Hello avid circus readers!

My name is Katheryn Reed and I am the new co-captain of Circus Now’s Seattle Chapter. CN Seattle is just getting its feet under us, but I can’t tell you how excited we all are to be a part of this amazing organization. Along with my co-captain Leah Papernick and our Action Team, we are well on our way to building an up-to-date and continually outreaching Facebook page and a calendar of local events, workshops and shows. (If you are a Seattle person and have an event, drop us a line and we’ll see about getting that on our calendar!) We are also planning our first launch event this Fall, so check back on our Facebook page for the details. We would love to see you there!

I come from the dance and theater world and have been doing Acro Yoga and partner acrobatics for the past five years. I also recently picked up the cyr wheel with enthusiasm. This past winter I stage managed for the Acrobatic Conundrum when they took their third show, “The Way Out,” to the first Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival.

That experience is one I will always remember fondly. One thing I was particularly impressed with was the implementation of a workshop week out at Vashon Island’s Open Space for Arts and Community. I loved the idea that performers could be paid, albeit not as much as they deserve, for spending a 9AM-6PM workweek improving and preparing their show for Chicago. It wasn’t always easy, but it felt like the most efficient way for us to really bond as a cast and team, not to mention really clean and amp up the show, to great success!

KT Neihoff’s space 10°

For their next show the company is taking it one step further. They worked out a three-week workshop process, Sunday through Thursday 10am-7pm. Splitting their time training at SANCA and at KT Neihoff’s space 10° (which is located in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Seattle). Not having some of the government and community-funded resources that many European companies have, the AC has been utilizing crowd sourcing and grant writing. They hope to build a more sustainable funding source though touring and greater public reach. They have found great success in this process working on their new show “A Book is Not a Ladder,” created for touring starting in Seattle then heading to the New York International Contemporary Circus Festival.

I asked Terry Crane, the Artistic Director of the Acrobatic Conundrum, a few questions about his upcoming show premiering at SANCA’s 10th Anniversary Festival.

What is a little known fact about you?

What do you mean? Something like I can touch my nose with my tongue? Or I was on France’s Got Talent? Or here’s a good one…  I was going to be an ecologist before I ran away with the circus. Also, I have a penchant for creating companies with difficult-to-pronounce names.

For those who don’t know you, how long have you been doing circus/ running the Acrobatic Conundrum? How did you get started? 

I started doing aerial—static trapeze first—when I was 20. I was obsessed. I studied at the Circus Center, auditioned for ENC [Ecole Nationale de Cirque, Montreal], left college when I was 2 credits shy of finishing… eventually Oberlin gave me those credits for circus studies.

Terry Crane on rope

Terry Crane on rope

After ENC, I took most contracts that came my way, which lead me all around the globe. I love traveling. And there was still something missing. I was in Helsinki, performing for a winter circus, experiencing less sun every day, and I found myself dreaming of making my own company. I never aspired to be a soloist and drift around the globe aimlessly. Circus for me is the dream of a performing, nomadic community, and that’s what I wanted—to be with my friends and make art I cared about.

My project of creating a company has gone through some different manifestations now…. I had the privilege of performing with a very talented crew of artists from Montreal, Italy, and Seattle in our own company called Circus Syzygy. Syzygy, as vowel-less as it was, will hold a tender spot in my heart forever. We had a hard time making it work because our homes were all in different places. We had a good run of a couple years, in which we worked together in Seattle, Switzerland, and France, and we created a beautiful show that has no home.

The Acrobatic Conundrum was born in the summer of 2012, when Joselynn Engstrom and I started musing about creating a company that could tour the western US. Seattle has a wealth of talented and aspiring circus artists, and we put them on stage in 3 ambitious shows. Just as we finished our run of our 3rd show “The Way Out” in the summer of 2013, Shayna Swanson was looking for small-budget, ambitious projects like ours and recruited us to headline for the first CCCF [Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival.]

Tell us about your new show.

ABINAL Rehearsals

ABINAL Rehearsals

The new show is different from the previous three. We are calling it “A Book is Not a Ladder.” [ABINAL] I’ve handed over the directorial baton for this show to a guest choreographer, KT Niehoff. The two of us have collaborated on a theme, which draws inspiration from a story by Jorge Luis Borges, in which the universe is made up of a library, which is mostly just nonsense books [the Library of Babel]. I’ve loved this story since I first read it in high school. It gets my imagination going. I can relate to the denizens of this place who are relentlessly looking for meaning despite all the randomness.

The cast of this show is different from TWO [The Way Out], but most of the performers have worked for AC before. It’s a great group—our smallest cast yet, but very technically talented and polyvalent. If you want to find out who they are, go to our website.

What inspired you to hire a contemporary dance figure like KT Niehoff to direct ABINAL?

I admire the commitment to ideas in contemporary dance. Ultima Vez [a Belgium-based dance company], in particular and its style of theatrical, iconoclastic contemporary performance really left an impression. I was a bit struck by how there seemed to be a complete absence of “circus directors” in the U.S., but yet we have a vibrant, dynamic theater and dance scene in Seattle. I have admired Seattle-based choreographer KT Niehoff’s work for a long time, and I was a bit surprised when I heard back from her… it turns out she likes our work too, and is excited about the possibility of the fusion of our worlds.

What has it been like working together?

I don’t think the path of the would-be innovator is ever smooth… there’s been a learning curve on both sides. KT is happily new to the world of circus, which is a major asset—her mind makes connections that ours wouldn’t, and she’s playing with a different set of rules than we are, which means that the results are really unusual in the world of circus. She’s also accustomed to working as a benevolent dictator, and I think there’s something in the profile of circus artists that attracts defiant knaves, perhaps more than your average contemporary dancers. We [circus folk] normally work with wider parameters, each of us gets to be the expert of our particular domain, so under strong leadership new compromises must be found.

There’s something interesting in the challenge of all of us working together to serve a single idea, and interpret the vision of a director with our various skill sets. KT has a great eye for seeing what’s working, and also for snapping up moments that spontaneously appear in rehearsal. Her work is totally stunning, and this show will be no exception.

Costume and lettering

What are you most excited about this new project?

That I haven’t talked about yet? Geez, let’s see… director, cast….

We also have an incredible set. I won’t give away any of the surprise, but it’s really out of the box, and creates gives our stage dimension and creates our world, and we’re hoping we can still fit it in our luggage for the trip to New York. We’re also wearing some pretty rad “Once Upon a Time” inspired costumes, and literally swimming in paper and lettering…

What’s the plan for the future? Next year? Next 5 years?

I want to tour and perform with quality artists that I enjoy, and make art that completely delights audiences. That feeling when someone totally flips the script on you and you’re surprised and happy to go along for the ride. I want to make shows where audiences feel like that at least once every 5 minutes. And shows that people have to come back and see a second time they were so moved or mystified by it.

We’re going to NYC for the CN international circus festival, and then we’re taking the piece to Vancouver’s first CircusFest, and hopefully we’re to do an extended run in Seattle in early winter. I’d like to tour this piece for the next year, or more. Beyond that, keep building our audience base and the national interest in small-scale, expressive circus. It’s really important for me for the whole community of companies to continue to develop, because we share audiences, and no one can succeed alone. I’m happy that there are other companies in Seattle, like IMPulse, UMO, the Cabiri, Teatro Zinzanni, as well as the circus schools, SANCA, ECT, Versatile Arts.

Someday it would be fun to have a show that traveled up and down the west coast in a big top, like the Pickle Family used to do… Switzerland, is a 1/5th the size of state of Washington, there are at least 20 tented shows that tour most of the year. We could have that here.

Terry Crane and Erica Rubinstein

Tell us about your cast for ABINAL?

3 ENC’ers, a newlywed couple from Portland, 1 Conundrum veteran Erica Rubinstein. 1 tall clown. Me. There are 6 of us, and the skill set includes hand-to-hand, clown, manipulation, Cyr, rope, dance, contortion, handbalancing. It’s going to be an action-packed show.

What would like to see happen in the future circus scene in the United States?

It was this transcendent moment last January when we all got together at CCCF and met each other. “It was like, hi! I’ve heard about you, or been following you on Facebook and admire what you’re doing, it’s great to meet you live.” I had a real sense of the momentum for this art form coalescing into something tangible. I’d love to see a spate of circus festivals crop up, more state funding for circus projects (go New Orleans!), and to have as many circus/dance/theater companies as arts-rich countries France and Sweden.

None of that will happen without mutual support and reaching lots of new audiences. Crowdfunding is an exciting tool, but I think we need small regions getting really attached to their legacy of performing arts… Quebec has become the world’s exporter of entertainment art, and there’s no reason we can’t inspire the same type of innovation here.

Thanks Terry for taking the time to speak with me, and we look forward to seeing what you create in the future!

If you want to catch the premier of “A Book Is Not A Ladder” it will be showing at SANCA in Seattle this weekend (August 15-17). Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm and 10:30 and Sunday at 6pm.

If you can’t be in Seattle for their show, see them at NYC SummerStage.
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