Stand Up Eight - Reality Circus
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Stand Up Eight - Reality Circus

Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States

Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States
Band Comedy Comedy


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The best kept secret in music


They’ve been referred to as Michigan’s Cirque du Soleil, and on Thursday they will dance, flip, glide through the air, crack whips and breathe fire at the Paw Paw Performing Arts Center with their new show, Stand Up 8.

Kalamazoo-based Aerial Angels perform globally and are excited to play their new show for a local audience, made possible by a big win on Canadian reality show, “Dragons’ Den.”

As a way to fund the Stand Up 8 effort, Allison Williams, director and performer, and Zay Weaver, self-proclaimed “creative butt-kicker” and performer, went on the show in January 2009 to pitch their idea to a panel of investors hoping to get some financial backing.

“I ended up crying,” said Williams.

William’s teary face ended up as a promotional advertisement for the Canadian network, with the show’s resident Simon Cowell, Kevin O’Leary, telling her, “Money and tears don’t mix.”

But Williams and Weaver got over it when investor Brett Wilson offered them $250,000 to put on their mini-circus, a rarity on “Dragons’ Den,” both because of the amount of money and the type of business pitched. As part of the deal, Wilson now owns half of Aerial Angels.

The extra money is allowing Aerial Angels to perform a show Thursday in Paw Paw show for no profit. The $4 admission fee will be donated to Paw Paw High School.

“We believe that everything spectacular and everything fun to watch should be accessible to everyone,” Weaver said. “It’s different from anything you will ever see. It’s actually a fun way for us to perform in our hometown. Our families finally get to see what the heck we do.”

Williams, a fire-eater and aerialist, and Weaver, an escape artist and silk aerialist, met when both were students at Western Michigan University and Weaver was cast in a play written by Williams. Eleven performers will take part in Stand Up 8, with experience ranging from classic ballet to trampoline to gymnastics.

Aerial Angels has performed worldwide at festivals, special events and private parties since its inception in 2003.

At a rehearsal Sunday for this weeks show at the Paw Paw Performing Arts Center, men did back and forward flips continuously across the stage, while other performers walked on their hands as effortlessly as one would walk upright. Some dialogue is worked in also making the show part circus, part comedy.

Weaver said Stand Up 8 features acrobats, trapeze artists, fire eating, target whip cracking and a type of in-line skating that mimics ice-skating.

“I watch it and I cry every time, it’s so beautiful,” Weaver said of the skating.

After the Paw Paw performance, the Aerial Angels’ agent will begin booking Stand Up 8 for venues nationwide this fall. Thursday’s show this will be the third performance of Stand Up 8. - Kalamazoo Gazette

When it comes to performing complex feats such as aerial acrobats, trampoline gymnastics and fire eating, there are bound to be complications and everything will not always go perfectly.

One circus company has committed itself to showing audiences the reality of performing such stunts and the perseverance required to execute them correctly, even incorporating the concept in their name: fall down seven times, Stand Up Eight.

Stand Up Eight is a unique reality circus company comprised of performers from across the U.S., including Grand Valley State University alumna Christianne Sainz.

The group will share its acts with the West Michigan community at 6:30 p.m. today at Paw Paw High School Performing Arts Center.
Sainz graduated from GVSU in 2006 with a degree in theater. She is a trampolinist for Stand Up Eight, performing moves based from her background in gymnastics.

“I love the fact I get to be on stage and act, do the sport I love and work out and stay in shape,” Sainz said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Sainz, a Grand Rapids native now living in Los Angeles, said she is especially excited to return for their first show in Michigan so she can share her talents with family and friends.

The best act of the show, for Sainz, is when several performers bounce off a trampoline to run up a wall before flipping through the air to fall back to the trampoline.

Stand Up Eight has performed only a few shows together since its start in May 2009.

With group members scattered across the country, the performers are individually responsible to rehearse their routines before the group comes together for a few hours of practice for each show. For many of the group members, performing is a full-time job taking up to 25 hours a week of practice.

One unique aspect of Stand Up Eight is the “reality circus” approach the group takes, getting to know the audience and sharing personal stories. Sainz said it has more of an impact on the audience.

“People really enjoy it,” Sainz said. “They hear our story, get to know us personally and people take that with them. It gives them hope and a dream to see it doesn’t really matter how old you are, you can always run off and join the circus.”

Sainz began the path to her current dream job at GVSU. Artistic director of Stand Up Eight, Allison Williams, hosted a circus workshop on GVSU’s campus a few years ago and was introduced to Sainz.

Williams said she immediately had a good impression of Sainz.
“I thought, ‘This girl is cool. I totally want to work with her,’” Williams said. From there, Williams recruited other performers and the group took their concept to compete for financial support on a Canadian reality show, “Dragon’s Den,” in October 2008.

Williams, a whip cracker in the show, described “Dragon’s Den” as American Idol for entrepreneurs. Stand Up Eight impressed one judge enough to win $250,000 to jump start their production.

Since then, the group took last summer off to focus on their individual performances before regrouping in February to kick off the new season.

Williams was also enthusiastic about the concept of a “reality circus.” “We talk to the audience and they meet the performers,” Williams said. “That’s what makes us different from Cirque du Soleil. They meet the performers and see we are real people.”

One of the challenges of circus performing that Williams cited is the frustration of messing up a new trick. She said it can be hard to keep practicing, especially when it hurts to land a trick wrong. But at the heart of Stand Up Eight is the importance of perseverance.

Williams said her favorite part of performing is getting to be funny and entertain the audience. She also wants to inspire people to do their own work in whatever area that may be.

Kristofer Perkins, event manager of the Paw Paw High School PAC, said he is also excited for Stand Up Eight to inspire members of the community.

Perkins said Stand Up Eight originally contacted him about finding a practice facility and the idea for the show emerged. All ticket proceeds from the circus will go to Paw Paw High School.

“It’s a great opportunity for a family to have a fun night out without costing an arm and a leg,” Perkins said.

Admission is $4 for tickets available at the door. The PAC will open between 5 and 5:30 tonight with the show starting at 6:30 p.m.
After the Paw Paw performance, the group will continue its tour in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Florida. The group will return to GVSU next fall as part of the university’s 50th anniversary celebration.

More information on the group is available at - Grand Valley Lanthorn

Fire-eating, whip-cracking, and aerial artistry - it is all part of the fast-paced, funny, and high-flying reality circus known as 'Stand Up 8.' Grand Valley State University will present the one-night-only show on March 24th as part of their yearlong 50th Anniversary celebration.

Stand Up 8 is an inside look at the personal stories of how and why circus artist do what they do. In the summer of 2008, creative collaborators Allison Williams and Zay Weaver won $250,000 to stage their own dream circus on a Canadian reality show called 'Dragon's Den.' The  show  began  rehearsals  and   development  shortly  after  in  2009.

Artistic  Director  and  literal  whip-­cracker,  Allison  Williams,  explains  that  Stand  Up  8  is  the combination of high-level acrobatic and aerial skills that includes an Olympic trampoline and a duo of trapezes.

"We've combined the technical  elements  of  a  circus  spectacular  with  the  human  connection  of  street   performing. It's a reality circus," said Williams. "It is a personal revelation and a genuine connection with the audience - it's not a fixed script that we repeat every time. It's truly a show where anything can happen."

Williams  created  the  Michigan  based  circus  arts  company,  Aerial Angels and  from  there,  gathered  a   group  of  8  talented individuals  to  help  make  Stand  Up  8  a  reality.      

"I've been preparing for this show my whole life, everything I've done thus far has been preparation for this project," Williams said. "I've been a director, an actor, a playwright, I've spent years in variety and circus entertainment, not just honing my own skills but also meeting the people who have become the performers and consultants on this show, and gaining the business skills to administer the corporation as an artistic director."

The  performers  of  Stand  Up  8  come  from  backgrounds  of  festival  and  street  busking,  German  variety,   American  elite  gymnastics,  equine  spectacular  Cavalia,  and  Cirque  du  Soleil.  
Stand  Up  8  is  proud  to  feature  five-­time  national  trampoline  champ  Christianne  Sainz,  a  GVSU  alumna.   Sainz  graduated  from  GVSU  in  2006  with  a  degree  in  theater.  It  was  also  in  2006  that  Sainz  met  Allison   Williams,  future  boss  and  director  with  the  circus  arts  company  Aerial  Angels,  and  of  course,  Stand  Up  8.      

"Allison was guest directing at  Grand  Valley - we  met  on  the  theater  stairs," laughs Sainz. "And  the  rest,   it  seems,  is  history."
It  was  at that  introduction  at  Grand  Valley  that  Williams  hired Sainz  on  the  spot.  

Williams, along with the performers of Stand Up 8, train off season at For The Kidz Gymnastics in Byron Center.

"A lot of Olympic caliber gymnasts have come from For The Kidz Gymnastics. Sainz life as a competitive elite gymnast has really given her the ability to stay focused under pressure, and she's always calm," Williams said.  

"GVSU helped shape me into the person I am today," says Sainz. "The reason  I  am  in  Stand  Up  8  is   because  of  GVSU.    It's  thrilling  to  think  that  I  once  again  will  be  returning  to  the  stage  at  Grand  Valley State University."

Currently  touring  the  US  and  Canada,  Williams  definitely  notices  a  difference  in  audiences  and  how   certain  regions  of  the  country  react.

"Northeastern audiences go for more cynical humor, Southerners have a slower pace of speech that we have to come closer to in order to be clearly understood. Here in Michigan, we love being with a hometown crowd, we love having people we know personally in the audience. It's a real friends-and-family crowd."

Stand  Up  8  begins  at  7pm  on  March  24th  in  the  GVSU  Fieldhouse.    Admission  is  free  of  charge.  For  more   information  and  to  purchase  your  VIP  pack,  which  includes  priority  seating,  autographed  Stand  Up  8   merchandise  and  an  exclusive  backstage  tour,  visit - Grand Rapids Press


Still working on that hot first release.



As the Aerial Angels, a fire-eating, aerial, acrobatic, comedy show, we've had over 10 years of experience performing at festivals and events all over the world - from renaissance festivals in Maryland to malls in Dubai, community festivals in small-town Ohio to a Citigroup corporate event in Barcelona with lots of street performing all over the world in between.

But we wanted bigger. We wanted to create a large-scale indoor touring show - Stand Up 8.

In summer 2008, we were on Dragon's Den on Canada's CBC (it comes to the USA as Shark Tank this year). After pitching our idea to a panel of multi-millionaires, answering tough questions, and being reduced to tears by the most Simon Cowell-esque panelist, gas-and-oil man Brett Wilson from Calgary agreed to invest $250,000 for us to create our show.

The show Stand Up Eight (from the proverb, "fall down seven times, stand up eight") features aerial acts, trampoline, fire-eating, and other circus skills, but taking advantage of our street experience, we will be interacting with and talking directly to the audience, genuinely responding to what they give us in the moment.

Our performers include an internationally competitive figure skater, an elite trampolinist, two of the ten best bullwhip artists in the world, a gay cruise-ship-dancer-turned-aerialist, a juggler who has street performed since the age of 12, a singer trying to shake her hippie-road-warrior life, and a clown from Chicago. With one of the top ten US playwrights and a Canadian publisher acting as creation guides, we're tapping in to the personal experiences of the performers to show the frustration, excitement, and challenges of trying to match our abilities to our desires.

The show premiered in 2009 outside Chicago and has since traveled to Alberta, Western Michigan, and Toronto. We're ready to share our unique mix of circus, athleticism, and powerful personal connections to more audiences across North America.