Circus News

The Guide to A Modern Circus Artist’s (Not Always So) Digital Tool Box  

There is no right and wrong in art. So much depends on the context, timing, mood and message. Compare that to business where concepts are defined and the result depends on precision and clarity. But there is much overlap between art and business. This has never been more true then as it is right now.

There’s a new form of busking happening on the corners of the internet

This article was originally written before the pandemic had hit and when the apps reviewed here were just a means to better marketing organizational tools. Now many of these apps, especially the ones that provide a sense of social activity, have taken on a cultural and psychological importance of their own. Online meeting rooms have become a performance platform for your stage. The tools have gone from being mechanical cogs to bloodlines of connectivity. If you’re a performing artist, you need an audience to be paid, and many of these platforms can be used as a way to perform, to fundraise and to be tipped. There’s a new form of busking happening on the corners of the internet, and though everything has now shifted to online, you must still complete dozens of daily administrative tasks that have nothing to do with your art. The distractions may now be even harder to resist as much of our social life has moved online and it is harder to hit pause. Yet who can function without answering emails, scheduling and attending events, booking shows, online auditioning or creating even more online content, and all while following in-home training schedules? The question now is how to best manage these administrative tasks.

Productivity tools are a godsend for artists and now a lifeline to the world outside of your walls. Many tools are available but some are far better equipped to help artists stay focused and continue to create and share their talents with the world. Let’s dig into some of the options:

Project Management Tools

management toolsProject Management Tools (PMT)are used to assist an individual, or group, to keep their creative endeavors on schedule and provide a (digital) paper trail. These apps help keep scheduling, planning and delegating work all in one place. They are often quite visual and show tasks, folders, templates, workflows and calendars. 

Monday is an online meeting place for ideas and collaborations. It utilizes blocks of colors and preset template designs to organize your different ideas and strategies. There’s a free trial but the price jumps to $39 per month for five or more users.

Asana is very similar to Monday, however, you can connect more than just tasks. Team members can comment on tasks and project views. It can be used for free for up to 15 team members.

Trello is very easy to use and appeals to my sense of nostalgia (with its cork board design) and use of color. The program is intuitive and easy to set up. The graphics provide a fantastic visual online space to organize your thoughts, goals, and steps to success in fun, color-coded ways. Trello uses online “Post Its” that you can move and organize. This documentation can be shared privately with a few or a large team. I envision the program as being useful for tracking long term creative goals and working in theater design or production. Trello is free at the basic level.

Planning Strategies

Life as a creator is busy. You have to keep track of appointments, auditions, jobs, emails, and callbacks and more. This is where planners come in handy. For the performing artist, planners can be a place to track habits, keep supply lists, jot down rehearsal times or even act as a scrapbook of performances. They can also be a place to brainstorm about tweaks, workshop ideas or to sketch out set designs during the early phases of a show.

Planners

In today’s world, you can keep track of appointments and deadlines in an old school paper planner or on a downloadable app. If you prefer the speed of digital media, an electronic planning app will be best for you. Setting it up on your smartphone will give you a very portable planner. Also, digital apps are backed up, so if lost they can be recovered unlike with a paper planner. 

Todoist is an established “to do” list digital application. This mobile app is free to download and use. One of the plus sides to using a digital app is that you can take it anywhere and there is no chance of losing ideas you scribbled on paper. You can create digital lists, folders for projects and record different ideas in app too. 

Passion Plannersare a hybrid paper journal–offering a versatile personal journal, weekly planner, bullet journal, and a “to-do” list all in one place. It is marketed as a creative way to attain your long and short term goals while finding inspiration. I like the visual design of the calendar and creative prompts. It includes the template design mapped out in daily, weekly, monthly, and three-month goals sets. There’s even extra paper to write your thoughts, quick notes, and to sketch on. The journals come in three different sizes with a small version (5.8 X 8.3)that can go stash easily in your day bag. Incidentally, you can download a free printable thirty-day template from their website and try it out before purchasing.

Promotional Tools

It’s difficult to be the creator, the manager and the promoter all in one. At our core, most of us just want to create and not spending so much energy on promotional work. The following apps will make it quicker and easier for you to gain recognition and help promote what you do.

Campaign Monitor is an online service that provides hundreds of pre-made templates addressing all your business email needs. For example, you can confidently send off your resume, or email invoices to be paid, followup on submissions, or a hodgepodge of other email services and announcements. Campaign Monitor has a free trial period. When you grow out of it (by sending an email to 5 contacts, or transactional email) you will be prompted to start a basic plan which is $9 a month.

Sprout Social is a social media app that combines all of your social media in one place. It links Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. So when you post, you can post across all platforms in a single click. In addition, the software watches and analyzes your friend’s behavior on social media platforms, so you’ll know when is the ideal time to post. You can also set alarms to post theater openings, ticket sales availability, or low ticket count warnings. With the prevalence of social media, this is potentially a highly beneficial tool for any artist, actor, musician, or circus artist. There is a free thirty-day trial period to explore if this app matches your needs, then the cost jumps up to $99 and more a month based on your needs (basic, advanced, professional).

Communication Tools

In life, creators desire and seek out a community to feel connected and less alone. To give birth to ideas, plant seeds of change, sow their training, till out their expertise, and sell their golden crop of services– in both business and the arts. Especially now when we are social distancing, self-quarantining, and under shelter in place orders. Our physical worlds have become smaller, but our reach through technology has become broader. In order to reach a larger audience, performers must have the understanding and access of the right tools to share their trailers, teasers, showreels and live stream events. What are the top apps and websites for getting your visuals out there and connecting with your wider circus community on important industry topics or the state of our world? How do you let people know that you and your art is still there?

This might come as no surprise now that the pandemic is here, but Zoom is an online video conferencing platform. It can be used in large group settings with multiple hosts and moderators. You can share data, annotate, in video and/or audio conference.Meetings can be archived for later viewing. This is currently a popular tool for live streaming performances and panel discussions. Dance and circus teachers who are now unable to teach in an in-person studio, are adapting their classes to this online format. So they can teach and correct form and technique in real-time, keeping the vibe of an in-person class intact.

online circusAnother platform you may be familiar with is CircusTalk.  But you may not be aware that it is not simply a circus news source but rather a one-stop resource for everything pertaining to the art of circus and the variety arts. It does cover all of the latest news on shows, festivals, tours, circus schools and organizations around the globe, but you can also connect with other artists and access or share auditions and job listings. CircusTalk is currently the only free online resource specifically for and created by the circus sector. There are several membership tiers, and at the basic membership you can access most of the features for free. Responding to the needs of an industry that is currently not able to perform live, in-person shows, CircusTalk has released a new free feature that allows creators, companies, circus educators, studios and schools to sell tickets to Livestream and pre-recorded shows as well as to collect fees directly for classes and workshops taught online. There is also a free or ‘pay what you can’ option for all events and classes. 

Slack is essentially a real-time chat room that makes email obsolete. It takes the place of texting and phone calls and even allows photos and videos to be uploaded. You can connect on different channels and engage everyone, or a certain group of people, depending on your needs. Every discussion is archived and easily searchable. This tool could be handy for a team planning performances with a channel for different teams and tasks, circus performers, set designers, costumers, load in, load out, directors, choreographers and so on. It’s a way to keep everyone connected and the different workforces up to date. 

Honorable Mentions 

Facebook Live, Instagram and Twitter….before the events of the last week, I honestly would have left these off of my list because I thought they were tired and overused. But now there is a grassroots movement to not only share your ideas with like-minded people online in real-time, but to also show your work, or a work-in-progress, from your living room. A stage is a stage, and with this concept performers are reclaiming their voice, their stage, their importance, the validity of the arts. People are seeking more connections through their isolation and this technology facilitates it.

Time Management Tools

circus from homeThere are only 24 hours in the day and we all know being an artist requires a huge time commitment and focus. How do you juggle training, rehearsals, auditions, possibly a full-time job or several part-time jobs, family, appointments, and your sanity?  Time management apps may be the answer you are looking for.

Hours Time Tracking is a time tracking app for small businesses and freelancers. You can track web use, clients and tasks. There are three features that can be utilized within the free app. You can log your time manually or in real-time and save them onto three different levels. Hours Personal, Hours Professional, and Hours Team. This added third feature would be beneficial when tracking time for a group project. This app appears to be more directed towards the hourly performer, or manager within the creative arts.

Toggl is like having a stopwatch at your fingertips. It tracks all the hours you log on a job or a task. For me, it provided a real sense of accountability in using my time. It helped me to see where and when I got distracted and helped me focus on productivity. If you are a freelancer, it can help itemize your time based on project skills; incidentally, it also provides an accurate billable statement to a customer. I envision this as being very useful for a writer, an accountant, a choreographer, or even a stage manager to make rehearsal time run more efficiently. 

Writing 

Consider this. You’re a circus performer or street artist constantly on the go. You’ve decided to personalize your act with a story or prose that enhances your performance. You are a playwright co-directing your first circus show and you are sharing the script amongst the team. What tools do you have to assemble things quickly?  Below you will find a few great options.

Pocket is a free service that can impact your research. With Pocket, you can save any document from the web onto a mobile device, where it can be read later on or offline. It will save your link and the necessary text but it will take out all ads and any other distractions. With its offline readability, it’s perfect to use while traveling.

I liked the versatility of Notes. It is like having a digital blank sheet of paper at any given time. You can type and handwrite your ideas. You can draw and sketch. All items are saved and synced across multiple devices. It’s like having a planner and sketchbook with you at all times, minus the weight, and it’s free.

Tools That Stand on Their Own

Evernote is an app that mimics a journal, notebook, and a wallet.  It even scans and reads handwritten notes. The app is free, but larger premium plans are available.  Evernote would be useful for those constantly taking notes and sharing them with others; those notes could include recorded audio, notes via stylus, photos, and scans.  For example, consider a director giving notes to an actor/circus performer. The director could jot down notes, take pictures, and record audio. Then in real-time the director can give feedback to an entire cast, and share the individual notes privately and easily.In addition, the interface is great. The dashboard reminds me of an old-time card catalog system. I use this app often in my dance practice.

With OverDrive you can borrow digital content (like ebooks and audiobooks) anytime, anywhere free through your local library or school. Overdrive provides access to material from thousands of libraries worldwide. For example, you can research a certain turn of the century French circus artist, or watch that hard to find circus documentary. Overdrive is surprisingly easy to use and there are no late fees (media access disappears when your time is up). This is an unappreciated tool for a struggling artist.

Finally, I hope these tools enable you to be both the ringmaster and the star of your own circus show. 

Belinda Copeland
Actor, Activist, Dancer, Musician -United States
Belinda Copeland is a maker of sorts ,an actor and activist who currently lives in Chicago. She dances as BellaDonna, performing tribal world fusion bellydance. She’s a drummer in Chicago’s all woman identifying and non binary Glam marching band Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade. She has graced many of Chicago’s stages in musicals, theater and improv. She holds a BA in Women’s and Gender Studies with minors in Theater & Psychology from Northeastern Illinois University. She has also studied abroad at the University of Erfurt, Carl Duisberg Centrum Berlin, and the Brecht Weigel Memorial Centre Berlin Germany and performed in theater, television and film while living there. She holds a certification of studies in Improv & Musical Theater Improv from ComedySportz Training Center Core Curriculum. In her free time she likes to hang with her smalls, write prose, short stories, and plays , read and play games.

Belinda Copeland

Belinda Copeland is a maker of sorts ,an actor and activist who currently lives in Chicago. She dances as BellaDonna, performing tribal world fusion bellydance. She’s a drummer in Chicago’s all woman identifying and non binary Glam marching band Clamor & Lace Noise Brigade. She has graced many of Chicago’s stages in musicals, theater and improv. She holds a BA in Women’s and Gender Studies with minors in Theater & Psychology from Northeastern Illinois University. She has also studied abroad at the University of Erfurt, Carl Duisberg Centrum Berlin, and the Brecht Weigel Memorial Centre Berlin Germany and performed in theater, television and film while living there. She holds a certification of studies in Improv & Musical Theater Improv from ComedySportz Training Center Core Curriculum. In her free time she likes to hang with her smalls, write prose, short stories, and plays , read and play games.

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