This past week I got to run away with the circus. I worked with clowns, aerial silk performers, fire eaters, bullwhip crackers, contortionists, escape artists, trampolinists, and jugglers as they endeavored to create material for a new cirque type show. Not a bad way to spend a week! I even got to go high in the air with the flying trapeze.
For those of you who have never flown on a trapeze, I can reveal with first hand knowledge that it may have been the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. But I did it. Once. Only once.
The trapeze rig is high. Hence the name. Not so much low wire trapeze getting done these days. It’s less flashy. Hard to sell. The trapeze rig is high (hence the name) and that means you have to climb up a ladder to the platform from which random feats of daring will occur. The ladder leading up to the platform is tiny. It is also small, diminutive and wee. It sways back and forth as you climb. Swaying does not build confidence. The ladder is where any nerve you might have manufactured standing on the ground starts to leak out your ears and drip down the side of your face as you slowly get closer to nothing but bright blue sky.
There are three steps to flying.
ONE: Here we go! You lean forward, grab the trapeze bar with your right hand, while reaching back with the left to grab the chain. You must lean forward with straight legs. You must always remember to have straight arms. Trapeze is arrogant. It’s all chest and straight and strong.
TWO: Ready! Bend your knees.
THREE: Hup! Bring your left hand around to grab the bar and jump off the platform. Easy, right? Try not to bend your arms. Try not to do step two and three at the same time. Try not to scream like a little girl as you jump into the bright blue sky.
The three steps to flying are a different experience when you practice on the ground. For starters there’s a lot of ground around you. More ground, less sky. If you happen to screw up, bend your arms, do the steps out of order, not grab the bar, the ground is right there. Happy, snuggly ground. The ground is thrilled to wrap you with its big ground arms. A little rough perhaps, but really close by.
On the ground, you think you might actually be able to do this flying thing, you could do it, how bad could it be? It’s three steps. Lean forward, bend your legs, hup! The act is still in your head. Most things are possible when they live in your head. It’s what makes me a writer. My head believes anything is possible. I think of words, put them on a page and they bloom with possibility.
On the platform, everything is not possible. Everything is not in my head. Everything is real. The height is real. The wind is real. The weight of the bar is real. The act of bringing my left hand around to grab the bar and jumping at the same time is real. It’s all real and it could all really end with me falling on my ass or my face and really hurting.
I am now real scared. I freak out. For reals.
There’s a lot of swearing. I think I manage to throw in all of George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on Television. Several times. Tony, who is the professional, who is seventy-two, who landed the first triple (and a half), who I’m sure has seen people freak out many a time, grabs me by the back of the harness.
“Nothing’s going to happen. I got you, ok? What’s the most important thing to remember?”
“Straight arms!” (Mommy!)
“Here we go! Ready! Hup!”
And I’m in the air. Forward. Back. Forward. Back. Legs together tight. Think of a metronome. Next time. Let go.
I land in the net, sort of the way I’m supposed to. It takes a while for every appendage to stop shaking.
I am told by more than one person I did a good job, but of course I don’t believe them. I’m the word girl not the flexible flyer. I live in the world of possibility, not so much the world of the real. I’m told a story of another trapeze class where out of a group of ten only one was even able to hang on. That makes me feel slightly better. If only I hadn’t swore quite so much or quite so freakishly.
I have the opportunity to do it all again and I decline, although later in the day I regret that. Cause then I could have said I did it twice. Only twice.
On Thursday and Saturday I’m going to talk about the creative process of dramaturging a circus show, and how to get the most out of creative collaborations.