Grounded with Alfa Marks
Who you are/how you identify? Any specific learning from the year we’ve just had? Or not!
I am Alfa Marks, a short 32-year-old, opinionated, black female. I use to identify as a performer – an aerialist. It was more than what I did, it was who I was, where I lived and where in the world I had travelled. It was the friends I had and how I met my partner. It was the shape of my arms and shoulders, the scars on stomach and the reason my ribs made a clicking sound when I took a deep breath. It was the reason I missed friend’s weddings and family gatherings, and why I assumed I’d be broke forever! The cause of untold anxiety and self-doubt, it was the thing that gave me purpose and lit me up.
As I write this I’ve been in the air just once in the last 11 months. So, I feel like I’ve lost a bit of me. My Facebook profile picture shows a ripped black superwoman, now I have belly rolls where my six pack use to be. But my body hasn’t failed me. It has done something more amazing than it ever did when I was performing 5 shows a week, 10 metres up over concrete. It made new life. My organs literally rearranged themselves to accommodate a growing human.
My body nourished my baby girl for the 9 months she was inside me, and she has eaten nothing in her 3 months but breastmilk alone. So, this body continues to do amazing things, but those things have changed somewhat!
1st of March 2020 I found out I was pregnant, I had months of work lined up which I was super excited about and my career was on the up. My decision to have this baby was a tough one but I felt connected to the tiny being inside me, and I made the life changing decision to become a mother.
Days after this decision the contract I was working on was cancelled due to COVID-19, then came the 1st national lockdown and our industry was shut down, yet to recover. I’ll never get over the timing of my pregnancy. I’ll be eternally grateful that I had a focus, a source of happiness and hope during this dark time. It has been utterly heart-breaking seeing the performing arts industry being decimated. Treated like some inconsequential hobbyist activity, an industry that people happen to find themselves by chance rather than undertaking years to their training to enter.
The pregnancy shielded me from the full force of the pain and stress as I was unable to work at the same time all work was disappearing. Being a mother has changed my priorities and I now crave stability which my life as a performer never provided. As such, regardless of the pandemic, I’m unsure whether I’d have wanted to pick up where I left off.
I feel strongly though that unless we want to, performers should not feel as though they have to retrain due to the pandemic. For some being a performer is who they are, not what they do. Right now I am Alfa Marks, 32 year old, mother of Faie. My life is unrecognisable to that of Alfa Marks The Aerialist, but I owe her a lot.
What was your route into aerial? Share something that’s not in your biography.
I trained as a dancer at the London Studio Centre graduating in 2010 with dreams of becoming a contemporary dancer. Four months after graduation I was yet to make a penny from dancing. In the November I had 2 auditions on the same day. One for a contemporary dance show (which unsurprisingly paid terribly) and one for a run of corporate Christmas shows for Incandescence Circus Theatre Company. I was offered them both, mainly due to financial reasons I chose Incandescence. This decision shaped the next 10 years of my life.
I was one of 4 dancers working alongside a hoola-hooper and three aerialists. This was the first time I discovered circus outside of the travelling tented shows I’d seen (and hated) as a kid. These performers were incredible, fierce, powerful and fun! We lived together for a month or so in a big house in Leicester; we partied and drank too much and it was still one of the most fun contracts I ever had. I was so enamoured with these performers I didn’t even take them up on their offer to try their craft, but my eyes were well and truly opened and my interest peaked. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it but I wanted to become an aerialist.
I auditioned to be an apprentice with aerial company Upswing but I was unsuccessful. Classes were super expensive and I had no money (plus a class once a week wasn’t going to get me to where I wanted to be anyway). Christmas 2011 I worked for Incandescence again, this time I took Lyn Routledge, (amazing aerialist) up on the offer of some rope lessons, I loved it. That December I found an audition for Gerry Cottle’s Circus.
They were looking for two strong dancers to train up as circus artists and join the ‘Wookey Hole circus troupe’ for the 2012 season. I got the job!! I trained 6 days a week for 6 weeks or so then we opened. We performed 2 shows a day, 6 days a week for 7 months with daily training before shows. I remember every single millimetre of my body being in pain all the time but I was loving it. It was finally happening and I was being paid to learn.
Throughout the tour I lived in a bunk wagon and travelled every week to different site around the country. I had gone from dreaming of being an aerialist to my whole life being circus overnight. When I got back to London after the tour, I had no contacts as traditional and contemporary circus are two different worlds. However, I was physically strong and had the drive to find work. It took some time and a lot more training but I eventually carved a career out for myself as a rope artist.
There have been many times I’ve wanted to give up, I even applied to university to get a real job in 2015. It can be a tough lifestyle, you can finish a job, have an empty diary and convince yourself you’re never going to work again. But then I would get back on stage and decide I most certainly was not finished. I’m proud of all I’ve achieved, I may not have ever made it into Cirque du Soleil which for many is the benchmark of success for a circus artist. However, think 21-year-old me would impressed with some of our achievements.
What lessons have you learnt through your career?
- The work will come in eventually and will definitely all clash.
- The work that pays the best is not the best work.
- You will have vastly contrasting opinions to casting directors on what jobs you would be perfect for.
- Only a few jobs will come as a direct result of an audition, it will mostly be recommendations and word of mouth.
- You have to find something that makes you different so that you don’t blend in.
- Festivals have the best audiences.
- If you don’t like the way a particular company works you have to speak up. The fear of not having a job should not mean you should put up with being treating badly.
- Not getting the job you really want might end in being the best outcome.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
You will get to where you want to be, the hard work will pay off. Stay focused and don’t give up. Stressing doesn’t help, trust you are on the right path and that it will work out ok in the end.
Your advice to someone just starting out now.
This is tough, I can’t imagine a more uncertain time to be an artist. I hope we get our industry back but right now it’s a very scary time to embark on a career in the arts. You need to invest so much time and money and now more than ever you can’t anticipate what return you can expect. I would say make sure it is 100% what you want to do and be prepared it might be a rough ride. But if you want it, go get it!
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Post Photo by: @bodiesinmotion.photo