Contortionist Elayne Kramer Wows the Crowds at the Big Apple Circus in Philadelphia

Big Apple Circus is Now Thrilling Audiences of all Ages at Philadelphia Mills MallWhile some of us believe we are extremely flexible, circus performer Elayne Kramer is one talented young woman who definitely knows that she is.

Kramer, 29, a contortionist, who started practicing her art at age four, performed aspects of her current act in the circus ring at age 11, and began traveling around the world as a circus professional at the tender age of 12.

A contortionist is an entertainer who twists and bends their body into strange and unnatural positions and Kramer is extraordinary at her physical, athletic and artistic craft. It is difficult to take your eyes off of her when she performs her daring feats.

Kramer is one of the prime attractions at the Big Apple Circus, under the Big Top at Philadelphia Mills Mall through Sunday June 24.

This is the 40th Anniversary Season, and the full lineup of global acts – including clowns, jugglers, acrobats, pony, horse and dog acts, record setting acts and all of the sights and sounds of ideal family entertainment.

Have you been to Philadelphia or performed here before this?

Elayne Kramer:  I have not.  I’m very excited to be here for the first time.  I’m excited to see the city and see how people react to our show.  It’s always interesting to see the audience reactions at every different city where we appear. We’re excited and I hope that the people are as excited to see us as we are to perform for them.

So, you wake up every morning and you do some of the same things or there’s a routine, obviously, like a Broadway show, choreography.  How do you keep it fresh and the excitement?

EK:  For us we change city every month or two every month, so it is like starting over again.  I know for sure I get nervous on opening nights, every opening night, regardless of how many times I’ve done this before.  So, yeah, it’s always exciting and every city always feels different.  Like I said, the audience always reacts different, so you’ve got to adjust to them and that’s always nice.

What’s your favorite part of the show that people are going to see now, the Philly show?  Do you have one?  Nik Wallenda says he loves watching you shoot the arrow into the target. Since he is always in the tent, he sneaks in just for that part.

 EK: I do a handstand and a backbend and hold a bow with my feet and shoot the target with an arrow.

Wow! How far do you think the target is?

 EK: never actually measured it.  From the middle of the ring it’s probably what 20 or 25 feet from where I stand, my pedestal.What are people going to love about the Big Apple Circus?

EK:  I think everything is really exciting.  I think it all depends on who is watching. A lot of kids like heights. I get a lot of little girls who come up to me and they really enjoy what I do.  I mean, they see me as a ballerina of some sorts.  I think there’s something for everyone. We’ve got animals, clowns and comedic characters for people who want a laugh. A little bit of everything — roller skating act, juggling act, balancing acts, yeah we’ve got something for everybody.

 At 29 years old, how long have you been involved in the circus and performing?

 EK: I’ve been in the circus my whole life.  I am a sixth generation circus performer.  I grew up in the circus, both my mom and dad were in the circus.  My brother, my younger brother, is also in the circus.  My mom was an aerialist back in the day which meant she did a whole bunch of stunts up in the air including trapeze.  She also did an act called “hair hang” which is exactly how it sounds.  You hang by your hair.  My father was an acrobat and now transitioned into being a comedian in a circus.  Yeah, I started from very young to do contortions and as I got older I developed this into being a contortion and balancing act; so really a mixture of the two.

 How old were you when you started contortions?

 EK:  I was four years old when I started practicing and my first time performing in a ring doing this act I was 11 years old.  12 years old when I started traveling internationally professionally doing this act.

When you meet a child like that who is five or 10 or 15 who’s in awe and you talk to them.  What is that like?  What is that feeling like knowing that you’re transforming them for not just the two hours but for the next four weeks that he’s going to talk about it?

EK:  Well, with the Big Apple Circus we have the opportunity, which we don’t get in other shows that we get to interact with the audience.  Not only in the ring because we’re so close to the audience, but we also get to interact with them after the show in the reception tent.  We do get a meet a lot of kids who are super inspired and a lot of them it’s their first time coming to a circus.

Please tell me more.

EK: I think a lot of times I don’t think people realize what they can see in a circus because a lot of people are surprised when they come, and they haven’t realized that they can see, like you said, animals and athletes and there’s also laughter.  We have comedians and I don’t know, I feel like every child and adult should come to a circus at least once in their life and get to experience it.

You have many generations coming to the circus.

 EK:  Yes, we get older people who have never before been to a circus.  That’s interesting to me being that I’ve grown up in the circus, so I don’t really understand how a person could have lived their entire life and never been to a circus.  I hope that people get to experience it now that they have a chance here that we’re in town. Performing with Nik Wallenda has such a ‘wow factor.’ When I mention I am talking to him people are always thrilled.

 EK:  Nik is a living legend.  His influence, daring and accomplishments – and positive attitude – teach all of a lesson. We learn to appreciate being able to grow up with older people who are older and wiser and been through so many things.  We also have a lot of children in the show who understand how I grew up. And I really enjoy being a part of both those worlds – regular world and circus world. I have a house in Florida and I have some friends that I grew up with that have lived in town and went to school like normal people.

Why is that?

EK:  I was like, “We do have to live in a very small trailer when we’re on the road.  Four of us in a tiny space, sharing 24/7 all the time.  Working together and traveling together, sleeping together, eating together.  There’s no one time when you’re apart from each other.”  So, you learn to cope and to understand other people and I think it also teaches you to understand people of different ages.

So, in a nutshell, how does it feel to live the circus life?

EK: I really enjoy meeting people that have done more and have been through things more than I have because they teach me.  Also, being with younger people and getting to teach them and getting to keep, and never lose, that younger side of you is great.

How do you mentally and physically prepare for tomorrow, opening night and other shows?  The evening shows start 7 p.m., people start coming in at 6:30, when do you start doing what you need to do? Nike says you start stretching at 7 a.m.

 EK:  I’m the third act in the show so I do start stretching very early.  It takes me about an hour to stretch for the show, so I do start very early.  Before an opening night, I don’t know, it’s always exciting, I would say.  It’s always exciting and fun…

Do you listen to music to get ready or clear your mind? Do you want quiet or noise?

EK:  I think everyone’s different.  I always like to listen to music.  I put my headphones on and warm up and just get ready for the show.  I don’t really have any sort of meditation or anything like that, that I do, but of course, everyone’s different.

Have you ever had people say ‘don’t’ pursue your dreams?

EK:  Yeah, of course.  Anyone who’s ever seen a contortionist nowadays, they see a lot of what I do which is contortion and hand balancing mixed together.  But, back in the days, first of all hand balancing act was considered a male act so women didn’t do that, they did contortion which was only in specifically flexibility and not holding their body on their hands.

What else is involved here?

EK:  So, when I wanted to try and do both everyone said it was going to be impossible because there’s no way I could do a handstand up straight if my back was going to be that flexible.  That was actually a myth that was going around a lot during that time and that was 20 years ago.  Now it’s a super common thing, all the contortionists can stand on their hands and do hand balancing as well.  As well with the bow and arrow, when my dad came up and told me, ‘Hey, want to try and do this trick?’

Please tell me more.

EK: Well, my dad showed me a picture from the year ’61, a black and white photo of an aboriginal woman doing the contortion pose with the bow and arrow in her feet, I thought he was crazy and I was like, “Okay we’ll try it.  We’ll give it a go.”  And now this is – that’s the one trick that has given me the rising to be and to have performed everywhere that I have.  So, yeah, you always get people to say that you’re not going to be able to do it, but it really doesn’t matter.  You have to believe in yourself.So, why come and see the Big Apple Circus?

EK: It’s an amazing experience for as little as $15.  So, very reasonably priced and there’s not a bad seat in the house. Which is important for us, too, as performers to be able to have that contact with the audience being up so close.  I perform my act on a table in the center of the ring, so I don’t really do a lot of moving around.  Being that close to the audience is great for me.  I like having eye contact and all that.  I think especially for people who have never been to a circus it would be very interesting and for those who have, they’re going to see the best of the best here!

Do you feel that dreams come true?

EK: I think with the right training and the right mindset and I had, for me, it was great to have my father be my trainer because he’s a great inspiration and he’s always pushed me forward even though I said, “No I’m not going to be able to do it.”  He always told me, “Don’t ever say never.”  And to this day, he’ll bring it up in conversations.  So, I’m very thankful to have had someone who had pushed me to my limit to be able to do what I do now.

Why did you pick a circus life and this profession?

EK: Hmmm…It’s what I felt attracted to. A lot of people find it scary, including myself, to get out of your comfort zone.  My comfort zone is being a performer and performing in different things and just being involved in show business in general.  I think just as much as somebody that has never done any show business to maybe want to be an actor or a singer or something.  It is a big step, but when you love it is worth it.

Understanding that you have to dream big, and be willing to fail, does that help inform your goals and aspirations? Do you follow Nike Wallenda’s advice of always pushing yourself to reach new heights?

 EB:  Yes, definitely.  I mean, it is scary to make a step.  It’s scary for us like I said I get stage fright still whenever I work in a new show, whenever I get to a new city.  Doing interviews, it’s often scary but it’s also what I love doing and I would much rather be a little scared like I am on the edge doing what I love than to live a life that is much easier going and not fulfilled with what I’m meant to do in life! For further information on the Big Apple Circus, please Click Here

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