Breaking news: Meat puppet needs to use brain and is sad about it

Sometimes you’re cruising up the Hudson staring at green trees and water and you’re so happy you just wanna smash your face into your friends because you love them too much to show affection like a normal human.

Sometimes everything is blarg.

There’s been a lot of changes ’round here lately. Caravan’s still wrestling with coast guard issues, which is frustrating and is preventing us from being able to go to Canada.
If you didn’t already know about the classification issue they faced last year, this article does a pretty good job summing it up: Since then, the Amara Zee became an American vessel, which should have solved the problem, but hasn’t because it’s complicated.

Right, so there’s that. Also, there are a few visa complications, so three of our people have left in the last 48 hours. That’s really frustrating because a) I like them! I want them to stay! 2) they’ve been really stressed out and lastly) we are now short on crew. (Plus, apparently it causes inconsistent ordering systems.) I mean, we’ll likely see them again at some point or another, but we will miss them all the same. :\

Being here in Hudson has posed its own difficulties as well. Obviously we had the drive shaft issue coming up, so we were a little behind, which means that when we arrived we had to go into overdrive to put things together…..and then it rained. Forever. Out of our four planned shows, only one of them cooperated weather-wise. (Ah, the joys of outdoor theater.) We threw in a make up show last night, but again, weather was supposed to be a pain, so we ended up performing inside a tent that was leftover from the summer market. It was…different. It kind of threw me for a loop to -at 4pm- hear that I’m going to be improvising the whole show on the ground. (Because obviously we have nothing to rig from.) We pulled over a few set pieces, like the hacksters’ cages and the torture cages, and pulled in a few lights and managed to get a sound system working. (Our sound designer has been crazy sick for two days and can barely get up, not to mention trying to be cognizant enough to run a complicated show.) I have to say, it ended up being a pretty decent set, and I worked hard to keep an open mind about what what’s actually possible versus what I think is possible. The results were somewhere in between.

There were about 50 or so people in the audience when we started, though by the end all but about 6 of them had left. And of course, since it was in a tent, that’s an hour and a half of ground work for us aerialists. There was a part of me that was like, “C’mon girl, you’re a dancer, make it work,” but ultimately, it wasn’t a really fulfilling show for me. I don’t personally like (and I speak exclusively as a physical performer at the moment) improv as a performance tool. I mean, I love it when doing contact improv with people because it’s a game and it’s play, or using it as an experimental tool during act creation, but it doesn’t really do it for me when I’m in front of an audience. The thing I love about performing is the surrender. It’s what happens when I’ve trained so hard that my brain can give in and completely trust my body.  My whole mind goes quiet and it feels like standing on stage in an empty theater looking out at rows and rows of empty seats. It feels like the space between inhaling and exhaling, and it stretches on forever. A great performance for me means that I wasn’t thinking; I was just a body giving everything a body can give. I was arms, legs, muscles, nerves, bones, joints, and space. It’s so peaceful and soothing, and it’s a way to lose myself while also being my most authentic self.

Occasionally there will be a thought that drifts into my quiet room:

“and reaaaaach”

“hand-foot haaaaaahhhhh”

but it dissipates leaving that complete beautiful silence again.

Improvising is less fulfilling for me because there’s too much thinking:

“GAH! Don’t trip!”

“What am I doing??”

“Do I have anything clean to wear tomorrow?”

“Creepy creepy gnarly grarrrr”

“Make sure to open up to the audience”

“Oh man my thighs are burning” (seriously…an hour and a half of twitching/creeping around in a low squat? Oof, yo.)

“That was graceful, stop it”

“Where am I going next?”

“How can I interact with this person? Oh shoot, they turned away from me and don’t know I’m being scary at them so they can’t react”

“Gah, the cage isn’t squishing. I need more cake. Hrrrnnnnng”

“Man, my sweat is really really salty.”


“What is that guy photographing?”

See? TOO MUCH THINKING. No good. No peace.

Anyway. Sometimes art feeds you. Sometimes it eats you. Last night was a draining one that left me feeling like a husk, rather than full and clear. But some shows are like that, and that’s okay.

There were good moments, of course. Highlights were the Mammon masks, for sure. They have these massive puppet heads with glowing eyes that looked fantastic in the dark tent. At one point, I looked back at them and it was just six pairs of eyes floating toward us and it was super cool. Plus, L’s lighting was really good, especially considering it was pretty much off the cuff! And the scene where we torture Xaraine felt really powerful; she brought her A game and whereas usually we are above her and squishing her in a compression cage, this time we were beside her looking at her face-to-face, which was really intense.

This morning I woke up supremely comfortable. I took a super hot shower last night and scrubbed myself pink and I slept forever and woke up this morning with my pillow in the best spot and my covers all wonderful without being twisted up and when I rolled over, my hair was soft and clean against my cheek and I just felt good.

Some days are just like that.

Sailed up the Hudson to arrive in….Hudson!

(Retroflashback to  about four days ago)

“I don’t think I have the words to accurately describe how much I love this. Last night, we arrived in Hyde Park (just across the river from New Paltz)”

Oh wait, quick interruption. So we left Brooklyn (went past the Statue of Liberty! Beautiful view of the city! Pictures!)

Battery Park!
Battery Park!

Right, so we left Brooklyn which was all well and good, except right after we passed under the George Washington Bridge, one (or two?) of our drive shafts broke so we did this fun little aimless drifting in the water until we managed to get to Yonkers to find replacement parts. We spent the night there, which was pretty lovely!

Sunset at Yonkers
Sunset at Yonkers

OH! And also! We’re not actually sailing. The last little part of the truss stays up (and blocks the sail) so we motor everywhere. It’s a little disappointing, but *shrug*. I’m on white watch, and we go in 4 hour increments. So far we’re not doing any night sailing because we’re all n00bs, but apparently we’ll get to that point eventually. In the meantime, we generally set off ~6am (depending on the tides/current) so the first watch is 6-10, then 10-2, then 2-6, then maybe 6-8. While on watch there’s nav(igation), bow (making sure we don’t hit anything), helm (steering), and floater (dishes, bringing drinks, checking in with everyone). I don’t love being a floater, but any of the other three are really fun! The wheel is surprisingly challenging, so usually 30 minutes at the helm makes your arms burn. Navigation gets easier and means you get to stare at maps for ages, which I’m a big fan of. Being at the bow has the advantage of a great view, getting to play with binoculars, and (if I’m alone) I get to sing to myself. I mean, granted, I could sing to myself anyway, but lemme tell you: there is a reason why I’m an aerialist/dancer. So I generally do most of my singing alone in cars, or with people who sing as badly as I do (or worse). So having a little alone time means I get to sing to myself as much as I want without being self-conscious!

HOKAY. Back to the journal.

“We ate the most incredible dinner, thanks to B and E, who made this amazing cheesy pesto pasta that exploded in your mouth when you bit into the penne. Plus, we got some fantastic apple pie in phyllo dough, which was sweet and buttery and absolutely perfect.

“I’d been itching to go swimming since…well, since forever, quite honestly. After dinner (oh, and a walk in the rain with C!) I sat on the dock reading and dangling my feet in the water. This guy P, who runs the marina, rocked up in his jetski and was like, ‘Hey, where’s that girl who wanted a ride?’ and not being one to miss and opportunity, immediately I just go, ‘ME! I want a ride!’

“He laughs and tells me to go grab a life jacket and in barely a minute I was buckling one on and settling onto the back of this jetski. Soon, wind was peeling back my eyeballs and I was laughing into the wind and water. It felt like flying and I was so wholly consumed by happiness it left an ache in my chest like cheeks after laughing. And after he brought me back (and gave rides to a bunch of others) D sat to read with me. (She was reading a book by the same author I was reading.) Even as it started to get dark, we both kept wishing we could be in the water, and once we both said so out loud, we, giddy with freedom, stripped and there was the most beautiful moment of hearing the shushwhump of extra clothes hitting the deck and the slap slap slap of our feet running toward the water and then my toes curling over the edge as my knees bend, hands up and reaching for the water, arms carving the air, feet pushing and soaring free, eyes closing as the water rushes up to my hands, deep breath and then I’m swimming and laughing and spinning around to see D flying into the water. It’s moments like that where I feel like my most pure self. Being underwater reminds me of who I am.

“We spent ages laughing and splashing in the water and luring others in too. Once we finally pulled ourselves out, D and I sat on the dock wrapped in our towels with water dripping down our backs. Suddenly, she just starts laughing and laughing and soon I was laughing too and I don’t even know why. After forever, our cheeks hurt, our abs burned and the rivers of our hair had mostly dried up. I felt scrubbed new in my heart.

“Late that night, a few of us pitched some tents and slept outside. I fell asleep wrapped up in my friend’s arms, listening to the rain coming down on the tent…and woke up in a puddle. We eventually gave up and skittered back inside to sleep in our dry bunks.

“This morning we had several hours off while we waited for the tide to come in. A little entourage of us headed up the river a little bit to find the rope swing. It was too shallow to use, but we also found a bunch of uncomfortably large bones. A few ribs, a hip joint, a scapula, a femur, and pieces of sharp-toothed jaw. My guess is a coyote. The river was wonderful and the current pulled us along not unkindly. It was a glorious morning.

“Now we’re en route to Hudson, NY, where we should arrive around 8pm. Tomorrow we’ll start setting up for Wednesday’s show! The river truly is beautiful, as the northeast is wont to be during June. If I could spend forever on a boat performing circus, I should always be happy. This is absolutely what I need to be doing right now and I am so thankful for every moment. I am so happy. And of course, I miss the ones I love, but I can go confidently knowing that they are excited for me too. And that they will always be there when I get back. I’m so grateful for friends with adventurous hearts who are always supporting of voyages.

“I am so fortunate. So very fortunate.”


We got to Hudson! Hooray! Everyone spent the next two days working like crazy to get set up for the show. I had another flare up which was less fun and laid me low for a few days, but I’m finally doing loads better today. And good news/bad news, even though we were supposed to open last night, I didn’t miss a show! There was an electrical issue, so we couldn’t start. It’s super frustrating, but ultimately, I think it’s good; everyone was incredibly tired and rushed and this gives us a little extra time to pull ourselves together to give the best show possible. Plus, I think we have Sunday as an optional make up day?

Approaching Hudson, NY

Sometimes (often) I feel like I have no idea what’s going on. I’m getting used to it, but it’s definitely taking a little bit of adjusting.

Oh, also while we were heading up here, we went past Sing Sing Prison and West Point! (Man, this post is just all over the place, isn’t it? And this, kids, is why you make outlines before writing essays. Sheesh.) Both were really beautiful from the water. Also, I keep wanting to talk about the polar bear I saw when I was at the bow, but as it turns out, that was a dream. BUT IT FELT REAL.

I’d also like to just have a grateful moment for all the beautiful hearts on this trip with me. I really appreciated the love and concern coming from every angle as I was flat out. Everyone wanted to offer support and help and though I can’t totally remember everything (pain and meds make for a lousy memory), it was really touching to have people poking their head in my bunk to see if I needed anything, whether it was more water (including purified water when I guess I started going on about how the water was all wrong? Man, I get spoiled), or some crackers, or a hug, or a quick pat. As with any place, the people make the home and I am surrounded by some absolutely incredible people.

Wet shows, navigation, and trying to decide how to do dangerous things safely

This is our last day in Brooklyn! We set off in less than 24 hours. Everyone is really excited to get moving and our next destination is Hudson, NY. We’ll leave at the bleary eyed crack of dawn and then begin our way up the Hudson River, stopping around Newburgh, NY for the night before continuing on. Shows are free at 9 from June 24-27th. Bring blankets & chairs!

Performances have edged away from nerve-wracking and into the fun side of things. At several points, C and I had these little grrrrawwwrrrrrrrrrr interactions that I love. Not only does it help us stay connected (oh, fun moment of being in sync when not performing: on Tuesday we started to take things down. C and I were down rigging (being the people on the ground receiving/directing the stuff coming down) and someone up top called down to us. We both called back in perfect unison, matching words, tone and inflection. L just paused to look down at us, shuddered and went, “Oh god, that was creepy.”). Where was I? Oh right, so not only is it a lovely way to connect with my partner in the show, but it’s also fun to be a sadistic little monster thing that’s excited to torture people with its sadistic little monster friend/sibling/thing! Thursday and Sunday’s shows both got rained out partway through, which is disappointing. Thursday was a sudden abrupt downpour while we were already working our way up to the top of a rope to finish an act, and Sunday was a slow drip………drip………..drip……drip….driiip..drizzle…HELLO I’M RAIN!, so we knew it was coming and we were prepared for when the music cut.

Anywho, so now we’ve got 5 (or 3 and two halves, depending on how we’re counting) shows under our belt! Tuesday we started the break down process of turning our stage back into a boat. The biggest task that I’m a part of is getting the truss (that big platform with grating) down. Yesterday, J and I spent all day up there with wrenches and our hearts in our throats.

How does one take down the truss? Well, if you’re on the shore looking at it, the third on the right (the aft truss) comes down first, then we do the second third, which is the fore truss (on the far left) and then today we’ll take down the mid truss, which is in two long pieces on either side of the sail. So we climb up there and put up a bridle, which attaches the section we’re working on to a winch via the mast (so it doesn’t plummet when released). Then we tighten that until it’s holding  a good amount of weight, and then we (carefullycarefully) scootch to the far ends to loosen the turnbuckles and detach the cables. And then we repeat for all the other cables. I was on the last cable and it was giving me some grief because it’s attached by a shackle (small U piece of metal with a pin across the top so it makes a D when connected) and the pin was still under enough tension that I couldn’t get it out. I probably spent 10 minutes pulling, using the wrenches for leverage, asking it nicely (never underestimate my powers of persuasion)(except, apparently, when trying to convince a pin to free itself), and even just (at R’s command) banging on it. It was being ridiculously stubborn and obviously it was compounded by the fact that I was sitting on the truss adding pressure to it. And the whole time, there’s this little voice rattling around inside my head going, “Hey, Victoria. So let me get this right…you’re taking down a huge piece of equipment…undoing all the cables that secure this…WHILE YOU ARE SITTING ON THE THING. YOU ARE SITTING ON THE THING YOU ARE UNDOING. THIS IS LIKE SAWING OFF A TREE LIMB THAT YOU ARE PERCHED ON. YOU ARE NOT A CARTOON. GRAVITY WORKS.” And that voice was 100% right. In the good idea/bad idea game, objectively that’s a bad idea. But we were doing it safely! Anyway so I’m wrestling with this 1.5 inch piece of metal and R points out that if I could get my weight off of the truss for a second, it’d probably come right out.
“So why don’t you try just jumping? Give a quick jump and pull it out!”
Wait. Wait, hang on, I don’t think I’ve actually described this well. Let’s take a moment so I can paint you a word picture, kay? Alright. So I’m-no. Actually, let’s give you a real picture. (View from the deck)


One leg is dangling into space. That diagonal beam is just a little too far away to provide a secure seat, so I’ve got a bar digging into my bum and my other leg is bracing me on the pole in front of me. The boat is swaying and the truss is doing a lot of wiggling since the other cables came off. Okay, so let’s pick back up:

“So why don’t you try just jumping? Give a quick jump and pull it out!”


I looked at R who was watching me expectantly. And then I looked at J, who was staring at me with what I can only assume is a perfect reflection of my expression. If it were a wine, it would be described as “dubious, with notes of incredulous, aged in a oh-hell-no barrel and with a fruity, horrified finish”. Eventually I did manage to wiggle it out. No jumping involved (thankfully).

Yesterday we got our first navigation lesson, which included learning how all the tools in the charthouse work, how to chart out our location, what to do in case of emergencies, etc etc. It looks like a lot, but I am fully confident that it’ll be a lot easier once we start. And it sort of already makes intuitive sense anyway, so that helps. Also, 5th grade geography lessons came into play! (Hullo latitude and longitude!)

Today is our last day of breakdown and then tomorrow I’m on the second watch (10am)! We’ll arrive in Hudson on Saturday! I’ll make sure to take lots of pictures tomorrow morning as we leave the city.

Show tally: 3!

I woke up this morning to L poking his head in our room and saying something, but from the depths of sleepiness, I didn’t actually hear his words. Then I spent the next five minutes trying to figure out what was happening, especially since I heard a lot of moving around up on deck, which was weird for 8:15. Considering that 1am is an early time to go to bed here and that most people start going to sleep around 3 or 4am, being awake that early means that something’s happening. The boat was rocking quite a bit, but it was also clearly bright and sunny, so it wasn’t a storm issue.

Finally, I swung out of bed and landed on the ground which stirred up the confetti that clearly worked its way in through the porthole. (During the show, there’s a confetti moment and if the portholes are open in our rooms [they are; it’s too hot] then you wake up with a little extra fabulous in your room.) Turns out that the wind -which was been blessedly quiet these last few days in spite of us being in a perpetual wind tunnel- had kicked back up and the scrims were catching like crazy; hence the rocking boat. A bunch of folks were all working together to pull down the scrims, so I jumped up and helped get the second one down. Kind of reminds me of a barn raising, except instead of raising we’re pulling down, and instead of a barn it’s netting for a screen of projections for a political opera….

Okay, so it was like a barn raising in that a bunch of people were standing around in the sun pulling on ropes in a synchronized way? *shrug* There’s a fence by my cousin’s house that always reminds me of a muffin tin in spite of it just being a normal chain link fence. Clearly my associations aren’t necessarily spot on, but I stand by them.

The stage (& scrims!)
The stage (& scrims!)

Pre show:
warm up while listening to actors make weird noises for their warm up
check my box of presets (boots? socks? gold suit? creepy finger gloves? rosin? water?)
hang on rope, climb, invert, yada yada
drink water
check pre-sets again
put on makeup & costume
Ra-ra with actors in the salon
climb ratlines (which are quite uncomfortable if you’re barefoot)
check rigging
check presets up there (water? rosin?)
drink water
check rigging again (and then probably two more times just in case)

And then we go!

I think I figured that during the course of the show, C and I drink probably 1 or 1.5 liters of water. We both preset our water bottles (one below and one up on the truss) and then almost without fail drink most of them and most of S’s (one of our riggers) water as well.

On a related note, MAN does it get sweaty.

Post-show makeup
Post-show makeup

That photo shows that my makeup has stayed on pretty well, in spite of being so hot that there are many moments when I look down and leave little sweat drops all over the stage. (And probably all over C too, actually. Ew. Sorry.) But touch it even a little bit and everything smears all over the place. I actually end up getting quite a bit of paint on my arms, too as a result. The biggest challenge is that lately it’s been so hot that the process of putting it on is a big mess. I managed to get everything kinda-sorta fine and then went to set it with powder and it just went everywhere. But fortunately, it seems to stay just as well without!

In spite of appearances, this is a clean hand. Rosin makes every tiny bit of dirt stick and is really hard to get off.

Tomorrow is our last Brooklyn show, and then late next week after taking everything down and packing, we head off to Hudson! I am so incredibly excited to get moving: it gives me little skipping butterflies in my sternum. I think we’re all a little antsy and excited to get moving. This will definitely be another learning curve because these last several weeks we’ve been learning a ton about the show and production, but now we’re going to learn about the set up/breakdown and actual sailing of the Amara Zee!

Road trip! Er...river trip!
Road trip! Er…river trip!

Opening day

We open today!

I am excited and nervous and a host of other tumultuous emotions and I’m smothering all of those feelings by doing what I do whenever I’m nervous about a performance: binge reading.

Reading while in a handstand is by and far my most valid argument for having an e-reader.
Reading while in a handstand is by and far my most valid argument for having an e-reader.

It’s helpful to remind myself that this is the beginning of a many-month-long evolution and yet I’m sort of feeling okay! Also, the moments when a performer finds out I’ve only been doing silks since March and rope since I got on the boat….those are gratifying moments. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I definitely recognize my progress as well.

I love hearing everyone’s pre-show prep:

yoga stretches and deep breathing
a vocal warm up that involves saying, “me me me mine mine mine mine” in this goofy nasally voice
sliding up and down pitches from a high pitched squeak down to the lowest register
“HA. HA. HA. HA. HA”
ab warm ups
singing parts of the show’s songs

As our performances begin, our merry band is slowly starting to thin out and one by one our production people are heading off to their other adventures. We currently still have quite a sizable group, but I believe by the end of the week it’ll be basically parsed down to those of us who will be on tour.

But parting words with artists are “see you later”, because inevitably we will!

Making a movie about a multi-media-social-justice-circus-opera!

So one new thing that came up that I forgot to mention is that we have a filmmaker/cinematographer who joined us! Ryan Scafuro is filming us for a documentary! He’s been floating in the background during our rehearsals and will follow us up to Hudson once we finish here in Brooklyn. Ultimately, it will be a short piece; about 10 minutes or so consisting of interviews, our rehearsal process, and our show, and his goal is to bring it to various film festivals. (His work has been shown at the Tribeca Film Festival!) Anyway, it’s a little funny to have a camera lingering in the edges at all times. For the most part it’s easy to ignore, but I’ve definitely almost walked into him a few times.

Also, we open in a weeeeek! Tickets here!

Stress and giggles

We open in 10 days.



This, in a nutshell, is exactly what’s been going on this week. Evidently this is the week of duality! On the one hand, we are all panicking about how we are running out of time (which anyone who’s ever performed in a show can attest to). On the other hand, apparently we’re right on schedule and maybe running a little ahead of the game!

The other day, a bunch of my castmates were talking about how all of us feel like everyone else has the hardest job. Like, in my world, I feel like our riggers just work non-stop. They are the first ones to set up for rehearsal and the last ones to break down. They keep me safe. They have to deal with a truly mind-boggling number of rigging changes and adjustments at the right time, with the right speed, and all while being responsible for the well-being of many of the performers. Meanwhile, they think that C and I are insane for doing what we do.

But then the next day, N mentioned to us, “Everyone thinks they are working the hardest. It’s hard to see how hard everyone else is working.” And you know what? That’s absolutely true too. Recently, I overheard the singers talking about the care they need to do for their voices, whether it’s to wear a scarf for a warmer throat, or to take two months out of the year to not sing and rest the vocal chords, or to suffer through the dust that’s scratching everyone’s throats without respite. It’s hard to see someone else’s battle, but overhearing that conversation reminded me that my tool is my whole body and it suffers, but their tool is their throat which suffers too. It was a valuable reminder.

Later, during rehearsal, there was a moment of beauty while improvising on chains* for the first time and receiving several comments about how effective and evocative our movements and shapes were. In contrast, during that improvisation I shifted and arched and was met with a chain being smooshed into my face.

I am a beautiful artist
I am a beautiful artist, full of grace and elegance

(Also, my idiot brain’s first reaction was to try and blow it out of my way, like when a stray hair falls in my face. Industrial chain, as it turns out, is a little heavier than a lock of hair. Funny, that…)

That night ended up being really hard and really funny, actually! In the very beginning of our show, there is an audio cue of this massive explosion. We’ve heard it before, but I’m not sure if the sound folks changed it or if F just cranked it up or something, but we’re all standing around waiting at one point and it got cued up by accident and BOOOOOOOOOOOMMM!!!!!! These epic booms and crashes thunder around us and everyone jumped and then started laughing and whooping and cheering because it sounded freakin’ fantastic.

Many hours later, around 11 or so, toward the end of rehearsal, we were all seriously losing steam and dragging our feet and feeling grumpy and disgruntled, and I started that slow descent into sleepy chaos.

For those of you who might not know, I have a few stages of tired:

  1. Yeah, I could use a nap
  2. Mergh. I want a nap
  3. Okay, seriously, let me go to sleep.
  4. I am cranky and quietly hate everything and just want to push someone into the sand.
  7. zzzzzzzzzzz

Stage 5 lasts about 15-20 minutes and is usually accompanied by bouncing, jumping, skipping, a wild look of glee and seems like a highly caffeinated second wind. It is a lie. It inevitably is followed by stage 6: the “I sound like a stoner” giggles. At that point, everything is hilarious. EVERYTHING. I’ll spend about five minutes laughing so hard I can barely breathe then I am out cold, game over.

Sometimes there is a cause for the insane laughter (ex: my hands, or how weird noses are, or this advice column about children/lizards that a friend wrote in college). Sometimes not. Anyway, at one point, one of our Mammons got a case of the bubbliest giggles and I could not stop laughing at them and then C was laughing and then the other Hacksters were cracking up and our director was trying to rein in a laughing cast but then he caught the nonsense giggles and somehow this very serious show had everyone snorting and laughing and being super goofy.

I think when it comes down to it, laughing is the best stress relief and we were all a little overdue for it.

Sunset view from the stage/boat. Oh Brooklyn, you can be so pretty!
Sunset view from the stage/boat. Oh Brooklyn, you can be so pretty!

*Yes. They hurt. -shrug- Suffer for your art, eh?**

**Oh man, I’ve just noticed I’ve started actually saying eh. Thanks, Canada!