GV alumna joins 'reality' circus for first performance in Michigan
Courtesy Photo / Dan Lines
Kimberly Olson-Wheeler suspends in mid-air during the performance.
When it comes to performing complex feats such as aerial acrobats, trampoline gymnastics and fire eating, there are bound to be complications and everything will not always go perfectly.
One circus company has committed itself to showing audiences the reality of performing such stunts and the perseverance required to execute them correctly, even incorporating the concept in their name: fall down seven times, Stand Up Eight.
Stand Up Eight is a unique reality circus company comprised of performers from across the U.S., including Grand Valley State University alumna Christianne Sainz.
The group will share its acts with the West Michigan community at 6:30 p.m. today at Paw Paw High School Performing Arts Center.
Sainz graduated from GVSU in 2006 with a degree in theater. She is a trampolinist for Stand Up Eight, performing moves based from her background in gymnastics.
“I love the fact I get to be on stage and act, do the sport I love and work out and stay in shape,” Sainz said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Sainz, a Grand Rapids native now living in Los Angeles, said she is especially excited to return for their first show in Michigan so she can share her talents with family and friends.
The best act of the show, for Sainz, is when several performers bounce off a trampoline to run up a wall before flipping through the air to fall back to the trampoline.
Stand Up Eight has performed only a few shows together since its start in May 2009. With group members scattered across the country, the performers are individually responsible to rehearse their routines before the group comes together for a few hours of practice for each show. For many of the group members, performing is a full-time job taking up to 25 hours a week of practice.
One unique aspect of Stand Up Eight is the “reality circus” approach the group takes, getting to know the audience and sharing personal stories. Sainz said it has more of an impact on the audience.
“People really enjoy it,” Sainz said. “They hear our story, get to know us personally and people take that with them. It gives them hope and a dream to see it doesn’t really matter how old you are, you can always run off and join the circus.”
Sainz began the path to her current dream job at GVSU. Artistic director of Stand Up Eight, Allison Williams, hosted a circus workshop on GVSU’s campus a few years ago and was introduced to Sainz.
Williams said she immediately had a good impression of Sainz.
“I thought, ‘This girl is cool. I totally want to work with her,’” Williams said. From there, Williams recruited other performers and the group took their concept to compete for financial support on a Canadian reality show, “Dragon’s Den,” in October 2008.
Williams, a whip cracker in the show, described “Dragon’s Den” as American Idol for entrepreneurs. Stand Up Eight impressed one judge enough to win $250,000 to jump start their production.
Since then, the group took last summer off to focus on their individual performances before regrouping in February to kick off the new season.
Williams was also enthusiastic about the concept of a “reality circus.”
“We talk to the audience and they meet the performers,” Williams said. “That’s what makes us different from Cirque du Soleil. They meet the performers and see we are real people.”
One of the challenges of circus performing that Williams cited is the frustration of messing up a new trick. She said it can be hard to keep practicing, especially when it hurts to land a trick wrong. But at the heart of Stand Up Eight is the importance of perseverance.
Williams said her favorite part of performing is getting to be funny and entertain the audience. She also wants to inspire people to do their own work in whatever area that may be.
Kristofer Perkins, event manager of the Paw Paw High School PAC, said he is also excited for Stand Up Eight to inspire members of the community.
Perkins said Stand Up Eight originally contacted him about finding a practice facility and the idea for the show emerged. All ticket proceeds from the circus will go to Paw Paw High School.
“It’s a great opportunity for a family to have a fun night out without costing an arm and a leg,” Perkins said.
Admission is $4 for tickets available at the door. The PAC will open between 5 and 5:30 tonight with the show starting at 6:30 p.m.
After the Paw Paw performance, the group will continue its tour in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Florida. The group will return to GVSU next fall as part of the university’s 50th anniversary celebration.
More information on the group is available at http://standup8show.com.