Top 10 Tips for Becoming a Professional Aerialist, or Professional Anything for That Matter

Posted by: on July 5, 2012

Dear Silkies,

Mama Silk is pleased to launch a new feature of her blog “Ask Mama Silk”. Send in your performance and training-related questions, and Mama Silk will do her best to give you the answers you seek.

To start us off, Mama Silk will answer a common question: “How do I become a professional aerialist?”. Here are the top ten answers.

1. Have a strong skill set
You’d think this goes without saying, but it needs emphasis. Have a good strong act. Ready. Now.

Your transitions should be smooth, your legs straight and your toes pointed, and you should not be visibly struggling to get through your act or any particular trick. If you can’t run your routine to perfection three times in an hour or so, you are not ready to perform it. Only include tricks you can execute 100% of the time. Trust me on this one.

Wanna be even more valuable? Get yourself a ground act, too, that you can whip out when necessary. You’re imminently more hire-able the more skills you have.

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry. One good solid act is better than two half-baked crappy ones.

2. Video and Shoot your Act
C’mon people, who doesn’t have a smartphone these days? Even if it’s rehearsal footage, get your act on video. It must be the full act in one shot. Don’t go editing out the trouble spots. Punchy promo videos are great as a teaser and good for public sites like YouTube or Vimeo. But a hiring agent will want to know exactly what they are getting. And, you may not want to give your full act away publicly. Save it for prospective jobs.

Get a friend to take a couple of pics of your best moments. Have them ready to send out should a gig request come in. Send them out to people you’d like to work with.

3. Perform as often as you can
An old adage goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Once your technical skills are honed (through hours and YEARS of practice), you’ll need to develop your performance chops, too. Performing is a skill separate from your technical skills, and is where another level of artistry comes in.

How do you engage with the audience? Is your act clean, but un-emotive and boring? Or, do you have a cheesy smile plastered to your face the whole time? Get yourself out to local showcases to practice performing. Put your act in front of some friends in the studio, and ask them for their feedback.

Also, you’d be amazed informative it can be to put a new act in front of an audience. You’ll quickly feel what works and what doesn’t, what the audience likes and what falls flat (and it better not be you falling off your apparatus). And, if you’re new to aerial performing, you may be stunned to see how much adrenaline can affect your endurance. Your forearms can tire out super fast, and you might just finish your routine 30 seconds or even a minute early. Trust me, things can happen.

Take a performance skills workshop. Ask Mama Silk where you can find one!

4. Get yourself a costume, hair do and make up
It doesn’t have to be super fancy or expensive. But have something that’s suitable for a Sweet 16 or a corporate event. The super sexy sequined bras, booty shorts and fishnets are great for nightclubs, but aren’t appropriate for all events. Remember, you want to look like an experienced professional, but not like you’re from the oldest profession in the world.

5. 15 mins early is the new ‘on time’
Be early for every call time. Be at rehearsal early. Be at the rendez-vous point for the gig early. Be ready to perform 15 minutes early. Being prepared early is a sign of a real professional.

As someone who hires a lot of performers, I can’t emphasize this enough. If I can’t rely on you to be on time, then you come across as unreliable (maybe because you are??), and you make me nervous. I need to know you can show up on time and do the gig on time and allow for contingencies. Things come up at events all the time, and Mama Silk needs to know she won’t have to be running around looking for you at call time.

6. Be helpful
The easier you are to work with, the more people will want to work with you. Unless you are the best, most unique act ever, it’s hard to get away with a bad attitude for long.

Bring whatever you’ve been asked to bring (costume, carabiners, rigging straps, etc) and then bring an extra.

Help out. Carry in an extra bag of gear. Help another performer with their set up. Don’t take on managing the gig, just help out where you can. When the person directing the show has made a decision. Go with it. When you’re the boss, you can be the one calling the shots. It makes the event go smoother for everyone.

Pick up your trash. Leave the dressing room neater than you found it. I mean it. Chances are, your mother doesn’t work there.

7. Respect the Business Relationships
Only hand out business cards for the company that has hired you. They did the work for the gig, they get any leads that result from it. The better job you do selling the person that hired you, the more they will want you back.

Feel like you deserve to hand out your business card because you didn’t get paid a lot, or the gig was hard, or because the client complimented you directly? Or maybe just because you want to be paid more by cutting out the middleman and are dying for your own gigs? Don’t be a moron. This is a sure-fire way to get yourself fired and perhaps permanently un-hired. How will anyone ever know? We aerial folk talk to each other. There are maybe two degrees of separation in this industry. It will get out. And it will be bad for you. If the gig isn’t enough money for you, say no (this benefits our industry as whole, to say no to jobs that don’t pay enough, but that’s a blog post for another time). If you want to promote yourself, go do it — ON YOUR OWN TIME AND DIME.

And, remember, agents do a ton of work on your behalf. Constant promo to get gigs, website maintenance, hours planning a gig, administration making sure the rigging is safe for you, and that you’ll be paid, all the time spent on those many proposals for the gigs that don’t come to fruition. Trust me on this one, too, the agent deserves a fee for their work, just as you do for yours. If the agent can’t make enough to pay their rent, they can’t make enough to hire you. They do all the planning, and you get to show up and perform. Nice deal, right?

8. Have a good attitude – Be Flexible

Stuff happens. Keep an open mind. The schedule may change. The act order may change. The weather may change. You may be asked to do an extra set. Get over it. Don’t get your knickers in a knot. Just do what the situation requires.

(Mama Silk never means that you should say yes to something that is dangerous, that you are too tired to do, or that you should do double the work you were contracted for. Mama Silk means that you should be flexible within reason).

9. Become a problem solver

Be part of the solution rather part of a problem. Everything always works out. Do what you can to make the process as smooth as possible. Not as much stage space as you thought? Suggest a better way to enter. Audience is actually going to be in the round rather than in a proscenium-type setting? Re-choreograph the ground portion of your act to make sure you hit all the facings. Bonus Points: Do it before you are asked.

10. Treat everyone you meet with courtesy and respect
No one likes a diva. Be chill. Every one from the doorman to the president of the company should be treated with courtesy and respect. Remember, you are there to be of service to the people holding the event. They are not there to be of service to you. Thank everyone.

Part of respect includes showing up in a fit mental and emotional state to do your job. Do not show up to a gig hung over or under the influence. I once had a doubles partner almost drop me on in our trapeze act, ‘the morning after the night before’. That was the last time we worked together. Do not imbibe on the client’s premises even after you’ve performed. Take the after-party to a local bar.

Well, Silkies, this concludes Mama Silk’s Top 10 list.

Wishing you many gigs and lots of aerial love,

Mama Silk

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