MUHS grad Rachel Schiffer brings wire act to Tourterelle this Sunday

For many 7-year-olds, aspirations about what they want to be “when they grow up” include dolphin trainer, inventor, astronaut, circus performer, or another wildly fantastical job that in reality rarely comes to pass.
But dreams do come true.
Rachel Schiffer, a graduate of Middlebury Union High School class of 2002 and Middlebury College “Feb” class of 2006.5, was first inspired to be in the circus when she was seven. Her grandmother, called Bubby, had recently become an “alley” clown in her retirement, traveling around to hospitals and community events spreading joy.
“Bubby took me to see Circus Smirkus one summer in Killington, and at the end of the show Rob Mermin — the founder of Smirkus and then-ringmaster — announced that any kid could join the circus. In my 7-year-old brain I was like, ‘I do gymnastics, Bubby is a clown, I want to be in the circus.’”
And sure enough, Schiffer joined the circus at age 10. She trained and performed with Circus Smirkus for 10 summers, competing and training in gymnastics during the winters.
In 2011 Schiffer decided to shake things up a bit and travel to France, where circus arts are more common and there are more contemporary groups pushing the boundaries.
“I needed a change from the circus scene in the U.S.,” Schiffer said. “I was feeling bored and didn’t want to stagnate.”
She traveled around and trained on wire acts for three weeks, ultimately meeting a partner, or “cradle base,” with whom she has been performing ever since.
“Cradle is an aerial act that is best described as being similar to flying trapeze, but instead of flying on and catching a bar, I am holding my base’s wrists,” Schiffer explained.
“The cradle is like a segment of the monkey bars, suspended from the tent’s cupola or from the ceiling and then anchored by cables so it is ‘fixed’ and fairly solid.  My base hangs from the cradle by her knees and we swing, I fly and she catches.”
Wait, that’s someone’s job?
Schiffer agrees. “It’s pretty great,” she said.
This summer, Schiffer is back in North America, having spent some time in Quebec working on a longer solo wire piece that explores questions about identity as a woman and as an artist, and especially the drive toward perfection.
The piece is performed on a low-wire, which is suspended six feet above the ground, as opposed to high-wire, which is typically much higher and requires nets and/or other safety systems.
Schiffer will perform a selection from this “in progress” work on the outdoor deck at Tourterelle in New Haven on Sunday, Aug. 19. The show starts at 5 p.m. There’s a $10 cover at the door, and a BBQ dinner afterwards (not included with the cover).
This is actually Schiffer’s second show at Tourterelle; the first was four years ago.
“I had a great time performing locally and with so many friends and familiar faces in the audience,” she recalled. “As a touring circus artist, community and connections to people and places who know my history have become really important and is what I miss most about being constantly on the road. Being able to perform in Middlebury, for friends, for my local community, for family, feels really good.”
This Sunday’s performance will blend a fun mix of technique and movement that pushes the limits of what people expect to see on a wire, Schiffer said. She promises “bare feet, flailing arms, graceful movement and long lines… and maybe a thing or two that will make you laugh.”

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