On Stage

A Length of Rope

Of choices and changes

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bellingham has a boomerang effect. Many people move away from the city of 80,000-plus on a regular basis, but after spinning around the earth’s axis for a spell of time, they eventually come back around.

Although she’s not here to stay, circus artist Ariel Schmidtke is looking forward to her return to the city by the bay after a four-year absence from local stages. And in lieu of a boomerang, she’ll be bringing other tools of her trade—a rope and a trapeze—to share with audiences at “A Length of Rope” performances April 8-9 at the Bellingham Circus Guild’s Cirque Lab.

Using acrobatics and shadow puppetry, the one-woman show explores significant choices every human comes to during the course of their lifetime. The rope and trapeze suspended on opposing sides of the stage represent the struggle of choosing between different directions, whether that pertains to a choice of place, identity, friendship or love.

As someone who’s upended her life many times in the name of pursuing her creative passions—whether it was studying with the Dream Science Circus at the age of 18, touring the country with the New Old Time Chautauqua, or exploring the origins of Nouveau Cirque in Paris—Schmidtke says “A Length of Rope” came about when she realized she needed to move on from a three-year teaching assistant job in Wilmington, North Carolina.

“Though I loved teaching, the public school system wasn’t working for me,” Schmidtke says. “I found I could connect with my students best when working in informal educational situations. I also had to make a decision about choosing between a sedentary career life, and a more transient artistic life. This show came from many of the doubts I felt while working through those decisions.”

Although it was her own life choices that spurred “A Length of Rope”—which she honed living in Alaska for the past nine months and studying at creative nonprofit Anchorage Community Works—Schmidtke hopes audiences will connect to the work in their own way.

“This show is also all about making emotional connections,” she says. “I leave the narrative open to interpretation. Though there is an obvious struggle taking place, I allow the audience to make their own decisions as to what that struggle may be. In that way it makes the show not only cathartic for myself, but for the audience as well. We work through those struggles together, and I hope that by the end of the show many audience members will feel a sense of resolution.”

Prior to her solo feat of emotional and physical endurance,  Schmidtke’s former Capistrano Circus members Strangely and Esther de Monteflores will each be performing their own original pieces. Expect accordion prowess and witty banter from the former, and multimedia slackwire exploration from the latter.

“I have always been in awe of the work Esther creates, and we have a similar aesthetic view,” Schmidtke says. “I like working with Strangely because he fills in a lot of the performance skills I lack. He is great at interacting with the audience and improvising. Aside from that, the members of this troupe are not just artistic colleagues, they are great friends as well.”

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