Tag Archives: circus skills

Becoming a Performer: Manuel Garcia

The last blog post I wrote for Circus Mojo was my beginnings with the company and my start of trying to bring joy through Circus. In that first year, my technical skills expanded rapidly, as I learned the various circus disciplines, such as balancing and object manipulation, in concert with the “Mojo philosophy.”

Since then, I would say that I have moved beyond rote abilities like juggling and reciting clowning bits to becoming a performer and an artist. My skills have improved, it’s true- I can juggle two diabolos, run a five ball juggling pattern, and complete sixty casino shows in a month. But the way that I grew the most was in learning to deal with the situations that can’t be anticipated.

I became very comfortable in taking on leadership responsibilities. So often, decisions had to be made to ensure Circus Mojo’s everyday activities went smoothly and because that organization uses an apprenticeship model and I learned to step up and not expect decisions to be made for me. If responsibilities were forgotten (dropping the ball, as it were), I didn’t need anyone to ask me to pick up the slack, it just became second nature.

The group who lived at Mojo got into the habit of planning for a day the night before. This involved assigning gigs and tasks, loading the van with everything we needed, and writing a list of any last-minute things we might need to grab in the morning. We customized our show, adjusting the acts and interactions to fit the age, size, and demographics of the different audiences we encountered. As a group, we became experts at performing in the show while simultaneously running our own music and taking photos. In particular, Rachel, Kira, Rosa, and I became so comfortable in working together that we were able to form an hour (or more) show at a moment’s notice. We were also able to adapt that show to include various performers, including others from the troupe or guests from out of town.

One of my favorite groups to work with was the boys from the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky (CHNK).  They were always eager to learn and excited to try new things. In particular, the diabolo was very popular among them. Whenever one of them would get a trick for the first time, they’d call me over to watch, and it struck me that my approval would be so meaningful to them. As soon as they had the trick down, they asked for more. What I also loved was realizing that I could capture the boys’ attention without raising my voice. They respected me because I listened to them, rather than making assumptions about them. At CHNK and in other classes, I learned my own style of handling situations.

This was vital for the two years I spent as Mojo’s summer camp director. I was the pe11824950_10153451811503758_971320043211185359_nrson who was planning each week’s day-to-day events, as well as the go-to whenever we needed to deviate from any plan. Before summer camp began, we had contingency plans for various situations: where kids could go if they needed a break, what to do if it was too hot to have groups outside, etc. But of course, not every [situation] can be planned for. When those unexpected wrenches were thrown into our plans the Mojo staff became able to deal with them flawlessly. The most difficult days to navigate were when we needed to split our team to cover summer camp, work at the hospital, and various gigs…Sometimes all at the same time!  During those hectic times we’d have to ask Ginny (our fearless manager and roustabout) or Joe (her cousin who’s worked with us in the past) to step in at summer camp to lend a helping hand.

When I came to Mojo, I already had many of the basic skills that I used in shows; I could already juggle, perform with fire, and other object manipulation. Although these skills certainly improved over the past two and a half years, what sticks with me is the idea that being a performer is about being able to deal with whatever is being thrown at me. It’s about all of the heavy lifting that goes into making a show. It’s about preparing an act and performing it in front of an audience…and then changing it on the spot if something isn’t working. It’s about meeting new people and meeting ever-changing expectations. And rolling with all of it (on a big red ball). And in doing this, I have brought some joy through circus.

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A Year of Service, Wire Walking as Community Development

We return from Germany in August 2014 (my 9th year of exchange with CircArtive Pimparello in Germany). When we arrive at the airport, there is  a 21 year old in a long leather jacket and a giant knitted scarf smoking a cigarette… She’s never experienced the 98% humidity that the 275 loop can provide.  Her name is Johanna ~ she’s a wire walker and “buffoon” from Hannover Germany about to embark on a voluntary year of service in Ludlow, KY.
11885786_10153484935468758_8425806540382483903_oHer English is superb as we drive down the hill to Route 8 along the river to Ludlow. I ask her what she’s expecting. “Does everyone have a gun here?”  No, Ludlow is a very safe community but some do. This area still has many racial issues… I pointed out the Stars & Bars of the Confederate flag that flies on a few homes on Route 8.  I explain the Mason Dixon and if the slaves could get across this river they work towards freedom. A year later and the Confederate Flag has come down in South Carolina, but it still flies on Route 8.

Before there were 2 coffee shoppes, three antique stores and a distillery in Ludlow, before the Winkle Bros opened their studio/gallery and before the Ludlow Theatre began its historic restoration and conversion to BIRCUS Brewing Co., Johanna joined us as a volunteer.

Johanna spent 12 years in a youth circus in Hannover and when she wanted to expand her horizons she chose Ludlow, Kentucky’s Circus Mojo. She spent 300+ days developing community with hundreds of performances showcasing the great skills developed via the German Youth Circus system. She has inspired many, from the Ludlow 150th performances to Cirque De Stress in Minneapolis to the Cov200 and All Star Game Celebrations; this talented performer has wowed audiences across the USA!

At one private school we were working at, I sat a child out to watch because she was crying and being difficult. Johanna said I would never get her to participate again.  I separated Johanna from the crying 9 year old; our philosophy is to disengage with people who are crying in struggling to master a circus trick. I offered the idea that I have never seen a child cry from frustration while learning  to walk. Maybe if they’re hurt physically a tear may be shed, but learning circus skills is like learning how to walk. Johanna  worried that the young girl would not want to participate.  I assured her if we let her watch the rest of class and join us when she was ready, we’d hook her. I often say, “Every circus needs an audience.”   The next week for class, I chose not to attend, but asked for the staff to watch for the same girl’s participation and to support it. Sure enough, she joined in. Johanna shared this shift in expectation that afternoon. This is the work of circus engagement and why I need committed volunteers to spend time with Circus Mojo.
Youth from Children's Home of NKY and from Ludlow cooperating  via integrated circus therapy

Youth from Children’s Home of NKY and from Ludlow cooperating via integrated circus therapy

We have been working with the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky for 5 years. Johanna has done a wonderful job encouraging these kids to participate.  Additionally, she has spent 100+ days working at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, from the Residential Psychiatric unit to the Orthopedic Waiting room.  The number of kids, teens, parents, nurses, doctors, and staff to whom Johanna has brought joy would be difficult to capture.

Johanna’s importance to Circus Mojo has gone beyond simply her work as at schools and hospitals. She has also been a valuable asset in terms of cultural exchange. She has acted as a translator of both language and culture between Circus Mojo and Germany’s CircArtive Pimparello. She has also helped pave the way for future Germans to come to Ludlow to work with Circus Mojo.

Cincinnati Children's Spring Carnival Residential Psychiatric Hospital

Cincinnati Children’s Spring Carnival Residential Psychiatric Hospital

Johanna applied to Witten, a private school in Germany.  About 2500 people apply each year and 120 are interviewed  for a total of 35 spots at the university. She wants to study Psychology and we have had many discussions (or debates) on how circus works in the minds of kids, especially those experiencing difficulties. With this year of service I knew that Johanna’s University interview would be very strong. A year at a circus in Ludlow, Kentucky based on community and individual development would differentiate her from the thousands applying for this school. Not surprisingly, she was accepted to the university Witten/Herdecke and will be attending in the fall of 2015.  Most of all Johanna has served as a roll model and coach to future courageous performers.

Tate Wire Art

Tate West ~ Art project Ludlow High School

In 2005 I began an international circus exchange with Sven Alb, the founder of CircArtive Pimparello and I have taken over 100 youth from the USA to Germany; for many of them, this was their first time on a plane. These youth have earned over $1M in college scholarships. Tate’s first trip on a plane was to train and perform with Circus Mojo in Germany. Tate has been invited to spend her junior year as an exchange student in Germany.  

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Johanna of Hannover ~ Tate West of Ludlow

Johanna is the third German volunteer to spend significant time in Ludlow with Circus Mojo, and in September we welcome Rosa Lisa and Kira from IJGD for a year of Service in Ludlow KY.

ABOUT IJGD

“After World War II pupils from Hanover organized the first work camps aiming to promote reconstruction, to reduce negative stereotypes through international encounters and to envisage new democratic forms of living together. ”

Young people between the ages of 18 and 26 can take part in an international voluntary service. They can work abroad in a social or cultural establishment for a year. Volunteers there will get involved in common welfare and thereby make intercultural, sociopolitical and personal experiences. The formation of a supporting initiative is necessary for the participation of the IJFD.

First, it affords participants an opportunity to reach out to other people and other societies. At the same time, the International Youth Volunteer Service helps the volunteers to enrich and cultivate their own personalities through the informal learning experiences that come with the chosen field of activity and the seminars offered as part of
the programme. The young volunteers learn to get along in a new and unfamiliar environment, acquiring social and intercultural skills as they go that will continue to benefit them long after their return to Germany.

Social learning

Life in a group in all spheres of the IJGD is characterised by a social togetherness and a culture of understanding. It is important to us that various needs and opinions are considered and an inclusive togetherness is made possible. To enable this, prejudices should be questioned and overcome.

Interactions within a group as well as a change of perspective can help form one’s own personality as well as (re-) shape an entire society. It can also help in learning social and emotional skills such as the ability to deal with conflict or to cooperate. Social learning describes a lifelong, cross-generational process that is characterised by a self and joint responsibility, communality and civic participation.”

http://www.ijgd.de/en/services-abroad/6-months-or-longer-abroad/international-youth-voluntary-service-ijfd.html

Both Germany and the United States have had their share of darkness, but programs like IJGD and Circus Mojo work to promote social cohesion and cooperation through increased cultural awareness. The city of Ludlow, Circus Mojo and the USA have grown thanks to the work of IJGD, and we are excited to continue working and learning with this valuable program.

We will miss Johanna very much, as she continues her journey back in Germany, but the show must go on!
Thank you, Johanna, for sharing your time,  efforts, and expertise with our community.
May your efforts bear fruit!

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