Kevin is a long term member of the Firefly family, as well as aerial instructor! We spoke to him about his recent involvement in the Citadel Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program and their latest production, the Silver Arrow. The Silver Arrow does a wonderful job of incorporating aerial arts into a stage play! We had some questions for Kevin about his experience:
Q: How did you get involved in aerial arts?
A: In my final year of University, some friends that were in a movement class with me took a Taste of the Circus. Once they tried that they mentioned it to me and thought I might like it. Shortly after I graduated, my son was born and my partner and I wanted to try something physical for a “date night” and I remembered what they said about Firefly Theatre. We both did an Introduction to Aerial Arts class, when Firefly was located in a gymnastics gym, and I’ve been hooked ever since. That was almost 10 years ago and I haven’t really stopped. After several years of training and taking classes as a student I had the amazing opportunity to begin teaching with Firefly and I’ve transitioned into that role while continuing to grow as an aerial performer.
Q: What is it like training and performing aerials with the show, Silver Arrow? It’s such a different context!
A: Training for Silver Arrow started with the Banff/Citadel Performing Arts program in February of this year. We weren’t technically working on any scenes in the show, but we were learning elements that were going to be necessary – such as aerials and stage combat. Along with that though we also worked on voice, improve, monologues and scene studies. When you have all of those elements getting thrown your way over four weeks, you begin integrating them into each other. So as we worked on the basics of aerials (as some of the cast had never touched a silk, rope, loop or strap before) we began to incorporate voice and improv into it so we could make the aerials more dynamic. Annie had set forth a plan to get the whole cast as comfortable with the various aerial apparatuses while in Banff so we could make more offerings in the rehearsal process once we returned to Edmonton.
Once we were in Edmonton, the training process became a collaboration between our director, Daryl Cloran, aerial director, Annie Dugan, and the three aerialists – Katelyn McCulloch, Stephanie Wolfe, and myself. Daryl and Annie worked together to determine what was needed for the stage to help in serving the story and then Annie and the three aerialists would work together to make that a reality. It was a challenging and worthwhile experience as we tried several different ideas and kept tweaking things until it felt right.
We were fortunate enough to have access to the stage during the rehearsal process – typically this doesn’t happen until the last week of rehearsal prior to the play opening, but thankfully Annie and Daryl made it happen so that we could put forth the most polished performance on stage. When we’ve done Let There Be Height*, the set is typically minimal and within a mostly empty stage. This can be replicated in the Firefly studio so the performers have the necessary time to sort out spacing and find any issues that may arise. With this production however, there were elaborate set pieces (cogs, a staircase, and platforms) that we had to take into consideration so the aerialists would be safe and comfortable performing in the space. By getting on the stage in the early parts of the rehearsal process, it allowed us to make any necessary adjustments to tricks and staging.
As for performing aerials in this show, it has been a blast! There was a new element that I’ve never tried before, rappelling, that we were lucky to have in the show. Coming down off a 36’ grid in under ten seconds is an adrenaline rush for sure! Some of the aerials in the show are used in a standard way, such as the loop, but then we tried using other apparatuses in non-traditional ways – such as using the trapeze as a swing, swinging from a strap with your foot in the loop, or swinging off 8’ or 16’ platforms on the silks or rope. When we did that it was really exciting as we got to experiment and try new things.
An important thing that we had to keep in our mind was sustainability. We are going to be doing a show 8 times a week for three weeks and we needed to find moves/sequences that served the story and we could repeat without wearing down our bodies. We had to be mindful that some moves if predominately done on our right side should also be worked, during our aerial pre-show call for instance, on the opposite side so we don’t get an imbalance in our bodies.
Q: Will this experience change how you train and perform in the future?
A: This experience has opened my eyes to the opportunities we can take with training, in that we don’t have to use the rope in a static vertical way but perhaps in a horizontal swinging motion as an example. A lot of my experience with straps has been using my hands and not my feet, but with a good portion of the straps in this show relying on foot loops it’s made me appreciate the scope of skills that can be mined from broadening those expectations.
When we were in Banff the group came up with an acronym, ABT – Always Be Training. Even when we had down time, there was always a chance to sneak in some conditioning: push ups, tricep dips, planks, jumping jacks, you name it and someone was doing something. Whenever I can find some time between things then I’ll be incorporating that into my personal training program.
For performing I’ve always wanted to merge aerial skills with character work. This time with the Citadel, and my experience in Craniatrium, Panache, and several Let There Be Heights [all past Firefly Theatre productions], it has continued to solidify the importance of incorporating a character/story in your aerial sequence to aid in elevating the performance for the audience. With the new scope on apparatuses I’ve learned I feel like I have a whole new playbook to draw from when creating a performance piece in the future.
Q: Any advice for aerialists just starting out?
A: First advice I would give is be patient with yourself. Aerial arts are not something that can be picked up easily. I’ve been doing aerial arts for almost 10 years and there is still lots to learn and technique to clean up. I had to learn the hard way that you need to not rush yourself going from one trick to the other because that is when injuries happen – sometimes they are minor and you can get back to training in a week while others can take years of rehab before you begin to feel strong again. If you want to progress in aerials you can always find something to improve on even when you think you have a trick ‘mastered’. There will be an aspect of that move that you can always be playing with and trying it in a different way. That is why I always believe that you need to take your time with learning a new skill because it will take hours of repetition to have it live in your body. Fortunately there are such amazing coaches at Firefly Theatre, when they can see that you are ready to take the next step, they’ll ensure that you get there. If you aren’t ready then they will definitely have alternative methods to tricks you’ve already learned to get you on that path to the next step.
The second piece of advice I would give to anyone starting aerials is to not compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone’s skill set, strength, and flexibility are different so each person will develop at a different pace. It’s hard to put that into practice when you see fellow students trying new moves or advancing at a different time then you are, but it’s something that just happens. You have to pay attention to your own development and set up goals that you feel are achievable. If it takes you 4 months to be able to do a move but it took a fellow student half that time, don’t worry about it. You’ll get there if you keep your determination and focus and it will be worth it when you finally get over that hump.
Finally, just remember to breathe, hold on and go for the ride!
Thank you Kevin for your awesome insight into the whole process, and congratulations on an amazing show! We can’t wait to see it!