A few years ago, Elliot Proebstel was watching a professional trapeze show when he realized something was amiss. Why weren’t there any expressions of same-sex affection or love? Two of the male performers were real-life partners, after all.
“They said they’ve never been a part of a show where they were allowed to be a couple together on stage,” Proebstel recalls. “All of of their mentors and coaches had advised them that their duo trap act should always appear very technical and not romantic or sexual in nature…. They were told they would never get professional gigs if it looked like they were a couple on stage. And we were really unsatisfied with that answer.”
Proebstel, in partnership with Laura Wooster, Angie Stoner and Jeff Wagener, all trapeze instructors at TSNY Washington DC, decided to offer an alternative to that “very heteronormative and very cisgender-role” mentality. So they launched a professional circus arts company that hires and highlights LGBTQ artists and themes. Not yet three years old, Sweet Spot Aerial Productions is already turning heads in its field. Earlier this summer, the company was featured as part of the Circus Arts programming of the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Next up is the company’s premiere of Smoky Mirrors, its fourth full-length production combining aerial feats and circus stunts, and its second with an LGBTQ-themed narrative.
“I would describe it as a story of the principal character trying to find what best expresses her gender in terms of both physical expression, which circus arts is a great vehicle for,” says Proebstel. “She’s guided through the show by a character who is much more comfortable in her own presentation and seems to know her place really well — as well as two characters who represent polar extensions of masculinity and femininity.”
Smoky Mirrors weaves together elements of real-life stories from its 12-member cast and creative team. All four of the company founders even play a part: Proebstel as part of a duo trap act, and Stoner, Wagoner and Wooster on a triple trapeze with one other artist.
In December, Sweet Spot will offer its third holiday-themed show at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Although comparatively light in LGBTQ content, “they do always involve at least one character or a couple who is visibly queer.” This year, the lead character is a drag queen.
Says Proebstel, “[It’s] important to us to make sure that we are not always hitting people over the head, but always representing a diversity of lived experiences.”
Smoky Mirrors will be performed on Saturday, Aug. 5, at 5 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 6, at 5 p.m., in the Lang Theatre at the Atlas, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets are $25. Call 202-399-7993 or visit atlasarts.org.
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