Grounded with Shaena Brandel
Who are you /how do you identify?
Shaena Brandel, she/her
White, Irish (I am very much Anglo Irish as I’ve been in the UK since I was 5!)
Where are you now and what do you do?
I am an aerialist, circus artist, Co- Director of Pirates of the Carabina (POTC) and an aerial teacher. I am based on a farm in South Somerset with my partner Barnz and our son who is 11.
What was your pathway into the professional field of aerial?
I went to Circomedia in Bristol when I was 18. I had no previous experience of Aerial or Circus. I had done a small amount of dance, theatre and lots of music as a child.
I saw a tech rehearsal for an outdoor Aerial show at Glastonbury Festival when I was 17 which changed my life, and I didn’t even see the show! The company were rehearsing on an aerial rig, (I am still not sure who the company was) and I was instantly grabbed by the physicality- strong women in the air trusting themselves and each other, and I said to myself ‘I WANT TO DO THAT!
The following September I went to Circomedia for a 3 month introductory course. It was a big shock to the system- my body was not strong at all- I was tall and thin and it took me ages to build up my strength and coordination. I wanted to stay for the year ( it was a foundation course as there was no degree at that point) and they said no. It was a massive blow to my confidence to be turned down, but as there was an amazing supportive circus community in Bristol I started training with a great group of people at the Albany Centre and we supported and encouraged each other. I also took classes with Jackie Williams (Circus Maniacs), Mike Wright and Abigail Yeates (then GenCo) and seized every opportunity that I was offered. I started training with my best friend Helen Finch, and we set up a duo -Cirq-U performing together for 7 years.
Your wisdom and lessons learnt; what advice would you give to your younger self and to any artists emerging now
Follow your heart, working in the creative arts it is the thing that will sustain you the most! Find your own way creatively, there will always be people who are technically better than you, so as long as you cultivate your individuality you will do well. Make your own work, be brave. Cross train- I think Pilates has been the thing that has done my body the most good and sustained my Aerial career. In the first lockdown I also discovered Barre, and I highly recommend taking a class, I try to do 1-2 classes a week now.
Share something that’s not in your biography.
After I had my son I was really impatient to get back to Aerial and performing. I did a project with my sister (Dancer Tara Brandel) in Ireland 3 months afterwards and my first show back was at 6 months (At Glastonbury Festival in the Circus Big Top). I think I was desperate to prove myself and that I could do it all! In retrospect I wish I had taken more time. I wasn’t really physically strong enough to perform yet, and children grow so fast and you don’t get that time back with them.
Over the last 10 years my relationship with performing has changed. It is still something I love doing, but my ego is less involved now- I don’t HAVE to do it anymore. It is part of who I am but it doesn’t solely define me. I still love exploring and developing my physicality, and that is the strongest pull to keep doing Aerial.
And any specific learning from the year we’ve just had?
As an aerialist/artist in my early 40’s, having time over the past year to be introspective has been amazing, and something I don’t think I would have made happen otherwise. I am well aware how privileged that sounds- I have been teaching teenagers Aerial and ‘Floorial’ remotely (and in person when possible) over the past year, and I know how hard COVID restrictions have been for that age group particularly.
We have a small 5m high workshop at home so I had been very lucky to have access to training throughout. Training at home can feel very solitary, so I have taken online classes, taught and trained and created work remotely with my sister, Barnz and others. During the first lockdown POTC had some emergency funding for a remote project- PLACEDISPLACE with some of our core Circus/ visual arts freelancers. We trained together, and shared creative ideas making a series of short films about the process. And Barnz and I have also been part of an amazing remote creative project DevolutionEvolution with Tangled Feet
As a company our whole approach to making work has changed a lot over the past year. It has given us time to re-evaluate, and be mindful of the way we work. A large majority of our budgets now go straight to the artists we collaborate with as without them we wouldn’t have a show or company! Barnz and I are currently making and previewing a new outdoor show Pirate Taxi, which we have written & directed between us with a brilliant team of creative collaborators. Whilst touring our bigger shows currently feels v complicated because of Covid/ Brexit etc. Pirate Taxi is a show on a smaller scale, with only 2 performers and a completely sustainable set/ infrastructure based around a London Taxi. It is really a reaction to these times.
We will be touring the SW this summer- Circus Around & About with the rural touring network supported by Crying Out Loud & Take Art.
See Crying Out loud for further details.
I hope this time for reflection, and continuing to question what we do and why is something we will take forward into our future way of working and living on this planet!
You can follow Shaena and find out more about her work here:
Photo credit: Jo Newton
Image description: Wearing yellow trousers, a long sleeved top and in near silhouette against a bright blue sky, a woman dances in an aerial hoop, suspended from a large aerial rigging truss. One foot stands inside the hoop whilst the other leg extends high up to catch behind one of the rigging ropes, as she arches back over the top of the hoop, arms extended sideways.
Below her, an audience sits around the edges of the stage, entranced by her performance.