Behind the Curtain- "The Maker"
Sara Sparrow discusses themes in modern day etiquette and how to unapologetically get shit done.
I had a splendid time on a Tuesday morning...
with the super cool Sara Sparrow. We talked etiquette, travel and her favorite things with cirque. We also had carbs.
Dana: When did you start aerial?
Sara: I Started circus 13 years ago, beginning with partner acrobatics and doing aerial a year later, as a secondary interest.
D: Oh secondary?
S: I did partner acrobatics with Graeme Quinn, who had been around in the acro scene for a bit. I started doing acrobatics with him and then started doing aerial and it became a bit more of a thing. People want aerial more than they want acro.
D- So secondary?
S- Yeah. You know. It’s interesting, it’s a very different world for the students coming up now. When I started, there were a few of the same studios as today, but they were much smaller. There was the Little Red Studio, run by Bev, who now owns Versatile Arts, Circus Contraption up on the north end, the Cabiri, and there was SANCA. SANCA was testing out the very first incarnation of their professional program, which I participated in, but there was very little instruction. We had a few teachers, but mostly, we just trained six hours a day. It was a pretty amazing resource.
D- Who was the instructor during that first Professional Program (at Sanca)?
S- Kari Hunter and then Chuck Johnson, the (then) owner of Sanca. There were just like, 2 youtube videos back then, there were no Youtube tutorials. We just had to make up our moves, once you ran out of moves to learn. We made a lot of things up.
D- oh wow
S- yeah! Here for example, you know in catchers,when you wrap your leg and climb over. You have to sit up and swim under the tail to get out?
S- NO ONE TOLD US THAT. For years we called that the Loop of Death and you just couldn’t get out.
S- Yeah. No one knew this because wasn’t in the common lexicon yet, everyone was just piecing their education together from the stuff they’d learned here and there. So we just made stuff up and did our best. Things have changed so much in the aerial world in Seattle in the past ten years.
D- That’s nuts.
S- Yeah. So my first trapeze experience: I learned a few moves and I would just sit and play on the trapeze bar, because I wanted to learn but no one could teach me. So I had to make it all up myself.
And I realize this is very different than what I see from students now! There is an expectation that all their moves should come from an instructor, and they want new moves all the time! People are addicted to duplicating youtube videos. There’s not this sense of “if I want something else, I’ll just make it”.
And for those of us who’ve been doing this for 10+ years, we had to make it up!
Same goes for performances. There were a few performance opportunities, mostly created by Lara Paxton, Tamara the Trapeze Lady, and the Cabiri. If you wanted an opportunity outside of that, you have to go to the bars and venues and get it set up yourself.
S- If we wanted a show, we put on a show.
S- If you wanted a troupe, you put together a troupe.
D- (laughs) Yess
S- Yeah, and it frustrates me that sometimes I see folks treating those opportunities with disrespect, like those things just exist and you deserve to have them. We used to have folks getting angry at Tallhouse that we weren’t making performance opportunities for them.
D- *Grunts* mmhmm. I’ve seen that.
S- So when I moved to Olympia, Tallhouse Arts Consortium was running the only show in town, at the Brotherhood Lounge. I was super grateful to jump in on their scene in its second or third year. We made all the shows happen, and our sense of gratitude towards it was huge because we made it, and it was a lot of hard work. Olympia’s aerial scene started with a few classes being taught sporadically around town, at the Cartwheel Club, and at the Capitol Theater. When I moved to town, I started teaching more regular classes at the Cartwheel Club, and interest grew so rapidly that I moved to a larger studio sublet situation every year for the next three years, until eventually we moved into the Aviary. But students here haven’t always had access to training facilities! It has only been the past four years that we have had consistent open gyms.
Students have it so good these days! Ready access to training spaces and quality education and performance opportunities. It’s awesome that the scene is now to a point where there are all these opportunities in place. But people don’t really know the names of the people who built this foundation for them less than ten years ago.
D- People before put in that foundation
S- People put in work, at least in this (Seattle Greater Area) area. You have to give credit to the past. To me, that’s what circus is all about, it’s about community and empowerment and feeling great and awesomeness and you have to pass that buck. The aerial community didn’t used to be a bunch of instagram soloists. Its a weird new world that i’m not wholly comfortable or engaged with: instagram and fb-savvy students highlighting their new skills without giving any credit to the who and where they learned it from, to their studio, to their instructors.
D- Right. My question then is, being part of the aerial community that is using the tools provided by the previous generation, and this is may sound like a cop out...
S- ok go ahead
D- but it wasn’t until around 3 months that I learned we are suppose to credit our coaches. I’ve had so many different coaches, even from other countries and I’ve trained in studios and they say “oh yeah put us on your instagram” but no one ever told me to tag or credit the coach who taught me the move. I didn’t know that etiquette portion. And if I’m honest, it’s because I’ve never seen other people do it.
S- oh yeah
D- So is that a thing. For example, if you teach someone who is a coach and you teach them a new skill do you have the conversation with them of “cite me” or “tell your students this is from me”
S- Not generally. I kind of just assumed they will because that’s what I do. It is a trend that is frustrating to all the instructors I know. Like if I use technique stuff directly from someone else I will say “this is something I got from Laura Stokes” and I’ll credit that and hope that’s something a coach would want to get more information on. I just think it’s important for students to go to different coaches and get different viewpoints, and credit them for what they learn!
D- Oh yeah.
S- Having lots of coaches is so important! You’ll find you get insight into something you’re struggling with better the way a different coach explains it, as opposed to me. You know, the best we can do for our students is to give them all the tools. And I often credit coaches who do things differently than me. Each coach has worked long and hard to get the insight they are teaching you... The least you can do is credit them for their work and expertise that leads to your accomplishment.
The more tools students have, the more they can explore and make something new. I want them to feel inspired, and that makes me feel inspired in turn.
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D: I couldn’t agree more. Okay, now I want to know more about YOU. Are you ready for some Rapid Fire questions?
D: Who are you as a performer?
S: Umm. Okay. Let’s see. I aim to collaborate with the audience. I tend to really thrive off of what the audience is connected to and I’ll alter my performance to suit that. I like to be available to humor. There’s moments where people may laugh at the character I’ve created even though it may be a serious piece. I like to dwell on complex aspects of characters. I am seeking an emotional journey for myself and for the audience. I’m not particularly interested in a gymnastics performance.
D: Niiiice. Next question: Out of your repertoire, what would you say your favorite performance has been?
S: My favorite performance was my solo show
D: Wee Small?
S: Yes, Wee Small. Which I’m looking forward to getting the video on soon. That was my favorite, it was a culmination of all the things I’ve been working on in the past 10 years. Things I’ve put my heart into and I’m proud of how that show came off and I… I just feel so proud. I did a 6 show run with no technical mistakes...
S- And nothing went wrong. That (the show) had hand balancing, rope, trapeze, and carpet juggling. I didn’t miss a cue, or drop a carpet, or botch a move. I didn’t do any of that shit for all 6 shows and that is not an easy thing to do.
D- That’s crazy shit
S- Yeah I’m proud of that. Also, people really connected to it emotionally. So, success.
D: What’s your favorite accomplishment in circus
S- Umm I think doing a solo show is something I’m proud of. And, traveling internationally with the Aerialistas is something I’m proud of. I fully credit the hardworking genius Lara Paxton, founder of Circus Contraption, with those opportunities.
D- I see the photos of the Aerialistas and I just love them.
S- Oh yeah. It’s a sisterhood. It’s amazing.
D- Biggest aspirations for the future.
S- It’s funny you ask. I’m doing less aerial these days. Really interested in directing and producing shows. I think that I enjoy giving artistic feedback and helping people with that process. I’m doing that right now with my new troupe Murmurations.
S- Yeah! And I’m also starting to get excited about becoming a carpet juggler as my primary mode of performance and training more of that. It’s really fun for me.
D- Is carpet juggling new to you?
S- It’s as of… 2015. But backburnered for a while. When I started aerial and acro, it was something I was so passionate about. The community was wonderful and i was using my body in a way that made sense to me. I was able to find a form of physical artistry and it was exactly what I was looking for. When the aerial world began to shift into a world of instagram tricks and gymnasts, I started to lose interest. Don’t get me wrong, the levels of skills being done by people in the circus world right now are mind-blowing! I just am struggling to connect with the art and community of it. I’m trying to find that again through different types of performance, different communities, and create it among my students.
D- Alright. Last question. One piece of advice for newbies.
S- *Pause* Don’t be afraid to make your own path, while still sitting in gratitude for folks who’ve made the path you’ve already traveled.
D- Mmm. Yeah. I love that.
S- Ya know? Don’t expect people to make shows for you, don’t expect all these opportunities to be put out for you. Make things if you want to see them happen but don’t treat yourself like you’re the star of the show. Because you came from somewhere. So be grateful but make opportunities. Just get excited about making good art.
And a tip. The people I’ve noticed who are making their way through the community are the ones are willing to take the reins on helping create opportunities for others, not just sitting back hoping someone discovers them. All while training conscientiously and having good technique and form and manners, of course. Think about how you can create opportunities for you and the people around you as well. Think about where you fit in the larger dialogue of art and the industry!
D: I think that’s amazing. Thank you so much for your time and meeting with me.
S: It was my pleasure! Good gab session.
Thank you so much to Sara Sparrow for meeting with me and sharing her experiences and points of view with us! If you'd like to know more about Sara and her studio, Sparrow Studios, click below.
And if you're a Womxn Circus Performer and would like to interview with the blog please email me by clicking the Contact option at the bottom of the page.
Cheers and Happy Circus-ing