Grounded with Amelia Cavallo
Owning My Identity and Building Healthy Habits
Who are you and how do you identify?
Hello. My name is Amelia Lander-Cavallo, or sometimes it’s Tito Bone when I’m in drag. Tito is your average blind nonbinary bisexual drag king who wants you to smell the world through their nose, ya know? That’s pretty accurate for me in or out of drag. My pronouns are they/them. I’m a slim Mediterranean white human with a brown buzz cut, a big nose and a big smile. I have deep set brown eyes that wiggle and dance around. I like wearing bright colours, including when at home in my pyjamas which is what I have been living in for the past year. I also have greatly decreased how often I wear underwear… if anyone’s wondering. Turns out I only ever did that when leaving the house. Yes I am actually blind. Yes I can actually do aerial. No that in itself doesn’t make me inspirational. Sorry bout it.
Where are you now and what do you do?
Right now, I am near Croydon, London sitting in my office with my window open to my back garden – a statement that still feels odd and wonderful to make. The fact that my wxfe and I currently live in a house that we can afford without sharing with strangers is wild to me. That was not how we started the pandemic.
What I do seems to fluctuate at the best of times, and this year has been no exception. I usually just say “theatre practitioner” which is a slightly wanky term that encompasses most of what I do. Underneath that label the jobs actor, musician, singer, composer, circus aerialist, drag king, burlesque performer, academic, dancer, university lecturer, director, workshop facilitator, access consultant and trainer. This year, many of these jobs have been put on hold. At the same time, the performance project and soon to be actual business my wxfe Al Lander-Cavallo and I started called Quiplash , has really taken off. Quiplash exists to take space for Deaf, disabled and neurodiverse folks who identify across the LGBTQQIA+ spectrum. Through Quiplash, Al and I have found ourselves riding the wave of organisations taking time and resources to reflect on their practices to try and do better. This means we are doing a hell of a lot of training and access consulting. We are doing a lot of talking to others about best practices for inclusive and accessible performance without really doing much ourselves, which is new for both of us. Although, as summer is coming and restrictions are lifting, there are glimmers of potential for me/us to get back onto the stage, even if digitally or remotely.
What was your pathway into aerial?
My pathway into aerial was through the run up to the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in 2012. I am from the United States and immigrated to the UK in 2006 to do my masters degree in music theatre. Without realising it, I landed in a bit of a golden age of disability arts. I think because the Paralympics originated in the UK, there was a pride in showing the best of disabled people, so a fair amount of money and resources were given to disability led work at that time. I was so new to this country and to working professionally as an adult that I naively just assumed that was how the UK was… ahhh ignorance was bliss! I was lucky enough to get free training from a company called Cirque Nova where I had one on one training with aerialists, jugglers, hand-standers and tumblers. It was through this that I found out I really liked being in the air. Alongside this, Graeae (grey-eye) Theatre started working with the National Centre for Circus Arts or Circus Space as it was called then. We met weekly to train in aerial arts specifically. This led up to a four month programme where myself and 42 other d/Deaf and disabled artists trained like athletes to perform in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, something I still hold as a major highlight in my career.
During the Paralympics, there seemed to be this three week period where disabled people were shown on TV, where social justice for disabled people was talked about openly in mainstream media, and where we disabled folks felt like stuff was changing for the better. Then the Paralympics finished, and with it, so did that representation and those conversations. Very quickly after that, austerity set back in and we were all left to fend for ourselves. Luckily by that point, even though the regular programmes for training that I had been in were stopping, I had enough resources and knowledge to continue training myself, so I did. I found myself working professionally as an aerialist mainly in theatre. Often times, folks wanted aerialists who could sing, or singers who could aerial which became my “thing”. Most recently, I’ve started to incorporate aerial into my drag self, getting Tito in the air whenever possible.
What lessons have you learned throughout your career?
Lessons I’ve learned throughout my career are to have many strings to my bow. I know that list of stuff I do seems… a bit arrogant. But there’s a reason for it. Disabled people don’t get to go into mainstream spaces often. If we want to make work, we often have to do it ourselves. So we learn to do everything. All of my favourite d/Deaf and disabled artists are examples of this. I also think it’s a good thing to acknowledge that I’m good at a lot of stuff. It feels rebellious to be like “yes, I’m awesome, wanna work with me?”
I would also say that this year specifically, I am learning how to let go of the idea that my job and my identity are the same thing. For example, I haven’t done aerial in over a year. I think if I was maintaining the idea that I am anything related to my career that I am not doing right now, my mental health would suffer (and has in the past). I have done aerial. I really miss it and hope to do it again when I feel safe. It is something that I love, but it isn’t who I am. I think artists who feel lucky to have their job find this distinction difficult, and I get it. But assuming your job is your identity is super capitalist – individuals are worth more than what they can do for others (She Ra reference for y’all there). Also, it perpetuates a potentially toxic idea that one “needs” to perform “no matter what”… people are dying. I don’t need a live audience that badly. So yeah, I love and miss my job, but I am not my job. That is a massive lesson that I work on daily.
What is in your bio that people don’t know?
Something that isn’t in my biography that folks don’t know about me is that it’s taken me a long time to figure out how queer I am. Most who know me now and have only met me recently will probably be surprised by this, but I didn’t come out as bi until I was around 30, and I only owned the term nonbinary a few years ago. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main one is that I literally thought everyone thought gender was weird and that being heterosexual wasn’t “really” a thing. I also worried that I was weird for thinking these things, as a lot of queer people do. Of course, since jumping into my queerness properly, I’ve become a lot happier, married a wonderful humxn, and infused my identity into my art – note the difference, my art is not my identity, but my identity can be reflected in my art. Is that a contradiction? Probably.
Advice to your younger self?
If I could give advice to my younger self it would be to find queers. FIND QUEERS they will help you. I had that help with a lot of disabled people, and I will forever be grateful for that. I was missing huge parts of my identity for a long time though. Also, get therapy, ASAP. It will help you figure shit out.
Advice for someone starting their career now?
For others starting their careers, see above. You. Are. Not. Your. Job. If this statement makes you feel defensive, pause and ask yourself why. What are you needing to prove? Can you do that thing you need to do without wrapping your identity into whether you succeed or fail at it? What would that really mean for you if you did? Trust me as someone who has fully burnt out multiple times, having boundaries around who you are and what you do means you will be more likely to build healthy habits into your practice. These habits are so much easier to instil when you don’t have to undo toxic ones. Learn early on to say no. Take breaks. Allow yourself to fail. Allow your career to shift as you do, even if that means at times letting go of things you get huge amounts of fulfilment from. Love your job, but find space from your job. Do NOT try to monetise all your hobbies. You will struggle to relax if you do. Thank you for coming to my ted talk.
Any specific learning from the year we’ve just had? A hope for the future?
Other than what I’ve already said, I think I’ve learned that things happen in cycles. I go through phases in my life and in my career. Right now, I haven’t done aerial for a year. I have a pull up bar on the door of my office that taunts me daily because I know that I can’t do even half the amount of pull ups I could do a year ago. Am I still an aerialist if I can’t do a pull up anymore? I mean, yes, if I want to be. But I also don’t have to be if it doesn’t make sense right now. That doesn’t undermine what I’ve already done. In terms of applying this idea of cycles to the wider world I live in, the cycle we are in right now is interesting, and really scary and sad… and also a bit exciting. There are more individuals and organisations than I would like who are still after a year of a pandemic wanting to “go back to normal” whatever that means. Normal for me meant a lot of inaccessible and/or queerphobic spaces. It also meant seriously overworking myself for what currently feels like no reason. I don’t really want to go back to that. But there are also a lot of individuals and organisations who are quietly keeping their heads down and working on themselves by instilling good habits into their practice. That makes me very hopeful. I don’t believe that the world is going to magically get better. I don’t believe that covid is going to end this summer and that we will all be able to go back to licking the floor like we use to (ahhh those were the days). But I do believe there are initiatives that are working to make more space for folks like me and for folks who have more barriers than me. I think working to do better is a radical act, and that makes me excited. I mean, maybe there will even be another little golden age of aerial training in 2022 where a new wave of disabled folks can get trained, and maybe I can get back to training and make my pull up bar proud. But of course, if I don’t, that’s also ok.
Find out more about Amelias work here;
Photo credit: Mark Allen Smithfield
Image: Amelia is dressed in drag with an 80’s fitness vibe, they are standing with one foot wrapped into the middle of 2 red aerial silks and the other extended forwards. Amelia is wearing fluorescent lycra, including leg warmers, wrist and head bands, and a big smile. Their eyebrows and beard are covered in bright blue glitter.