082. Thea Rae: Programming, stunts, and cross training

Episode summary

Thea Rae 250 w-link
Thea Rae

Any mind hell-bent on problem solving inevitably seeks challenge. Thea Rae discusses many things, including her movement background, coding, and stunt work. She unpacks the connections between her art, movement, aerial circus, and programming. Thea explains her varied interests: stunts, circus, cycling, climbing, and ice skating, and why cross training is so important to her practice.

Movement journey

Focusing on stunt performance currently, background in circus teaching and performing. Similarities between circus and stunts. Introduced to aerial silks first at NECCA (New England center for circus arts). Began learning, then started teaching beginners while making an act. Traveled the world building bamboo stages and performing on them. Moved to NYC for grad school to learn coding. Connected to Brooklyn Zoo in NYC and started moving again, gateway into stunt work. Climbing obsession during undergrad


Most hated programming language; Java. But loves Javascript for front end developing. Loves making games for people.

Creative stunt work

practices choreography for fun, but too inexperienced to be a stunt coordinator. Different than stunting, choreo, talent, planning. Need enough experience in many different areas of stunts; making it believable while safe. Training to make your body bullet proof; have to be able to handle things cold. Importance of training regularly and well enough. Training to withstand anything.

One thing you’d make

The most badass interactive video game level of playground for adults. Mainly buracracey, liability, and funding in the way

Kinetic sculptures and movement

favorite installation artist Newman for Use. Things that fit on a palette, but inflatable climbing structure, or Giant tape structures that are climbable. Not kinetic, but changes how people move to experience it. Thea built a kinetic structure for music festival, interactive an climbable. Wiggle machines; trying to convey various emotions, cause mimicking. Does evoke those feelings in people, but the larger installation in Thailand really did what she wanted; people moving and playing with it. Being able to build at a large scale is rare; usually in other countries, because “unsafe.” Trying to make people interact with each other in a new way, creating strange spatial opportunities to move around other people. Knot work based webs, goal of moving and shifting, using actuators, but physics didn’t work the way she’d hoped. Hoping to revisit the idea, to make it interactive.

Stuntwork and storytime

New to stunt work, faux pas of talking about it. It’s not well acknowledged as a community, and it colors the culture. Old school idea of you have to have the skills first, stunt school doesn’t cut it. Every situation different. Presenting yourself honestly, but also seeking out work by hustling. Complex industry and politics, the type of job you have to love doing in order to do it. There’s a lot of risk, you don’t know where the danger will be. No specific stories about stunts, just silly scenarios. Maybe not experienced enough to have good stories.

Programming and circus

Programing related to aerials in thinking about it; If this, then that. If I can do this movement, then I can do that next… Thinking of aerials as algorithmic sequences, choosing between different options. Useful for teaching, choreographing, and improv. Paths you can take, building blocks to stack, different ways of cycling. It’s problem solving movement patterns, following options. Cycling and creating loops, just like programing.


Riding fixed since began riding a bike; started riding bike at 20 (was too afraid of going downhill to learn as a kid). Ex got her into cycling, by getting her drunk; she now lives and breathes bikes. Moved to Cali and got a bike to better suit her lifestyle, and then it became her lifestyle. 30 miles commuting daily. Always fixed gear, feels more in control, hates coasting. Bike story: changing clothes while riding her bike, including shoes. Wanted to learn to fully change into evening wear while riding and film it. But also crashed her bike as well.


Lets her read and understand things, and visit national parks and know what’s happening. Something handy and somewhat random in her back pocket. Day to day, mostly just as fuel for nature appreciation. Didn’t pursue advanced degree, so doesn’t really use much. High level people do interesting things; friend works for Nat Geo and translates articles into something readable. Thea’s interest was mainly because it takes you out into nature, not just a lab.


A lot in California, a little east coast, Thailand, Japan, likes to hit up climbing gyms in every country she visits. Less consistent now because less bouldering, and hard to find a partner. Also some trust issues with a partner, being dropped. Trad, lead, top rope, sport climbing. Finding people she trusts to belay, but tricky to find someone consistent to belay. Fav climbing spot: Bishop in Cali. High planes desert, different types of rock structures. Downsizing shoes to heel hook, or regular size to be comfortable. Fav climbing gym in NYC: the Cliffs. Deep water soloing in Thailand. Channeling the sloth, maximizing efficiency, a puzzle. Reading the rock, problem solving. Learning to be calm in stressful situations. Trying figure out a way through by studying the rock, without becoming anxious. Good life skills. Bouldering vs rope climbing, climbing outdoors vs indoors. Being in tune with our bodies, not knocking ourselves for any kind of athleticism. Working with a PT to work out bad habits we learned in childhood. Fixing weaknesses and imbalances.

Rehab, prehab, and ice skating

High load on the body; yoga, climbing, cycling, aerials, fighting, life requires rehab and prehab. First hour daily is just glute activation. Static stretching, retraining mindset to mobility. Learning not to compensate,using body correctly. Ice skating; hating winter because you can;t go outside. Ice skating lessons to move in winter, wanting to learn more, struggling because it’s feet not arms. Prevents compensating because of balance, a lot of nuance. Helped improve hip mobility, helps with biking, long boarding, kicks.

Cross training

Everything you do affects everything you do, physically and mentally. Rock climbing calm helps with learning circus movements. Strength training relating to cycling. Every movement informs the rest of your movements. IF you;re open to it, everything in your life cross pollinates. Cross training really changed her movements and life. Something surprising about this interview: Expected more of a theme, leading questions; but podcast meant to create a platform. Surprising and interesting for us; how many interesting things Thea’s done. Parkour and learning to fall; starting with learning to fall. Invaluable skill, being able to roll, get out of situations, helped with stunt work. Ice skating teaching about diving. Cross training both in movement, art, and everything in life informs everything else. Cross training your mind, thinking about how you move. Movement as a language, robust movement vocabulary, communicating different things.

3 words

Craig: Of course, the final question, three words to describe your practice.

Thea Rae: Failure, because I think you should fail often. Childlike, because if we don’t imagine what we can’t do instead we imagine all the things we can do like flying cars, then we’ll keep inventing new ways of expressing ourselves and commitment. Because every day, you have to keep trying, and some days it’s really hard.

Craig: Thank you very much Thea. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Thea Rae: It was wonderful. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

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Contact and further info

You can find out more about Thea and get in touch with her through her website (thearae.com) or follow her on instagram (@thea.rae and @thea.rae.art).