The book I’m working on is a new kind of challenge – it’s non-fiction, a history of the thirty-year collaboration between Chinese acrobats from Nanjing and San Francisco circus performers. I’m working with a team of five, and we’re all part of the story we’re trying to capture.
The interviews have been wonderful, getting to hang out with my acrobatic mentor, Lu Yi, and a bunch of dear old friends I haven’t seen recently. And I am often surprised. For example, my clown partner and friend of thirty years, Diane Wasnak, was secretly training a solo act while we were performing as a duet with the Pickle Circus. The back story: before Lu Yi would teach her how to ride a bicycle backwards while flipping metal bowls onto her head, he made her promise not to teach anyone the act and not to let anyone, including me, know that she was learning it.
The research, reading old reviews, programs, websites, is also yielding gems like a 1988 NY Times article mentioning that the first time Lu Yi’s troupe was seen in the U.S., they were performing in the “Trump Tent.” In a recent interview with an old friend who just became a member of the Order of Arts and Letters of Quebec, Shana Carroll said she felt a “circus freak stigma” when she was a young aerialist.
My current favorite is from the interview with my dear friend and long-time acrobatics teacher at The Clown Conservatory, Xiaohong Weng – “Sometimes I had to babysit them – I’m talking about adults, clown students. In the U.S., students don’t follow directions as well as they do in China. Discipline isn’t as good. At the Clown Conservatory, I had to be friends with the students, sometimes I had to think about their emotions.”
I’ve written about 25,000 words, halfway there, so “An International Circus Affair: How the San Francisco/Nanjing Connection Changed Circus on Two Continents” (tentative title) should be out sometime in 2024.