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Friday, February 10, 2012

A circus of wows and hows at Staller


Photo credit: Handout Stand up 8 an American Circus is featured in performance on February 12, 2012 at Staller Center at SUNY Stony Brook in Stony Brook.

By Steve Parks

from: longisland.newsday.com

February 8, 2012

"We like to let the audience in on our secret," says fire-eating aerialist Allison Williams of the new American circus troupe Stand Up 8.
So if you ever wanted to know how to eat fire, Staller Center is the place to be Sunday afternoon.
"We break the fourth wall throughout the show," says Williams' circus partner, Zay Weaver.
"It comes from our background as street performers," says Williams. "You can go see Cirque du Soleil and be amazed, but those guys probably wouldn't take you out for a beer and talk to you about how they do their tricks or how scary it is. We make a personal connection."
FLYING HIGH The idea of a scripted circus came to Williams and Weaver in 2003 while performing as the Aerial Angels in and around their native Michigan. "We wanted to do something bigger," says Williams, now artistic director of Stand Up 8. In search of investors, they were encouraged to audition for "Dragon's Den," a popular Canadian reality TV show. They walked away from the talent competition with a $250,000 prize -- enough to stage their dream circus that premiered in 2009.
Stand Up 8 -- the title completes the phrase "fall down seven times, stand up eight!" -- features a whip-cracker (Williams, in an appropriate stunt for a director), an escape artist (Weaver), fire-eaters, clowns, musicians, a trampoline champ, a skating aerialist and a guy who eats balloons. Which begs the question of not just how but why?
"We do an interactive dialogue with the audience while we're performing," says Williams, "answering questions people might ask on the street or at the airport. Like, why do we risk our lives and dignity for the sake of entertaining people? There's a vulnerability to the performance. We let the audience know we have doubts."
'NOTHING TO IT' As for secrets, Williams cites some of the show's "cheap tricks." For instance, "an aerial dive" in which an aerialist's fall is broken by a billowy fabric cinched around her foot. "If your foot is wrapped correctly," she says, "there's nothing to it" -- except that it's still terrifying.
Then there's the art of making a trick look amazing. "The hard part of escaping from a straitjacket," says Weaver, "is to make it look hard."
Or funny. In one "escape" trick, Weaver extricates herself from a wedding dress.
The show is part of Staller Center's Not for Kids Only family series. "There's so much visual going on, kids love it," says Williams. "But it's very much a grown-up circus, too."

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