Behind the Scenes: Alisan Funk

Hello all,
This summer we’re going to be highlighting work from all across the circus lot with guest blog posts by coaches, tent crew, the pie car and more.  I hope you enjoy our first guest writer, Alisan Funk, our head aerial coach!

“They arrive for rehearsal. I assess – how bright are their eyes? Are they attentive, hungry for the next piece of the puzzle? Or are they crumbling under the heat/cold/ rain/fatigue? Are they focused? I need to decide if pushing them today will lead to confidence, endurance and skill, or if it will risk an injury. There are only 3 more rehearsal days until the show.

Fabric Practice with Alisan (Photo by Tyler Parks!)

Fabric Practice with Alisan (Photo by Tyler Parks!)

Here is the goal: Create a circus act.

Here are the conditions:

– I must get to know the performers (diversity of technique, learning curve, endurance, etc.);

– I have 14 rehearsal days to research, create, teach and perfect a 4 minute act;

– Including technical and dress rehearsals, that equals only 10 hours on the equipment between the first day and the first show;

–  My performers need to shine and be excited about their act, so I gear new technique towards tricks I suspect they will achieve;

– Their act should fit the show, so I direct artistic research towards thematic movement;

– The act must be technically proficient, safe and well within the boundaries of their endurance;

– I have been challenged by Jesse, the Creative Director, to design something never seen before, or at the very least an act that has never been in our ring;

– And of course, my creation must fit within the technical restrictions of the tent.

The troupers work incredibly hard, yet it often feels as though I am holding the act together through willpower. No problem. This is my 8th year wrangling all of these factors into acts that challenge the troupers, inspire audiences and make me proud.

Coaches meet every day. How are the troupers holding up? Is the fatigue physical or emotional? What is the best way of empowering each individual to self-assess, pace out her energy and rally her emotions? Each performer is a unique combination of age, experience, training and personality. As Smirkus coaches, we are invited to facilitate their development both as performers and as people. We thrive on the opportunity to be so invested in our students.

Alisan Checks-in with Trouper Sydney

Alisan Checks-in with Trouper Sydney

We have precious little time to accomplish all of this. Such little time! Three weeks from the day they arrive to the first show. It is precious because it is comprehensive – everyone on site is working to build the same show, each from their own angle. We live the exhilaration of mono-tasking because the opening show dominates our horizon, only several rehearsal hours away. This time is also precious because it is rare – a chance to be fully immersed in the creative process. I don’t even have to prepare my meals! Every moment outside of rehearsal I get to spend prepping, planning, thinking, and listening so that during our time in the tent I have the answer to every question; the act achieves forward momentum.

Repeating the same show is both exciting and challenging, and ultimately something these exceptional young artists are ready to achieve. Beyond the daily training, I aim to instil long-term responsibility for their act, respect for their partners and gratitude for their audiences. The act becomes a vehicle for understanding themselves. Every time a trick doesn’t go perfectly, or there is a musical or lighting glitch, they learn to recover gracefully and maintain professionalism.  When the weather challenges them, or they replace another artist, they learn to monitor their energy and safety. If they are unable to do a show due to extenuating circumstances, they will support their troupe. They learn the valuable lesson that ‘this too shall pass,’ and that they are always a whole person – regardless of the tricks achieved that day.

Practicing on the Outdoor Rig for an Act

Practicing on the Outdoor Rig for an Act

My job is not only act creation. I draw my performers to a common goal and inspire them to see their own power and grace. I am tasked with simultaneously driving them to excel while holding the mirror to their magnificence. The act is ready as it becomes theirs. When they find love for each movement, for each partner in their group, they own their performance. Once the act belongs to them, it will grow on the road where it transcends being a string of difficult tricks and becomes a gift for the audience. Look – I made this for you. Thank you for coming and letting me share it with you. I worked hard to make it, I hope you enjoy it.”

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7 Responses to Behind the Scenes: Alisan Funk

  1. Beth Schoellkopf says:

    Really enjoyed reading this – thanks!!!

  2. Jen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! Reading this only deepens my respect for the whole process, and all the people that go into creating the show. I can’t wait to see it this year!

  3. Miriam Rosenblum says:

    Alisan – Thank you for sharing your astute and fascinating reflections with the larger Smirkus audience. Your expertise and wisdom coupled with your dedication to bringing the best out of each trouper with whom you work gives us, the Circus Smirkus audience, an awe-inspiring show year after year. Much appreciation to you and the other wonderful coaches who make it possible.

  4. Trish Williams says:

    What a nice reflection of all the unseen work that goes into getting the show on the road. I really enjoyed!

  5. Lisa Mattei says:

    Really enjoyed reading this and seeing the process through your eyes Alisan. You and the team do an amazing job!

  6. andy bell says:

    Great story well told. Thanks!

  7. Reblogged this on The Circus Diaries and commented:
    A fantastic insight into the role of an aerial trainer, from Alisan Funk of Circus Smirkus youth circus in the US. Psychology plays a leading role in the physical training, and the physical training has a psychological impact of its own…

Comments are closed.