy waterfall downstream, I can already hear it, no way to get off this boat now, hold on hold on... wheeeeee!). and yet we know, our friends leave and still life goes on... our past-memory richer with the amazing, never-to-be-missed, can't-quite-believe-all-of-this-really-happened, do-you-remember-when jewels of shared time, the future-present so much poorer for their absence. and as we drop across the edge, for that one eternal moment suspended between heaven and earth, in the midst of water and sound, sending out heart-wishes for safe landings, safe travels, safe paths... and so much gratitude, maybe in that one moment we get to feel our own wings.

I found that during the last week of events, there were moments I was afraid to face.  Each time there was a goodbye to be made, I wanted to run away from it - and had to take a deep breath, go into the room, say what needed to be said, try to control the tears, give the hugs, and give it some closure.  Some were harder than others.

In the kitchen I looked into Marina's heavily made-up eyes one last time.  We talked about where we might meet again - Australia? Europe? America? and we just don't know. Much like our entire 4 years of attempted friendship, the future doesn't look promising.  Our lives are too radically different to stay in touch or get closer.  She and Sveta invited me to come and stay with them in Australia, but they can't seem to understand how impossible that would be for me.

At my apartment goodbye party, Oyuna wrapped her strong arms around me and held me for awhile, telling me how special I am to her and how much she's going to miss me, and I just cried. 

For Tanya and Nastia I couldn't even pull together a coherent goodbye in Russian.  They held themselves together - Russian stoicism all the way - but my communication skills (in any language) just left me.  I can't express what they have been to me in these years, or how much my heart breaks that I won't see their little daughters' babyhoods. 

I felt better about my goodbye to Melanie - she and I had ample time, in the last months of the tour, to talk and connect - speaking the same language such a huge bonus - and we will keep in touch.  In some ways, it's the people I was never able to spend more time with (such as Genevieve, Annette, Guilhem, Massimo, Denise, Alya, Jeff, Gael, Micha, Jon, Esi, Umi, Eva, etc. etc....) that I am saddest to leave - our friendship went as far and as deep as it could, and I wish it could have gone further - but there is no more time. 

Greg and I both are sad to leave, but the choice feels right.  It's time for us to go home.  For our careers, for our home, for our kids.  Greg's not one to be very emotional, but he was choked up a few times during his final show.  I think he has come to appreciate, more and more as time has passed, the greatness of these years and this experience.

Greg: "When I showed up to Cirque, I was confident that I was the best in the world at what I do.  It took me a while, looking around, to realize that everyone here is the best in the world at what they do.  That's why they are here.  Over time I've learned to appreciate the complexities of putting on a show at this scale.  This is probably the largest, most extensive production I will ever be a part of."

It's time to go home.  

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Totem women

Goodbye my friends!
Thank you for coming tonight to share some wine and some tears.
To show you what you mean to me, this little collage of photos.  It is only a small sample of the experiences we've shared.  You will live in my heart, always. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Totem artist profiles: Chris Chiappini and Thom Wall

(subtitle) Replacing Greg: our new Scientists

Chris Chiappini, age 28, has been juggling since he was 10 years old - which is also when he met Greg, at the Morris Plains Juggling Club in New Jersey.  Growing up with musician parents, Chris was never steered towards sports or scouts - but instead he came across The Complete Juggler, and was hooked.  His hobby quickly became a passion, and by the time he was 13 he was competing in the International Jugglers Association's Juniors Competitions (bronze medal at age 13, and gold at 14).  His career path was chosen.

As a teenager, Chris's Dad helped him get started working as a juggler - driving him to gigs, helping him to negotiate prices.  He built up his skills until he could do a full-length show, and he worked all kinds of jobs - birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, walkaround, local resorts.  He eventually did corporate gigs, theatrical gigs, cruise ships, and teaching work.  In the meantime he graduated from highschool, and attended community college.  

But a couple of big events left an impact on Chris's life - the first was in 2012, when he hiked the Appalachian Trail in 140 days.  "Making the decision to do it was the hardest part," he says.  In the end it was a humbling and eye-opening experience, he met lots of interesting people, and he absorbed one of the AT's mantras:  Hike your own hike.  

The second big event happened after Greg approached Chris, offering to train him as his replacement for the Scientist role in Totem.  They began training, and Chris was offered a contract from Cirque in late 2013.  Chris spent a week in Montreal, then joined the show in Portland, OR - and on his first day, sustained a back injury (unrelated to training) that sent him to the hospital, and into surgery.  He had to fly home to recuperate, and his Cirque contract was postponed.  It was a "putting-things-in-perspective" moment that has left him grateful just to be able to walk.  

Chris is healthy again and with us here in Vancouver, training in the cone.  The plan is for him to take over the role in Australia.  In the meantime, he is appreciating the people of Totem - their professionalism and camaraderie, and the vast knowledge and experience that everyone brings to the table.  

Thom Wall, also age 28, has already lived in many places and traveled many paths.  Through family, school, and juggling he has spent time in Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, 40 of the 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico.  Juggling was something he picked up as a kid, but really got hooked on as a teenager in St. Louis.  There was a high-level coach in town, a very active club, and many technical jugglers.  He later attended Washington University in St. Louis, and ran the juggling club there.  

At college, Thom studied comparative grammar and modern languages, and eventually graduated with a major in Germanic Languages and Literatures.  After that, he drifted through a series of juggling and education-related jobs, teaching at summer camps and after-school programs.  He did the occasional show, and eventually joined a sideshow tour that took him to stages from Dallas to Vancouver.  

But trying to make a living as a juggler was not easy, and by 2011 Thom was ready to throw in the towel, having been offered a great opportunity with the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows as an ESL instructor.  His position with PTF, however, was cut at the last minute, and he scrambled to make a new plan - a friend told him about an opening in the New England Center for Circus Arts' Professional Track training program.  Suddenly, he was immersed in the circus world of Brattleboro, VT, for the 2011-2012 year.  

His year at NECCA was an invaluable one; it was his first time really working in other areas of circus, dance, etc. and creating new work with non-jugglers.  He appreciated the seasoned coaches at NECCA.  During the same year, he also began an online course with Drexel University - a Master's degree in Nonprofit Arts Administration.  

In 2012, Thom finished his studies at NECCA, and worked an intense summer at Busch Gardens doing 60 shows / week.  In the middle of that summer he drove out to the International Jugglers Association festival, competed in the Individuals Championships and was awarded a silver medal.  Thom had won awards for his juggling before, but this was the highlight for his resume - a medal at the world championships.  

In 2014, Thom auditioned for the new show that Greg is writing and producing, Theorem.   Greg welcomed him into the cast and rehearsals were set to begin in August 2014. But when Chris had his back injury, Totem needed a replacement Scientist quickly.  Thom was the first person Greg called, and Thom stepped in to train the cone act with quick professionalism.  Thom now has a temporary contract with Cirque, performing as the Scientist through Totem's New Zealand run.  He began his first full performances on stage this week, and he's doing marvelously!

When he's not performing with Cirque du Soleil, Thom tours his solo variety show, his duo Vaudeville show "The Hopeless Throwmantics" with his friend Curtis Carlyle, and his duo comedy waiter show "The 'Dinner and a Show' Show" with his friend Benjamin Domask.

We're enjoying both of our new friends on tour.  They've dragged Greg out to the local juggling club, a first during our touring years!  And as much as they are learning to work with Greg's process as a coach and cone-perfectionist, he is also learning a lot from teaching them. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


On our last double-dark, we decided to take a mini-vacation to Vancouver's favorite nearby getaway, Whistler.  Whistler is best-known as a huge skiing destination in winter, but it turns out to have some extraordinary draws in the summertime as well.  We booked a hotel room in Whistler Village for the night and bought tickets for the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, which allowed us unlimited chair-lift and gondola rides for 2 days. 

It was amazing.  We had no idea how dazzled we'd be by the views at the top of the mountain; or what a thrill it would be to take the kids for the first time on open-air chair lifts; or how cool it would be to watch downhill mountain-bikers and skiers in July.  There was snow to play with (in our shorts and T-shirts), hiking trails to explore, and fresh mountain air to breathe.  The gondolas were, as advertised, out-of-this-world - I don't know that we'll ever find gondola rides or "scenic views" to compare with these.  So memorable!