Photo by: Heather J. McClelland
The harrowing Burning Man escape act was years in the making for LadyBEAST, who specializes in Houdini-esque illusions, aerial displays and bottle walking. She had been turned away numerous times due to the perceived danger of the performance, which was inspired by the long history of hot air balloons and circus acts, specifically American trapeze artist Leona Dare’s aerial performances in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“I wanted for years to do a hot air balloon act so badly,” says the 2019 TEDxLSU speaker and performer. “I feel it is a symbol of performance style and live entertainment at its height. There was a lot of ‘no’ and ‘you're crazy.’”
The remarkable performance was one of many for LadyBEAST, who is helping keep the magic and spectacle of old-world circus performance alive in modern times, while inspiring others to do amazing things of their own.
But first, she had to get out of the straitjacket.
A native of Philadelphia who was also raised in Miami and Italy, LadyBEAST trained as a track and field athlete and set her sights on the Olympics before discovering the circus and switching gears. As her interest in the circus arts took hold, she trained to perform escape acts and taught herself the classic balancing act of walking on the tops of bottles. She combines her physical prowess with her formal training in painting and mixed media to create striking visual imagery on the stage.
“Art and being an athlete have always been my two passions,” she says. “I was lost until I found that circus is the blend of the two.”
In addition to her own performances, LadyBEAST also produces circus productions and immersive circus theater in Louisiana and across the country. Among the productions are Levity, a national touring show, Vaude d’Gras, an experimental spectacle combining vaudeville and circus arts, and Spectaculaire — A Vaudeville Variety Show, at the Le Petit Theatre in the New Orleans French Quarter.
Her impressive performances don’t come easy. LadyBEAST trains for 4-6 hours a day — which usually involves a combination of aerial, bottles, handstands and flexibility, dance, and physical therapy. On top of that, she places a heavy emphasis on cultivating a creative space to develop the artistic side of her performance.
“I am disinterested in a performance if its only tricks,” she says. “I want the art, I want emotion, vulnerability and my heart ripped out and thrown on the stage. So I spend a lot of time in my mind building bridges between the stories I am trying to tell while moving. The creative process of using the skills I develop through training and taking them to something further — like using my limbs to show emotion and facial expressions for physical theater — is the biggest part for me."
“This is the first time I directly asked the audience to watch me and then do something for themselves in their own lives,” she says. “In these times of environmental, political and serious social issues it is our obligation as artists to show society that we all need to work hard to change this world together.”
The feat made her the first woman to hang from the bottom of a hot air balloon and perform a strait jacket escape suspended upside down. She plans to perform it again at a world record-breaking 8,000 feet above ground. The risk, LadyBEAST says, is worth it if she is inspiring others to take risks and impart change in their own lives.
“I wanted people to see me as a woman overcoming the odds and risk my life and limb for the beliefs I have and create a ripple in their lives,” he says.
To learn more about LadyBEAST or about TEDxLSU 2019, follow TEDxLSU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Reserve your seat now to experience LadyBEAST’s talk, as well as the talks of all of the other TEDxLSU 2019 speakers.