When Nina Sawant, Natalie Rhae Briggs and Colin Creveling returned to the Bay Area from France in July 2019, they couldn’t wait to put the trip behind them.
A Sonoma County promoter, Michel Michelis, flew the circus artists out for three weeks of performance at the Festival d’Avignon. The work was unpaid, but he offered to cover their airfare, food and lodging, and promised paid gigs in the Bay Area after they returned.
They signed contracts for the festival and boarded their plane, but things didn’t go so smoothly when they arrived on the other side of the Atlantic. Sawant, an experienced aerialist, immediately recognized that the rigging set-up at the theater was unsafe to hang from, so she got second opinions from several professional riggers she knew back home.
“Pretty quickly I got responses [saying] this is not something you should perform on—and definitely not for 17 shows,” she says, adding that tons of equipment would have fallen on her if the set-up malfunctioned. Instead of fixing it, she says, “[Michelis] got really defensive and upset, and he threatened to send us all home and charge us for the airfare and place to stay.”
The performers recall that after wasting several days meant for rehearsal, Michelis ultimately hired a professional rigger. But their relationship with him had already soured…
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