Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Following is Admittedly a PSA/Rant:

Attention aerialists and circus performers:

Stop charging by the hour!!!

It's one thing to get this request from a client...clients don't know circus.  They know that the rest of the civilized world tends to sell itself in hours, so they frequently ask how much performance costs by the hour.  This my friends is where we have the opportunity to educate them with kindness and understanding.  This is not the time to become indignant and defensive.  The client isn't necessarily trying to trivialize your mortally dangerous lifelong work, they really just do not know any better.  Keep your emotions in check and instead, use facts to explain the situation.

The best possible response of a client to watching a performance is for their face to melt off in amazement.  It was amazing, it was moving, spectacular, they want more, they want to see it again.  This does not mean you should do it again...you WANT that aching pulsing love in the heart of your audience.  That is part of the magic of witnessing live performance.  Which option do you think leads to this response:  a dynamic, tightly choreographed 4-5 minute act, or watching someone do a variety of slowly moving splits for 20 minutes to house techno?  Right.

Understanding this, you are presented with a difficult task.  A client always thinks they want more.  More sets, longer sets.  You are in the position of facilitating the understanding that LESS is actually MORE.  Unless you have absolute confidence in the value of what you are selling, you are not going to succeed.  This is why we're presented with the current landscape of 95% ambient gigs, with ridiculously long sets.  Artists and agents let the client bully them into giving them more, when they are actually getting an inferior product.  Put an outstanding performer on for two 20 minute sets and you're going to be yawning by the eighth minute.  What's worse, now 4 sets are en vogue.  Ugh...you guys.  This is not why we got into this.
"Those who lack confidence in their ability to deliver quality will offer quantity instead.  Those who need to pay rent will sabotage their own future earnings to do so."  
Said the great Scott Cameron of Trapeze World, San Francisco.  Thanks for holding the line, sir.

And yeah, I get it.  I pay rent, too.  Here's the thing, I don't expect anything to change because I stood on a soapbox for a few paragraphs.  The market world-wide has already changed to an ambient marketplace.  It's nothing to be upset about, because why waste the energy?  But if you're going to walk into the fire, walk with your eyes open.  Either way, selling live performance by the hour is like selling a painting by square inch...short-sighted at best.

It may seem rare, but you can still have the experience of selling the act you worked for years to make for $1000 or more...if you know to try.  If you don't ask for it, you won't get it.  It's worth learning how to ask.  It's worth the time it takes to build a package BEFORE the phone even rings, so you don't have to sweat and stammer and try to invent something to sell...you already will have something to sell.  Your life's work has value.

Want to learn how to ask?  Talk to your mentors, talk to your friends.  Practice on your dog.  Apply for my mentorship course, The Audacity Project- I've opened the application for the next TWO cycles.  Whatever you do, try.  If you're spending your life becoming great at something, at least make a concerted effort to sell it for what it's worth.  We are all in this together.

photo by Brian Alvarez

Tuesday, February 20, 2018


In the last newsletter I sent out, I asked what gremlins were holding back the progress of my super rad readers.  I received so many thoughtful responses- I was blown away by their candor.  Raw, open honesty, like a fish hook in the eye.  Only in a good way. 

I want to report that every single response I got had something in common- the fear of not being Good Enough.  I read dozens of different ways of saying “I don’t feel that I’m good enough for ________.”  So Imma address that right now using the best method I have at my disposal...

Preachy overly self-assured soapbox prose.  Here it is.

When trying to battle the Good Enough problem, a first response is frequently an attempt to affirm to ourselves we are awesome, and to focus on things we feel awesome about.  This is healthy, but it clearly doesn’t get the job done.  Countering a fear of not being good enough with fake-it-til-you-make-it proclamations of our awesomeness is a good start, but it doesn't close the gap between wanting to believe it and actually believing it. 

So let us begin with stone cold facts to combat “I’m not good enough for ________”, whether _________ is a company, show, workshop, the world at large, or any other presentation.

Stone cold fact #1: 

You cannot possibly know if your skill level is a match for the ________ you’d like to do or not, unless you are speaking to the decision maker RIGHT NOW.  At best, you're guessing; and your guesses can't be trusted empirically because they are heavily colored with your own bias.  You feel me?  So know that every time you say "I'm not good enough" you aren't stating a fact.  You're feeding a gremlin.  And you know what happens when we feed gremlins…

Stone cold fact #2: 

Being good doesn't get you jobs.  Relationships and pursuing strategic action gets you jobs. 

So imagine you are “good enough”.  Does your phone start ringing with offers of tours and contracts?  NO.  You still have to go to auditions, apply for considerations, contact the Gatekeeper.  You still have to do the work, regardless of your own ill-conceived concepts of whether or not you measure up on this invisible scale of nothingness.  Don’t let the hamster running its wheel in your brain make decisions about your life- just do the work. 

Stone cold fact #3: 

Good Enough doesn’t exist.  “But Rachel,” you might say, “I have clear delineations on what will be Good Enough for my purposes.”  Ok cool, think about that place.  Point to it.  Describe the Good Enough exactly.  Now imagine you are there.  Spoiler alert!  There’s another Good Enough just out of reach. 

It’s not worth your life to chase a shadow. 

You may notice that Stone Cold Facts numbers 1-3 don’t include a meathook transfer to back flag.  The obsession with higher and higher skills might be born out of a quest for excellence, but the result can be an emotionally stunted product that hits all the “correct” benchmarks while somehow still failing to succeed at either impacting an audience or satisfying the artist.  High skills are desirable, but if that’s all that’s present in an act, personally I don’t care to watch that act.  I’m not interested in being impressed.  I’m interested in being moved...which will require your entire being, not just your skills; your vulnerability, your fortitude, your courage. 

Cool.  Whatever, I proved a point...now what?

If you genuinely feel your skill level needs to be raised, you know what to do.  It’s not a mystery.  Go put in the time needed to support that outcome.  Go to class, get a private lesson from a scary coach.  Change your training regimen.  Eat better food, get actual sleep.  Write down the minimum effective dose to support your desired outcome.  Feel like hell today?  Hate yourself and everything you touch?  Crippled by negative self talk?  Yeah that happens sometimes.  Go in to the studio and only do the minimum effective dose you wrote out for yourself, then get on with your life. 

Squashing a gremlin requires more than positive thinking.  It requires action based on what you value, instead of what you fear.

Don’t blink. 

For even MOAR THINGS from me sign up for my newsletter here:  tinyletter.com/rachelstrickland

Friday, August 18, 2017

Money...it's a Ga$$

You have no idea how much I do not want to write this article.  But, the time has come.  Like, five years ago.  It’s actually too late.  It was too late the moment the circus left the family business and became touchable to the few, the brave, the crazy.

Now it is touchable to everyone- and man, are they touching.  This is natural, normal, unstoppable.  So here’s what happens next.  Everybody and their cousin enters the market.  Nobody tells them what their work is worth, and they usually don’t ask.  They think $300 for five minutes of performance is amazing (it’s not).

So here we are.  This is an article about money.

I’m expensive.  Does this mean I’m the best?  Not really.  Does it mean I’m better than most?  Again, not necessarily.  My price is only marginally reflective of the quality of my work, which is always held to the highest standards of excellence by...myself.  Most clients don’t care how about the artistic excellence of my work.  They care if I show up on time, have clean lines, a big smile, am not drunk OR HIGH (looking at you Californians), own my own equipment, have insurance.  In short, what an agent generally wants from me is a level above proven competence and to not be a pain in the ass to work with.  If I can be actually fun, that’s a bonus.  And you know what?  The feeling is mutual.  At this point in my career, I work pretty much exclusively with those I am friendly and real with.  I know them, and they know me.  There aren’t really any surprises there, and after a lifetime of suddenly frozen dressing rooms, mysteriously disappearing costumes, and a suspicious scent of bourbon, we are pretty darn happy with each other.

Sell Competence...Deliver Excellence

So how can I be “expensive” and tell you frankly that it has little to do with the excellence of my work?  For one, my work is solid.  I know it is solid, I can stand by it, it can stand on its own.  That counts for something.  But the buck stops there.

So what does it mean that I can be “expensive”?  It means I know to expect a fair wage for my work, and most people don’t, and therefore they don’t get it.  As a result, a “fair wage” begins to look a lot like a “high-cost commodity” for good work.

This is how what “should” be a given- that good, competent work for a fair wage becomes a luxury; an albino deer in the forest.  You’ve never actually seen one yourself but you’ve heard of them.

Much of this could be avoided if we communicated better with each other; students, teachers, mentors, community leaders.  I’ve seen dozens of Facebook arguments bitching about being undercut, and the back and forth is truly popcorn worthy, but NO ONE LISTS NUMBERS.

What the hell are competing artists, emerging artists, and barely-hanging-on artists supposed to think coming away from pointless conversations like that?  The only message it manages to convey is whatever you do, do it quietly so the hordes don’t tear you into pieces...it underscores our unwillingness to share our own prices for the totally understandable fear of being judged/shunned/scorned/voted off the island.

In some of my most prolific years, I could have easily doubled, and often tripled my income, if anyone had been willing to discuss pricing with an obviously ambitious new aerialist, and if I had asked more (and better) questions of my teachers.

Well guess what.

How to price your work- my method.

This is the method I use, and I invite you to use it as a means for comparison if nothing else.  It is not the only way and I feel you can probably improve on it, so for the love of the future of our industry, please do.  And then tell everyone that will listen.  You won’t regret it in the long run.

First we have to differentiate between the types of gigs commonly come across in local freelancing work:

Community Gigs:

Put on by your friend’s friend, or a local celebrity.  Low paying, regular, total love fest, do whatever you want on stage and enjoy your world.
Generally anywhere from $50-125 a show.  No one makes money off these shows, they exist for the sake of art and for the community.  They should be approached with respect to this end.

Club Gigs:  

Ambient affairs in nightclubs/restaurants- dependably regular, often questionable work conditions, all regular work pays less than a one-off and $150-250 is a pretty standard range for these gigs.  A nice way to bulk out a weekly income and try out new material/costuming.

Private Events:  

For the sake of discourse, this is what we will focus on here.  One-offs, including weddings and corporate events.  These are either self produced or you are the hired muscle.

Hired Muscle:  
Curated by an agent.  You show up, get into costume (possibly provided) makeup (also possibly provided) warm up and do your thang.  Get a check.  Go home and watch Frasier reruns.

Self Produced:
You do the bidding, contracting, invoicing, casting, costuming, organizing, event coordination and on-site manager, and also perform as the muscle in many cases.  You will also be responsible for ensuring safe rigging and possibly hiring the rigger yourself.  
Would you charge the same amount for both of these scenarios?  I wouldn’t.

The Method

Built around an artist’s fee, for a day’s rate.  A day in muggle land is 8 hours.  In physical performance, it is approximately 4 hours onsite, as we cannot and should not be expected to perform for 8 hours at a private event.

That symbol means "does not equal" fyi

Whatever occurs in this four hours, generally either an act or 2-3 ambient aerial sets, is what I sell for an artist's fee.

How much is an Artist's Fee?

This is not an arbitrary number, it’s based on the perceived value of the goods in the local market at that time.  I prefer to charge on the higher end of what the market can allow.  At this time in my local market that number ranges from $450-750 with dependable regularity.  This is JUST TO SHOW UP and perform, and leave.  It includes nothing else, someone else (an agent) is doing all that stuff, and collecting their own fee for it you betcha.

Yes, that means if you are charging in this range to show up, rig the event, perform, manage the event, and contract the performers, you are not charging enough to uphold market value.  Stahp.

If you are curating (self-producing the entertainment) at an event you will need to allow for that extra work, or you’ll find yourself working 40+ hours for a 4 hour day rate.

Fuck.  That.

So wait, how much is it?

The numbers I just gave you are based in my market.  The market changes with locality, and also time, and you need to know what your market is like, at this time. Guess how you find that out?  You will have to locate human beings who have that information and ask them questions.  

Don't ask me how much to charge, go find out.  

When you've collected this information you can use that range to decide what within that range is appropriate for you to charge for your work.  Know your day rate, and have a range.  You'll come across non-profits and other low-budget affairs that will ask you for a discount.  If you already know the lowest appropriate number, you don't have to take a hit just because someone else asks you to.  You can discount to your appropriate bottom line.  That's as far as it goes.  

This should go without saying, but when negotiating a gig...it is poor salesmanship to start with your bottom line.

Don't want to be a salesman?  Then you're not a professional.  Profession=money for work.  Don't want to sell?  Then live happily as an amateur artist.  Nothing wrong with that.
Absolutely nothing wrong with that.  As long as you're not taking a paid opportunity and doing it for free, which in case no one mentioned it, is a completely shit thing to do to the rest of us.  Why?  Because once someone gets something for free, it loses it's value.

I don’t have to think about my prices when negotiating a gig...I’ve already thought about it.  There’s no “ummmmm, let me see” because I already see.  If you wait until you are being offered a gig to price your work, you run the risk of pricing based on your emotions...not the market.  Don't let this happen to you!  You end up getting panicked at the thought of losing the gig, and it's easy to practically give your work away.

copyright South Park

So knowing this, I can take a gig someone else is doing allllll the other work for, show up and perform, and leave for a $600 check and sleep well that night.  In some localities, this number is a paltry sum.  In others, it's a dream.

If I were in charge of the event, you bet your ass I’m going to need extra compensation for the hours upon hours of administrative tasks that it takes to pull off an event.

If I’m performing, I start with my artist's’ fee-  $600 approximately, and double it AT LEAST.  This is for someone with very little overhead; as in, you don’t have an office or employees, you’re just organizing an event.  An agent probably has to charge more than this to get you a fair wage and also cover their cost of doing business, so consider how much damage can be done to a local market if suddenly no one is considering these extra costs?

The Moral of the Story...

Do your homework ahead of time.  Have a pricing structure that is based on numbers, and that you can defend without the need to be defensive.

Pricing is not about your feelings.  It's about value, and should be based in mathematics...not emotions.  Have it in place before you get your first inquiry, ask for help from your teachers and mentors.

Your actions do affect everyone else.  Don't go it alone...we really are all in this together.  And you know, it's YOUR LIFE.  It has value.


I've gotten many questions about The Audacity Project, my 8-week mentorship program designed to get you off your ass and into the working world armed with the tools for the trade.  In case you're curious, I made an FAQ for ya.  Next round begins next week, August 22nd.  There are 2 spots left.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dun-dun-dun...Tape Review!!

From me to you- my new favorite bar tape.

I was contacted by Cheetah of Aerial Essentials about a bar tape they’ve developed, asking if I was up for reviewing it as I’m such a vocal, picky bastard about how my lyras are taped.

To which I of course heartily agreed.  I promptly received a couple of rolls- black just like I’d asked for.

My own Aurora had been given a lively retaping in Newbaum's a few months back, and at the high price tag and the lengthy life expected of that tape, I didn’t want to get her all nekkid unceremoniously early.  So I called my good friend and local badass Maia Adams who owns the Aerial Artique in downtown San Francisco, and with her go-ahead, decided to give this tape the harshest possible gauntlet to run through:  seeing how it performed on a classroom hoop.

I never do hoop with rings, zippers, anything that can damage the tape.  I treat my equipment as a partner- so not a very harsh mistress to the tape.  But students on the other hand...students come up in here wearing freakin zippered jumpsuits, wedding bands that don’t come off, razor blades on their palms (ok not really, but you get the idea).  I knew that if a tape was going to stand up to abuse, we would know after a few months of giving class on it.

Also, the Aerial Artique is deliciously warm- it traps heat like a greenhouse; great for the body, hell on tape.  I was sending this tape on a quest to rival Indiana Jones.

So lemme tell you about this tape- the reason it’s special is several-fold:

It is purported to be:

  • Affordable at $6.50 a roll
  • Available in 9 different colors (so far)
  • cover an entire hoop with one roll
  • Able to be performed on IMMEDIATELY

If you’re an aerialist, you know that last claim is BFD; I put off retaping my hoops as long as possible because I hate, loathe, and otherwise despise the sticky awfulness that is a newly taped hoop, even with loads of chalk rubbed into it.  It takes weeks to achieve the perfect combination of usable tackiness and natural slide necessary to comfortably perform on without ripping out chunks of skin.

Exhibit A:  Lizard Back
See exhibit A- a common side effect of my choreography.

So with Maia’s blessing I took down the hoop with the most badly damaged tape (tape that melts into loose, open pockets is even worse than ripped sections).  Just FYI, at the bottom of this post is a series of pictures to illustrate my best method for taping the top of the hoop with athletic style bar tape.  You know, for you nerds.

I put it back up.  I DIDN’T chalk it.  I fought the compulsion to chalk it and won.

Then I warmed up and ran my whole act on it

And it performed like a freakin dream.  Hallelujiah I say, and can I get an amen, it actually did what it said it would do.  I lost no skin, I did not get stuck.
I see no reason to buy any other type of athletic style bar tape ever again.

So that was April 4th 2017, and here we are heading into the studio June 29th- by now the tape should have been thoroughly put through the ringer so in addition to it’s dreamy qualities right off the bat, let’s see how it holds up to the test of longevity......




BOOM.  With the exception of one small repair the tape has held up excellently even after months of abuse- I’m sold.  It’s not trailing threads, back-curling, melting or pocketing.  If you want to see a dumb video of me checking the tape out it’s here:

For super long life, your best best is still Newbaum’s or Velox, which frequently last into the years-long time frames.   It’s expensive and you do have to get used to the grip if you’re using it for the first time, but it lasts.  However if you prefer the feel of athletic style bar tape in my opinion this is as good as it gets.  Thank you Aerial Essentials for being rad and for solving this problem in 9 different colors.  

Now for you nerds.  Taping around the Tab.

Step 1:  get hoop nekkid

Step 2:  tape a strip under the tab

Step 3:  tape both back and forward faces just under the tab

It should look like this from the top

Step 4:  finish taping as usual


As promised, less than one roll for my 38" hoop.  

Alright go forth and use the good stuff.

ps.  if you were on my email list, you would have gotten all this plus news on happenings, templates for resumes, contracts, and deadlines that I don't announce here.  Just saying.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Imposter Syndrome: How to Deal with Insecurity

This is going to be short and to the point.  If you haven’t heard of Imposter Syndrome it’s pretty damn apt at explaining itself.  At the Irish Aerial Creation Centre’s Creative Intensive last year, this came up on day one.  Every single participant and mentor reported a close experiential relationship with this condition, from emerging aerialists to veteran career artists who had pioneered their fields.

The great Bob Fosse is reported to have suffered crippling insecurity about his work.  Even if you don’t know Bob Fosse, you have seen his mark on the world if you are taking part in Western Culture.  Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, I could go on and on but I think three icons are enough to prove the point that if you experience feelings of being a fraud, you are in lauded company.

So what the hell to do about it.  I have two points.

One:  how do you get rid of it?  

You don’t.

Unless you can take a pill to subjugate your humanity, you’re stuck with this in my opinion.  It is a challenge that persists.

Two:  how do you keep it from sabotaging your life?  

Don’t make decisions based on those feelings.

It irritates me that a sentence which took me so much constant, brutal research to arrive at is so short.  But it really is that simple- know yourself.  Know what your feelings are.  Call them by name.  Feeling insecure?  Fine. Call it by name and move on.  Feeling f*#%ing terrified?  Fine.  Call it by name and move on.  Feeling shaken to the core and like the ground is flying out from under you?  Congratulations, you’re experiencing a moment of true focus.  Call it out, pay attention, and do the thing you want to do based on your value system, not your fears.

You don’t need to get on the panic train, just acknowledge it is there and watch it carry on.  I tell my students it is like being at a grotesque parade.  You can just stand there and watch it go by, flaunting its macabre features, you don’t have to jump on the float.

Then make a different choice.

On my way to my first aerial gig, I distinctly remember hoping I’d be hit by a car so I wouldn’t have to do it.  I won’t give my fear the reins to my life- and I came to tell the truth.

If you make decisions based on your fears, a life of cowardice will be your only reward, and the internal self-sucking pleasure that comes from hiding, crouched like some sordid, whimpering Gollum inside of your own skin.

Y’all.  That’s nasty.

God hates a coward.  Go do something else.  That is all.

Ps.  I don't know if you heard but my email list is a good way to get this kind of abuse from me on the regular, with helpful things like links and resources and applications and stuff.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Big Lie.

​Sit down, y'all.  Imma tell you a story.  Like all stories I will tell you, it is true, in spite of the title of this article.

I have a very close friend, a performance artist and visionary whom I have had the pleasure of sharing both stage and world with for many years.  Let’s call her Bast.  

My friend Bast and I were talking one day as we often did, about the trials of a life built out of art and cardboard and fishnet stockings. We talked for a while trading stories, both of us enjoying a bit of a rant on shady producers, freezing dressing rooms, and the weird shit people say to us at gigs. Ultimately, I sighed and said something trite like, well I wouldn't want to trade lives with anyone else, even for all the struggles. At least this life is mine.

And Bast was quiet a second and said, “Actually, there is one person I would trade lives with. Sabra.”  I wanted to object, but I couldn’t, and here’s why.

Sabra is a fellow performer who had achieved a dazzling success. She had been in a prestigious dance company in Chicago from a young age, leaving to move to LA at the behest of her main employer.  This employer was a very, VERY well known mega-star for whom she choreographed all of their dance numbers for major events. Bast and Sabra would be having lunch and she'd be all, “oh shit I'm late for rehearsal with HUGELY POPULAR POP ARTIST” and a black car would be waiting for her on the curb. She'd run off for months on tour, staying in fabulous hotels and barely working at all except on rehearsal days, but living that glamorous superstar by proxy lifestyle. She told hilarious stories in a rich, buoyant voice about working with over-the-top tour managers and how everyone acted like crazy people in the presence of fame.  

On anyone's terms, her success was brilliant. By a dancer/choreographer's terms? Practically a unicorn.
A few years passed. I was having lunch with Bast again, on a quiet garden patio in San Francisco. I asked about Sabra, as she hadn't mentioned her in a while and they had seemed to be close friends. Plus, I was curious as to what other cave of wonders the woman had managed to unlock on her yellow brick road.

Bast went silent.  She fixed me with her indomitable stare that meant shit was about to get real. And over the next hour and a half quietly explained how she had come to discover that Sabra's life was...

wait for it...

...a complete and utter fabrication. She had made the whole thing up.

I'll give you a second to read that again. A person in my friend's life, who for years had shared friendship, meals, travels, and shows with her, had been systematically nurturing a complicated illusory life for herself over the past five years. The sheer complexity of the untruth was mind-boggling.  The attention to detail was punishing in its ruthlessness.

It took Bast another hour to answer all my questions about how one step at a time, because of one tiny little loose thread that begged to be pulled, my friend slowly and rather chillingly uncovered the vast extent of a glittering career that never happened.

Need to make a call from a fancy hotel?  Ask to use the courtesy phone.

Need to be carried off in a big black car?  Call an uber and instruct them to wait.

Need to be out of town to validate a world wide tour you have nothing to do with?  Go see your mom back home in...wherever.

I was stunned, and deeply disturbed as one tends to be when confronted with an elaborate falsehood.  The most malicious part of it was, Sabra’s lie was so convincing that my friend got to the point of fantasizing about trading lives with her. The continued glowing successes of Sabra's apparent career had eaten away at my friend's pride in her own accomplishments, each one won with so much effort and labor only to be overshadowed again and again by Sabra’s stunning reach.  

And it was all one big, stinking, putrid, absurd lie.  Bast was the real unicorn.  But since we accept the world that’s presented to us as reality, this was usurped.

The above example is a caricature of a usually much more subversive, pervasive, and poisonous reality.  The Big Lie of Social Media Life.  I’ve written about this before in an Ode to Failure.  The reach of The Big Lie is so convincing that it can permeate even an old, comfortable relationship.  I have a friend who is a successful visual artist who I have been close with for 15 years.  I stopped contacting him because he was always traveling, going from gallery opening to gallery opening, and I didn’t want to bother him.  A year later we discussed it and he said, “It’s my job to make my life online look as exciting and elusive as possible.  It’s branding.  The truth is I go to these gallery openings and then eat noodles alone in a hotel.  I wish you had called!”  

If you think that made me feel like a dumbass, you’d be right.  I don’t know anyone who is impervious to The Big Lie...most friends of mine who it truly bothers, who don’t need social media for advertising, simply go off the grid and live perfectly splendid lives that no one knows a damn thing about.  

What I am NOT trying to tell you is that your friends and colleagues are inventing lives for themselves on social media, and that you should become a deeply suspicious person who responds to every FB post like:

What I am trying to do is advise you to do is become adept at identifying the feeling of FOMO.  You know the feeling, like being surrounded all of a sudden by a poisoned fog of emptiness, even when you were in a great mood two seconds earlier.  Get really good at knowing the signs, so it can’t sneak up on you and ruin a perfectly good moment with the certainty that EVERYONE IS DOING COOL SHIT BUT YOU!!!

I mean, they might be.  But, probably not.  If you recognize the gremlin of FOMO and see it coming, it makes it harder for it to sink its rancid claws into your psyche. 

Behold, the embodiment of FOMO.
Why this oddly psychoanalytical post?  I’ve seen enough artists both new and seasoned, sunk in a mire of despair because they were comparing themselves to the online presences of their peers.

And you guys...that shit ain’t real.  The Big Lie is not an accurate representation of reality...it's very nature is contradictory to accuracy.  As performance artists, part of the beauty of what we do is its absolute transience.  The moment it lives it dies, and is gone forever, and no amount of video or photography can capture what the true experience was; those mediums have their own beauty, but it is another beast.  

Photo by Daniel Yoo
Above:  A rad live shot of my act from Natural Wings award winning show, Elements, with my two stunning sisters-in-air, Dawn Pascoe and Ruth Battle-Wayre of Perth, Western Australia.  Truly one of the highlights of life as I know it.

NOT PICTURED:  I caught a terrible cold and had to keep tissues just off stage so I wouldn't spray snot on the audience and/or my beloved co-artsts.  Wouldn't have changed a thing.  Just saying, it's never the whole story.

Don’t get me wrong, an online presence is a useful, even imperative tool.  It's part of playing the game of self-marketing.  But believe me, it is a game.  The smoke and mirrors and fairy glamour we love about the stage can become a staged life- and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t mistake one for the other; for in that way, madness lies.  

This has been a PSA from Madame Rex Studios- coming to you live from the Glass Castle, San Francisco, JUST KIDDING I’m just a woman sitting at my kitchen table typing!   I'm not even wearing pants!  See how easy it is?!

In other news:

If you were on my mailing list, you'd get all kinds of other info all in one tidy place, like an application for mentorships and heads up on other cool haps.  Not saying it could save your life but, you know.  It could save your life.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

My Big Butt...and other reasons I don't work for Cirque du Soleil

My butt has been the center of much conversation in my life as a performer. I’ve had it referred to as “a nation unto itself” among other less charming titles. I have always been bottom heavy, even as a little girl, and as a dancer and artist it’s been one of my dominating characteristics. Every performer overhears things being said about them by audience members who don’t believe they can be heard (btw...we can hear you) and in my case it’s always been, “look at her BUTT!” I ain’t mad...I like my butt just fine. It suits me and i find it looks nice on a hoop. It makes me feel powerful and feminine. Whatever, this is not a post about butts, even if it did make a damn fine title.

photo by Howard Tu
There comes a moment for every freelancing aerialist that they will have to face this question: “Have you worked for Cirque?” Followed by the inevitable, “did you ever think about trying?” This question is brutally annoying, because A) Cirque is a word that means circus. It does not just refer to one company, however large. And B) it is a given that the asker is looking for one answer only...yes. And any other answer means you have failed. Other irritating versions of this question including the ever-patronizing, “did you ever think about doing this professionally, like in Cirque du Soleil?” are equally obnoxious to anyone who is already “doing this professionally”.

Do not misunderstand me. I greatly respect Cirque du Soleil, and enjoy much of their work. I honor them for their origins, and for what they have done for the artform (arguably paving the way for it to be relevant in the lives of so, so many more people than it was before). This is not a condemnation of the company whatsoever- however it is a story about how I learned the importance of defining success in my own terms. Which much to my surprise and in service to my sense of humility, I had not done as well as I believed I had.

So...have I worked for Cirque du Soleil? The answer is no. Here is the story of how that came to pass, for once and for all, so that it is here for all to see, reference, and hopefully enjoy.

The year was 2014, and after applying by way of creating my profile I was invited to the aerial circus performers audition in Las Vegas! Well shit my bricks, I was on cloud nine! I discovered my good friend Ms. Eve Diamond was also invited, so we immediately joined forces to share a room in one or another of the ridiculous casino hotels and share a rental car, blablabla. Eve is gorgeous, strong, tireless, and really really FUN, so I was looking forward to what was sure to be a great trip.

By the way, I should mention here...I had every intention of scoring that audition. Strong? Check! I could murder the list of conditioning recommended on the website. The flexibility requirements were child’s play. But most of all- i had made my best act yet that prior spring...a unique, dynamic explosion of lyra to Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”. I was achingly proud of it.

I realized, of course, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to perform that act in a Cirque show. Someone else was in charge of most of that stuff (that stuff means, the actual creative art that goes into these enormous shows). But I was after the holy grail, the golden ticket...the ability to say “yes” to that damnedable question.

And I felt no doubt that I had earned my place amongst those mighty titans of industry. It was basically a formality to go through the audition.

What an ass I was. Just reread that last sentence and get a really good idea of what an ass I was.

The audition day came, and it was just as fun and awesome as I expected it to be. I felt no competitiveness with my fellow candidates...why would I? I was not feeling insecure. I was feeling exultant. I cheered and hollered for everyone (btw, you’re kind of a jerk if you can’t wish another candidate well. Come the fuck on.) and they cheered and hollered for me. Eve destroyed it, and so did another friend of mine who was there- yeah...our world is small, you will know people at auditions.

And I performed well, and was happy with my work. Fast spin, all tricks were bossed.

And they didn’t call my number. And they didn’t and they didn’t, and then they were thanking us for being there, and they still didn’t call my number. I wasn’t crushed...I was shocked. They invited us to stay for feedback if we wanted some, and you bet your ass I did.

I couldn’t help but notice, all of the hoop artists they asked to stay were good. But they weren’t all GREAT. Some were! Some were extraordinary. But more of them were entry level hoop artists, with great gymnastic ability. And some hadn’t demonstrated a fraction of the work I had put into my own craft.

My question was, what the hell???

I finally got my turn to ask for feedback, which of course I did politely, because while I might be an insufferable fool in my mind, I can control my demeanor. The casting director was lovely and very approachable; and in an no-nonsense manner told me I was very unique, dynamic, and highly skilled, but my body type didn’t fit what they needed. When I blinked back at her, she indulged me by explaining that it frequently does boil down to costuming.

This shouldn’t have been news...my own first coach, the great Kerri Kresinski, had warned me of this, having been passed over at many auditions where she performed in the top percentile, yet didn’t get picked because her body type didn’t fit the costuming. And yet, I hadn’t really heard her until now.

The casting director kindly pointed out that in a different discipline, they did accept female body types that weren’t “tiny little things” but for my specialty I simply would never fit what they needed.

I thanked her sincerely and departed with my mind finally blown open to the idea that my coach had tried to suggest to me years ago. I had to take a second to remember every drop of blood and sweat and the money and the sheer bloody force of will that it had taken to make me the creature I was, was at this juncture worth less than the price of a new costume in this particular situation. That is not something to be upset by; it is not fucked up, and it is not insulting. It is a fact to acknowledge and then move on, further educated.

What happened next? My good friend Eve (who did get into the database with her killer rope act) and I retired back to our ridiculous casino hotel, put on slutty dresses and lost $5 each at the slot machines. Then we had cocktails and celebrated a day lived very well.

Ms. Diamond and Ms. Rex

So what's the point of this story?

I'm so glad you asked.

Just like being good does not get you jobs, and getting jobs doesn’t mean you are good, being good doesn’t get you cast. Being a good fit for what they are casting for at that time gets you cast. Don't get the audition? Still want the job? Wait a year then audition again. You don't know what they are looking for.

Most of the big companies that hire circus artists in the United States and beyond are running a business. They operate as a business, not a dream machine. Specific looks are very important to the finished product, and the product has already been planned; signed sealed and delivered, designed by dozens of experts who are well compensated for their time. No one is in business to make you feel validated. They are making shows.

Lots of people are making shows. YOU can be making shows. You might not have the Zarkana theater at your disposal, but at some point, neither did they.


If you can get a job with Cirque du Soleil, go boss that shit. If you can get a job with anyone, go boss that shit.

I beg you to examine your own beliefs about your work, your artistry, and what you view as success. A moment like this one will probably happen to you, if it hasn’t already, and you will see that your own definitions of success and accomplishment are imperative. Not only when confronted by the once and future king of what the world at large considers successful in the circus world, but by the mighty weight of the outside world’s opinion of this thing you are doing with your life; which is already under attack at every possible angle for the crime of being unusual.

Now go out there with your big butt, short arms, bad skin, and whatever else you’re sporting and find someone who can’t wait to put it on stage.

Or just say fuck it and put it on stage yourself.

But wait! There's more...

If this article caught your eye because you want to audition for Cirque du Soleil, please note there is no reason whatsoever to delay. The link to create your profile by way of an application is here:

You can update your profile at any time with your new work, better video, better photos, so waiting to "figure out your reel" is not an acceptable excuse. Do it today, if you want to do it.

As an addendum, please note that you will need to complete a resume to complete this application (and for pretty much any other application).

Hey 'member that time I told you how to write your resume?

Me too.

If you are on my mailing list- you also have access to a downloadable template.  What could be easier?!

I also invited my list to mail me a copy of their resume- and the first five I received got a dressing down by way of feedback.  That part is closed...but anyone joining my league of demons email list gets access to the template, forever, as my gift to you.  

So here’s to you, and here’s to me, and here’s to butts and resumes.

Rachel Strickland