Learning Library Segments
Connie LeavertonPrimary Use of Medium: Visual and Performance
Interviewer: Donna Wetegrove and Jenny Turney
Interview Location: This interview takes place in Connie's working studio. Throughout the interview Connie swings from a trapeze ring and tension fabric suspended from the vaulted ceiling or demonstrates juggling and unicycling.
Interview Date: 7.21.04
Writer: Jenny Turney
Connie says that she is a performance comedienne and a performance artist. This includes comedy with juggling, riding unicycles and movement with music.
As quoted in her brochure, she's been called "certainly a crowd-pleaser" by the Edmonton Journal (Canada) and "creative, captivating, cute and classy" by the Austin Chronicle.
She is also a video producer and director utilizing the visual medium to tell stories and create marketing videos.
How Did You Get Here?
In her early childhood she was a gymnast and learned to ride a unicycle when she was 7 years old. It wasn't until she was an adult that she realized she could get paid for these antics because she was hired by Esther's Follies in Austin for a special performance of unicycle riding. From there her interest peaked. What followed was a performing stint at Playfest for Children at the Dougherty Arts Center. She performed for hundreds of kids at a time. It was her first time to speak and perform before such a large crowd.
"I was shy and scared, and I was thrown in front of one or two hundred kids at a time and I did that for six weeks straight every day and it was really a major training ground for me. " She found out she could really make the kids laugh and connect with them.
"So, within that first year, I had found my performance, I had found my life goal; I had found my art."
Unfortunately soon thereafter she broke her back while sledding in Washington state and found herself lying in a hospital bed trying to figure out how she could continue to perform.
She received many letters from the kids at a juvenile detention center where she had performed just days before her injury. She said, "I realized how I could actually touch those kids and I hadn't even realized it." She was determined to continue performing. "So I took my broken back and my canes and I taught myself to do the 'Ping Pong Rap Flat on My Back' routine. It was basically juggling ping pong balls with my hands and my mouth while laying down making a rhythm on my full body back brace." With that routine she visited hospitals, detention centers and churches across Washington state, Las Vegas and Austin with a broken back. "It was completely life changing for me because it was more than just getting kids the kids to laugh or the people laugh, it was so much deeper than that."
From her "Broken Back" tour she came to the realization that "people need inspiration - no matter where it comes from and I felt like it was coming through me, and it was just this amazing transformation."
"The performance was really about inspiration, bringing people up to a different vibration frequency, whether it was inspirational or just believing more in themselves, and being happy." She explains that this can make all the difference as to how they feel about who they are.
As a video producer, she went to school at Texas Tech University and got a degree in television, and has since pursued this visual medium.
Where Does Your Inspiration Come From?
"That's a very good question," she says, "the inspiration really comes from different places, people and moments of life."
"The inspiration is so important I think, and the outcome of what you're doing because before when I was doing it for kids I realized I can make kids happy and this could be so fun. But after I performed with a broken back, I went wow, this is something that really affects people. I didn't realize that I could be an inspiration or give motivation and more importantly integrate all of that into my performance."
She explains that her current inspiration is from the heart and it is to touch people on a different level through her performance and through comedy.
"I just want to try to inspire people to have a higher self-esteem, and to believe and focus, but I want to do it in such a way that it's saying something about our world and what we can do with our lives.
"I like the performance medium because I like the physical part. When I'm not physical, my body starts to stiffen up and I start to stop I'm so much freer." She enjoys the improvisation integrated into the structure she has to her routine that often involves her audience. She says that there's an element of surprise because you never know how someone will react or what they will do.
Does The Material Dictate The Design Or Does Your Design Idea Dictate How The Material Is Used?
From the performance side, Connie says that many factors dictate how her material is used such as; different venues, stages, streets, pavement, environments, weather, conditions and different shapes and bodies of the audience...because she climbs on men she's never met before and does handstands, depending on their strength and shoulder structure...this can dictate whether a good handstand is accomplished and this affects the entire finale.
When it comes to the video production side it's more technical-more client driven. A video has a theme, such as marketing a product, but she adds a classy, fast-paced style that hopefully draws audiences in.
What Brings Your Medium To Life?
"Performance-wise, you have your technical skills and there are certain things you can do performance-wise, like how you put the routine together and what the performance is going to be like. It grows from within and is molded and transformed in the moments of alot of improvisational performance with volunteers from around the world. "
In video, "it's what's the market, what's the audience, what's the reason for the video and where do I need to shoot. Working with the client's vision is very important, trying to take what they want and expanding it into the reality of budget, locations, talent and an entertaining presentation."
What Tools Are Required In Your Process?
On the performance side Connie has a plethora of props. She uses knives, sickles, plungers, unicycles, juggling balls, juggling clubs, people, music, fire, and anything else she can find to incorporate into her routine. Performing in the moment is my biggest tool, working off of what the volunteers give me demands full attention to every milli-moment so I can act and react, and see where it will lead.
Her video production requires a subject matter, her digital studio, several digital cameras and a digital avid editing suite. It also takes years of understanding how to put together a strong presentation so that it tells a story but is also informative.
Do You Consider It Functional Art?
Video is a functional art, because you write it, produce it, edit it and then you have a product which can be shown and used to promote something, in my case, marketing videos.
In Performance Art and Comedy, or any kind of theater for that matter, establishes a connection between the performer and the audience so that laughter and emotions can be shared through what the performer is portraying. What makes us watch Lilly Tomlin perform a one-woman show? She is able to interweave reality with surealness with comedy with emotion. I aspire to give this kind of performance where it touches and inspires people, and they can take it home with them.
In video, the marketing videos I produce function as a marketing tool for the clients, thus helping them in promoting their product or service.
Please speak About The Connections.
"Connection is what performance and video is all about. Both of those mediums are made to connect with people and communicate different ranges of emotions and information. Connection is vital in art."
She mentions an interesting moment when she was in a class and was to take one juggling club and give it the featured movement and work the entire routine around that. This made her realize that there was a choice, that she could either feature herself or the props in her act. Giving respect to the props allows the props to be art, not just things. This connection with the prop in turn allows the audience to connect with the artform in a new way. And then the artform unfolds its story "
Please Summarize Your Entire Process.
To play, to have fun, to grow, to share, to expand to believe...and then to Do It....as fully as possible.
Do You Recommend What You Do As A Career Choice? Why?
"Yes," she says and then explains that initially she did not realize she could make the performance side a career.
Being raised in Texas, I never saw a circus until I was an adult. I never knew I could make a career of juggling and unicycling. So I like to tell all the kids that their is a big performance world out there and huge possibilities and choices for performance...not just the big 3 ring circus. I highly recommend performance. Their are thousands and thousands of people who support themselves, families, buy houses, have very lucrative lives by being a performer.
Video Production also has a wide range of career choices...films, sports, news, television sitcoms, series, commercials and corporate videos to name a few. Los Angeles is a prime example of how big this industry is and Austin is a great example of a flowering bulb in the midst of blooming. So many possibilities. It takes persistence, attention to detail and belief in yourself to make a career happen in whatever artform you choose.
What Tips Might You Have For Someone New To The Medium? How Best To Develop Their Interest?
For those interested in video production, she recommends that one "shoot" as much as possible. Then, learn to understand the lighting, audio, framing, scripting, editing, etc. and be consistent with quality work. She highly recommends making a demo-tape to readily have on hand to show.
"I think that the key to anything you want to do is focus on what you want, have persistence and don't give up."
"Practice! Experiment and have fun. Let your heart and mind melt together to create."
For those interested in the performance side she mentions attending circus schools and conferences and workshops. Also, there are hundreds of juggling and unicycling clubs throughout the world. Those are great for training.
"Well, I have a little character called Eko and she fights for the environment she's performed a couple of times for some local benefits." On the video side, she recently produced a piece on the environment so in this case her clients were environmentally conscience. In her juggling she can reuse everyday objects such as kitchen gadgetry, pots and pans and even food. This saves her from needing to purchase new items.
Whether marketing video or performance, it's all about the image you project. Create quality brochures, business cards and pictures.
"I think marketing is one of the most important things that you can do because it's all about the way that you project your image." She says she makes sure to get written references from her clients. She then has those to use in press kits, which in turns gets her more business. Sending out press releases to related magazines and newspapers, and getting articles in print is also great for promotion.
Where Do You See Your Creativity Evolving?
Connie sees her performance side evolving into a more refined, well-rehearsed performer, with slicker routines that will push her into being a stronger performer on stage and in festivals.
Walkabout Productions and Entertainment, Inc.
PO BOX 3153
Austin, Texas 78764
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