“The theme is essentially FIREEE,” commented President of the Barefoot Monkeys Christa Ventresca ’17 in an email about the circus troupe’s spring show.
On April 15, on the quad, the Monkeys showcased their high-energy repertoire, including hula-hooping, juggling, staff spinning and acrobatic skills. But of course, their Spring Show would not be complete without the Monkeys’ signature incorporation of fire.
“This is definitely the most ambitious show I’ve seen yet,” said team member Jaimeson Bukacek Frazier ’19. For this show, the Monkeys fully embraced one of their most dazzling acts, featuring a lot more fire in this show than in their fall performance. With that said, the Spring Show drew a huge crowd, and it was met with a lot of boisterous cheering.
With such a big turnout, it is clearly well known that the Barefoot Monkeys’ shows never disappoint. But what goes on behind the scenes in making these enticing performances, and how do the Monkeys stay safe?
One thing is for sure—the glamour of the shows comes at a high cost. The Monkeys put in hours of rehearsal in the weeks leading up to it, which is always apparent in their practices on the Quad. Because the show is a culmination of many short acts that feature staff spinning to acrobatics, each choreographer first works within their individual groups to plan their specific acts. Then in the week leading up to the show, the Monkeys come together to run fire practices.
“Most fire practices are only for 1-2 hours, but leading up to a show we could be out there for 4-5,depending on what we need to do to get the show ready!” Ventresca commented.
There is also a certain level of stress involved in putting together the fire shows because of the element of danger. However, the Monkeys make sure to maintain a positive attitude.
As this semester’s team captain commented, “Since I’m partially in charge of fire safety, there’s always one or two stress dreams towards the beginning of the week where I’m freaking out about everything that can go wrong, but by the end I’m always confident that everyone can handle it.”
Frazier agreed with Ventresca that while putting the show together may be stressful, it is okay to acknowledge that not everything will be perfect. As he said, “Obviously things aren’t always going to go like you hoped, but that’s true of any performance.”
In addition to their can-do mindset that helps pull the shows together, the team also puts significant emphasis on fire safety. The Monkeys pride themselves on having one of the “strictest and safest fire regulations of any group fire performance troupe in the nation,” according to Frazier, and they’ve had only one major accident in the history of the team.
For instance, at the shows, the Monkeys have people standing by with fire retardant blankets. While practicing, members are encouraged to perform their acts without fire if they feel tired or stressed out.
In addition, they go through a rigorous training process before they can be approved to work with fire. Frazier said, “People who want to spin fire have to attend a fire safety seminar every semester. Before doing any move on fire, you have to get it cleared by one of the ‘Keepers of the Flame.’”
“Keepers of the Flame,” or “Keepers,” as the Monkeys call them, are the leading upperclassmen of the club that have been performing with fire for the longest time in the group..
The performance this past Saturday highlighted a diverse array of music and choreography, and the crowd responded enthusiastically to the different acts. One onlooker Amelia Carriere ’20 commented, “The Jedi fire fight to the Darth Maul theme towards the end was wildly entertaining. The force is strong in the Barefoot Monkeys.”
Jasmine Rodriguez ’19, who choreographed an act to a Spanish-language song said, “I was actually afraid nobody would sign up, but then I got such amazing people to be in my act. I really like all the partner staff and partner flow wand I added, because I think it’s super adorable.”
The Monkeys on the whole foster a lot of experimentation among their members, and they often incorporate interesting music and themes that surprise audiences at their shows. “We want people to get as creative as they want,” Frazier added.
While the Monkeys practice constantly and care deeply about safety, this hard work is ultimately how they have fun. “Honestly the most fun part is probably having rehearsal every night with the cast, we always get to bond over the course of the week and become better friends as a result,” Ventresca commented.
Rodriguez agreed that the collaborative work combined with the team climate is what makes the Barefoot Monkeys such a fun-loving organization. “I was able to find such good friends in the Monkeys. We are all really supportive of each other and are all about just having a good time.”
In fact, the team is like a big family, and older members love seeing novice Monkeys members become more confident in their abilities. Frazier commented, “The most fun for me has been seeing our new spinners progress. We had freshmen who didn’t know a thing at the beginning of the year who are now choreographing and running their own acts! I’m so proud of them.”
As such, essentially anyone who is interested can join the group, which remains very open and inclusive toward anyone who might want to get involved.. “Our group doesn’t have a strict hierarchical structure. We let anybody come to any playtime (our rehearsals) they want, and we choreograph acts in our shows for every skill level,” Frazier said.
The openness is a definite staple of the club and is an essential reason for why the group is constantly innovating and producing creative and new routines. They give space for everyone who has something to contribute, an ingredient that certainly makes for a great show.
The team president herself first joined for these reasons. As Ventresca commented, “Personally, I kind of joined the club on a fluke. One day I was sitting around bored and heard them making a ton of noise on the quad, so I went out to see what all the fuss is about. Somehow I ended up getting sucked in as a result!”
“But what really drew me to the club,” she continued, “is the fact that anyone can choreograph or add to the shows. I’ve learned a lot through leading rehearsals and found that I love being a part of the process that creates a show!”
Keep an eye out for the next Barefoot Monkeys show, and if juggling fire peaks your interest, don’t be shy. Frazier says, “I just want to reiterate that our open rehearsals are just that—open. Anyone can show up any time to learn.”