German Wheel

Last night I attended my

first class in German wheel

, with Chris Delgado, who is a very good teacher. He's also, as it turns out, a clown whose sentiments aren't too dissimilar from my own:

If that seemed slightly reminiscent of

this (2/10/11)

to you, well, we agree. If it didn't, you're paying attention to the wrong stuffs and you're wrong, and I hate you.

I've been interested in German wheel (OR wheel gymnastics OR Rhönrad; not to be confused with the

Cyr wheel

) for some time now, and fortuitous it was that classes began being offered at Streb Lab, where

Wife Megan

and I attend aerial silks classes. My interest stems from pure physical curiosity to aesthetic sensibilities. I love contraptions, and circus skills that make use of them - hence my affection for stilt-walking - love climbing, and the German wheel turns climbing into perambulating, and makes surprises out of seemingly predictable movement. In that sense, it's pure physical comedy: Using an apparent and predictable mechanic to create moments of elation. Plus the thing just conjures up useful imagery - from

the Vitruvian Man


Prometheus bound

to Lloyd's clock or the steam engine of Melodrama or anything round of which you can think.

The experience of trying it out was at once affirming and surprising, which leads me to think I'll be back for a class or two. It's a bit frustrating to imagine making a commitment to the skill, simply because it's inconceivable to imagine storing the equipment it requires. (My stilts alone are far less obtrusive, and still a blight on efficient apartment living.) Still, that's a reasoning in favor of giving it a few more gos. Who knows when I'll have another opportunity?

Every circus skill, I've found thus far, features some incredible physical torment that you might not have guessed from watching it. In silks it's friction burns, in my opinion. Stilt-walking, it begins as quadriceps torture, then settles into chafing and occasional calf/ankle stiffness. For German wheel, though it's intensely physical in many unexpected ways, the hidden torment is in the feet. We were asked to wear :"thin" shoes, like classic Converse, and the reason for this is that you need to be able to fit them snugly under straps and then


your toes around the edge of the foot platforms.

Now, maybe I'm different than you (perish the thought), but the first time one of these rigs takes you upside-down I'm willing to bet your instinct will not be to


your feet. Rather, I imagine, you'll be kind-of sort-of interested in


your basal digits. There're straps, right? That's what they're there for, right? Nope. All wrong. The straps are there for tension, tension created by pushing hard against them as you essentially fight to shove your toes off the edge of wood and around the other side.

So: My feet hurt. Also, my butt, but I expect that lessens the better one gets at this skill set.

It's very very cool. I mean: Very cool. I expected it to have a lot in common with stilt-walking in terms of momentum-based tricks and using one's center-of-gravity. What I didn't anticipate is how fully it feels as though the wheel breaks free that balance awareness as though going from two-dimensional to three. Ironically, I think German wheel accomplishes this in part by its rigidity, which gives us limitations that help us develop a very precise vocabulary of movement. A jungle-gym on which to play, if you will (if you won't, see note above regarding wrong stuffs and hate).

That is definitely not to say one can just jump on the thing and have at it. The German wheel courts danger as much as any circus feat. See, for example, Chris' video at 3:12. He does a little look-through that - if followed through - could easily result on a broken neck or cracked skull via being run over by a metal bar plus your own body weight. I took to a trick last night that I observed, but hadn't yet been taught, and about midway through had this thought: "Ah. I see. At minimum five reasons I should've sought advice on this one." Plus I could never get the notion of crushing my fingers out of my brain completely . . . but then again not an ice rink goes by without me wondering if they'll be severed there, so that might be a personal fixation.

The entire device has to do with weight distribution - specifically one's pelvis - and leverage. Many of the moves I learned last night had something in common with momentum-based partner acrobatics, in that straightening and bending limbs and torso were used to create that precious leverage and overcome inertia. The entire experience is surreal in all the most circus-y, delighting ways. You roll and flip and are lifted and set down again, all while moving yourself around a defined center, a sweet-spot of a solar system of yourself. Great, great fun.

Tying Up the Air

(Wonky title, eh what?  Refer to 9/24/10 for context.)

I'm revisiting my first aerial silks piece because this weekend Wife Megan and I will be participating in Streb's Valentine's Day benefit, 2Good 2B Bad.  The above is the video I had to submit to get into the Halloween show, the below is the final product.  For the next show, I'm raising the stakes a little bit by trying for a more serious piece.  Humor's great, but it makes excuses for lack of form, too.

Not that it was the only reason I had for this piece, and choosing to make it clown-like.  I thought of the choice more as playing to my strengths, and it rather does.  Although I must admit that maintaining a sense of your audience's response from thirty feet up (and upside down) is something of a skill that requires experience.  Nevertheless, I ended up feeling pretty good about this product.  It wasn't as frenetic - or flashy really - as the initial draft, but it couldn't be - one of the trickiest bits of circus is pulling it off with control, making it look easy such that it puts the audience's mind at ease.  That is, until you want to startle or amaze them.

It's interesting to me that I'm not aiming to startle or amaze my audiences with the act I've devised for this weekend.  Maybe it's just all the effort I've put into making it more formal, less frenetic, but I'm content to let it be what it is.  What it is, is, I hope, a more lyrical piece that hints at a character's story rather than basing it in his immediate struggle for a concrete goal.  This too is a departure for me.  Even in the circus-theatre shows I've developed and performed in, I've always been the one pushing for an accessible story, something that meets the audience halfway in their task of interpreting the presentation.

I suppose it's my study of silks these past couple of years that has changed my perspective on this somewhat, and made me see the personal possibilities in creating a performance for which the audience fills in their own meaning(s).  Audiences do this to some degree anyway, but often with plays and the like it's not as invited as in more "abstract" mediums such as music or dance.  These usually don't make a lot of effort to spell out plot details, much less provide them in a chronological or otherwise linear-structured format, even when they are based on a story of some kind.

I'm not exactly comfortable with that.  Just like I'm not exactly comfortable with trying to perform a piece that's purely skill-based physical without aiming for laughs.  Undertaking this personal challenge is probably a most telling moment about me, and the fact that I am in at least some small part just a frustrated dancer.  So I have no training in that field, I get apocalyptically frustrated with dance choreography, and I can't point my toes worth a damn, but . . . here we go, any dang way.

...O Hai

Lest you imagine my absence has been a matter of rest:

ITEM!  On October 16th Wife Megan and I performed aerial silks at a Halloween-themed circus show at Streb S.L.A.M.  It was my debut on the aerial silks and - now that I think of it - my return to circus performance after an absence of some years.  More on this in its own post (promise [promise]), but suffice it to say that I survived and learned a lot in the process.  And: enjoyed it!

ITEM!  On October 17th I performed in a staged reading of Margo Hammond's The New Me, playing a private detective, which is one of my favorite things in the whole world.  (Good role to love, too, since a fella' can play that general type through many different stages of his life.)  It went well I thought, and I really enjoyed exploring the guy's subtle self-interests in the midst of performing his job.

ITEM!  On October 29th I and my better 50% traveled to Chicago.  It was my first time there since 2001 when I toured through it with the partial-German-language farce I starred in (not bragging; educational theatre).  It was a great trip that really inspired me in unexpected ways, not the least of which was attending the late show at The Second City and being reminded of the value of sketch comedy in constructing commedia dell'arte.

ITEM!  November 1st brought me to only my second participation in a meeting of The Pack.  At said meeting I had a scene from Hereafter read, and received feedback on it.  It was very interesting, and ultimately encouraging for continuing work on the script.  Seems like the answer to making it cohesive may be in streamlining the number of ideas represented in it.

ITEM!  On November 8th there was a developmental reading for a small, private audience, of James B. Nicola's Closure.  In it I read several male characters, and it tested my mastery of dialects, and found it as lacking as it always has been.  Some are naturals at accents, but I need to work at it to achieve consistency, and switching rapidly (occasionally having whole scenes with myself) between them was dizzying.  It was fun to try, though, and good to notice that as the script went along, I got better.

ITEM!  On November 13th I participated in a table reading of The Widow Ranter, adapted by Adrienne Thompson and directed by the acclaimed Karen Carpenter (no, not that one).  In it I played the boisterous, large old Colonel Ranter, eschewing type left right and center amidst a table of over a dozen actors.  Interesting to see all the energy and dynamic shifts with that many friends and strangers with a performance bent in one place.

ITEM!  For the first time with the revised cast, on November 21st The Puppeteers held a developmental meeting in Scranton.  It went well, and rapidly, and of course a great deal of time and work on my part has gone into the show's development 'blog.  It's an amazing - and very much ongoing - process, creating an original comedy from scratch.  We've had two more developmental meetings since, and begin the rehearsal process in earnest on December 27th.

ITEM!  I finally participated in NaNoWriMo!  And I failed!  Well, inasmuch as I didn't fulfill the word goal of 50,000 by deadline.  I did, however, get a great deal of writing done on an actual novel, no matter how questionable its worth.  It was very much fun and very much difficult, as my update-only post for November attests.

ITEM!  For the first time since I was 23 (by which I mean last year, amirite?) I performed in a musical on December 2nd.  Sharon Fogarty's one-act comic musical, Speaking to the Dead, had me playing a game-show host who falls for his ghost-whispering costar in many more ways than one.  Actually, initially I wasn't to sing, but at one rehearsal I gave a line a sing-songy quality and BAM: a few lines of song for yours truly.  It truly was a hoot.  And such a pleasure to finally work with Ms. Fogarty after many near-misses at Manhattan Theatre Source.

So, you know: That.  It's been a busy two months, and likely to be nothing but busy through the holidays and on into January.  The Puppeteers opens January 19th, and that weekend is the only one in which I'll be guaranteed to be in town watching it.  If you have the means and desire to make your way to wintery Scranton, I commend you and recommend it --  it's going to be A LOT of fun.

Merriest and happiest, one and all.