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Thea Rae: In my 20s, I started cross training and rock climbing was probably the first thing for that, but then that’s around the same time that I started cycling and I was also doing aerials. So trying lots of different things and I briefly studied parkour, and that really informed a lot of my movement patterns to be more playful. So I think that it’s really interesting what you can get by just trying to draw threads between things.
Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine. Welcome to the Movers Mindset podcast where I interview movement enthusiasts to find out who they are, what they do, and why they do it. This is episode number 82, Thea Rae, programming, stunts and cross training. 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.
Craig: Hello, I’m Craig Constantine.
Thea Rae: Hi, I’m Thea
Craig: Thea Rae is an artist, performer, creative technologist and professor at Fordham University. Her work revolves around the idea of using play and playfulness to engage viewers, whatever the theme may be. In addition to Visual Arts, Thea is also a movement artist and stunt woman with a background in circus. Welcome, Thea.
Thea Rae: Thanks for having me.
Craig: One of the things that I enjoy most about having the opportunity to go and talk to people is at the end, as you will soon discover, we ask everybody who else we should go interview and your name came up. The more that I look, the more I’m like, well, this is somebody who’s really got an interesting crash combination of aerial yoga circus and stunts. So I’m kind of torn. I want to talk about stunts and I want to talk about circus. I’m going to say which do you want to talk about first, and then I’ll ask you a question about one or the other.
Thea Rae: Well, they’re one and the same to me.
Craig: Okay, so talking about stunts and circus. Let’s start somewhere really obvious. What is the balance of the work that you’re doing? Is the balance the work you’re doing performing or is the balance of the work that you’re doing, teaching other people how to do the physical activities to perform in those capacities?
Thea Rae: Lately, I’ve been doing more of the performance. I’ve been really focusing more on stunt performance rather than, in the past, I’ve been a circus performer, as well as a circus instructor teaching aerial arts, gymnastics, juggling, and some basic clown. So the transition towards the focus on stunt performance, it’s kind of a notable difference and stunt people will tell you that stunts is stunts and that circus is circus and they’re really different but they’re both movement based performance. They both involve researching really weird ways to move and how to make all sorts of things believable in make belief.
Craig: Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me like the transition will be more common to go the other way. It’d be more common for someone to get into stunt work or circus work or whatever, and then fall in love with it and then go on to learn all about it and then to begin teaching it. That seems to be like a more common path. So you’re coming at this other way. You’re coming at it like, you used to teach it and now you’ve gotten like, what made the change from teaching to doing?
Thea Rae: Oh, well used to teach it, meaning I’ve been practicing movement art since I was seven years old pretty rigorously. I was a gymnast, until I was 14 and then I took a brief intermission of movement to focus more on my arts training, and then in college, I discovered aerial circus because I was a Go-Go dancer at a club and a friend was like, do you want to try aerial silks, and I was like, what the fuck is that?
Thea Rae: He was like, like Cirque du Soleil and I was like, I don’t know what that means because I hated clowns. I was a clown in high school, too.
Craig: Like a literal clown with the paint on the nose or just-
Thea Rae: The paint and the nose and the balloon twisting-
Craig: A real clown. A literal clown.
Thea Rae: Yeah.
Craig: I’ll come back to that.
Thea Rae: So I took a sabbatical and then I found out about aerial circus and he pitched it to me by saying like, “Do you want to climb up 20 feet in the air and then fall face first towards the ground?” I was like, “Yes. Yes, I want to do that. That sounds super fun.” We drove two and a half hours north from my college to Brattleboro, or not two and a half hours. What am I talking about? That’s from here. It’s 45 minutes from my college to Brattleboro, Vermont where at the time it was nimble arts but now it’s NECCA which is New England Center for Circus Arts.
Thea Rae: I started taking aerial silks classes there and getting back into acrobatics with handstands and different stuff from my gymnastics days. So I studied for years in that context, and like most gymnast, went on to teach children and beginner adults as I was working on progressing my skills and putting together an act and that was all happening once I had moved out into the Bay Area.
Craig: Then how did you get to stunt work from there? Is it had enough of circus?
Thea Rae: It was a really Securitas path in that I stopped working full time in circus in the Bay and traveled around the world for two years building stages and environments at music festivals out of bamboo and performing on those stages, doing aerial. Then I was like, I want to go to grad school to learn how to program.
Craig: Okay, that makes sense.
Thea Rae: So I moved to New York City.
Craig: Okay. All right, keep going. I’m with you.
Thea Rae: Then I started grad school and I started programming and one day I was like, really sad and I couldn’t figure out why I was really sad. Then I realized I hadn’t done movement in six weeks. So I called up this place called Brooklyn Zoo and was like, Hey, I heard you guys do movement, but you’re a zoo, and they were like, it’s a parkour gym. I was like, oh, thank God.
Thea Rae: I was like, “Can I bring my hula hoop?” They were like, “Yeah.”
Craig: Can you pay the fee to get in? Yes, you can bring your hula hoop.
Thea Rae: So I went to Brooklyn Zoo, and I hula hooped and I saw that they had silks. So I started playing in the air and that led me to that space and that became kind of my home away from home. I was training there six times, maybe seven times a week, usually for like three to four hours. Since I was in grad school, I was training during the day. The people who also train during the day when they’re not on set are often stunt people because they don’t work nine to five. Training all the time, I’m always working on all sorts of different weird things.
Thea Rae: I’d asked everybody like, hey, can you teach me that random kick you’re doing. That looks cool. Conversation after conversation, finally, I started asking people like how they could be at the gym all the time. I knew I could, because I was a student but how could they be at the gym all the time. They were like, oh, I’m a stunt man and the more people asked, and the more people were like, oh, I’m a stunt man. I’m a stunt man. I’m a stunt man. I was like, does everybody in this gym do stunts, and they were like, between these hours, yeah.
Thea Rae: Then one of my friends one day was just like, "Have you ever thought about doing stunts? I was like, literally just kind of looked and was like-
Craig: Just now. Yes, actually.
Thea Rae: No, but maybe and then I was like, I think I’m too old because I had just turned 30. In my brain, from being a gymnast and people tend to finishing their peak career as a gymnast in their early 20s, I didn’t think about how many gymnast go on to become stunt people because I didn’t realize that stunts was a viable career for a movement artist. I’d never lived in a city before that, where there was a large community because there wasn’t much film and television in Oakland, and not so much in Boston either.
Thea Rae: So it was kind of just an aha, light bulb moment where I was like, oh, wait, I can get paid to play, make believe. All of the skills like literally everything from rigging, to building to performing, to flipping, every kind of weird movement I’ve done at one point or another, works in favor of suns. So I was just like, wow, I wish I had had this moment 12 years ago, before when I was an undergrad, but it just didn’t click.
Craig: What did you study as an undergrad?
Thea Rae: Art and geology. I really liked rocks. I had a brief, brief, I mean, like four years of intensive rock climbing, where I would spend like 50 hours a week on climbing.
Craig: Most hated programming language?
Thea Rae: Most hated programming language. Probably Java.
Thea Rae: Yeah, I do a lot of front end development. It’s really fun to make games for people and now with React you can pretty much just make a front end application that is really powerful and a great game for someone and I can make it in a week.
Craig: Sorry, that was a detour because I was just curious. I’m like programming. Just the way I wasn’t expecting geology and climbing. I would love to talk about climbing too, but let’s go a completely different direction. What’s, and this is a very easy question. What’s something about yourself that you think other people get wrong about you when they first meet you?
Thea Rae: Everyone thinks I’m mean.
Craig: What? I wouldn’t have thought that. Do you have any idea why you think or have any idea why they think you are mean?
Thea Rae: I seem very aloof and I get Botox now. I can’t make my bitch face but I had an epic bitch face.
Craig: Somebody just had a coffee mug that said resting, oh yes, it was at a hospital. Resting bark face. It was like on some registered nurse’s desk. I would not have known. Oh, this is going to get comfy, sorry. Normally we would put the mic stands on tables, but we’re like in lounge-ville here.
Thea Rae: Sorry, I like a comfortable studio.
Craig: No, I’m not complaining. I am not complaining. I might be even more laundry, dear listeners, than usual. I’m still fascinated by like, I just cannot wrap my brain around how you go from like jumping on stuff, which I kind of can do to like intentionally falling down stairs. What surprised you the most? So I’m guessing that most of the stunt work you would do, you’re not super involved at the creative level.
Craig: Somebody’s going to say we have a vision, there’s a fight or a thing and we need a body to go here and not sue us. Do you eventually get to a point where they’re in involving you in the creative process? So I’m wondering if you’re able at all to scratch the creative itch in the stunt work that you’re doing or if it’s all monkey fall, monkey do?
Thea Rae: So far the places where I get to be creative is with my friends when we’re training and we’re working out like possible scenes, and how those might look in practicing. I’m very green in the world of stunts. So I don’t have the kind of experience that is necessary to safely plan and choreograph bigger things to incorporate other performers, but that’s what coordinators do. That’s actually one of the biggest things that there’s been pushed for is getting coordinators recognition in things like the Oscars, because the coordinators not only keep people safe, but they pick the fight choreographers are sometimes are the fight choreographers.
Thea Rae: They’re the people who know the limits of all of the different performers. So they can really be the most creative in how they cast and also what they can ask those to people. They have the most experience with like how it’s going to look on film. So when someone like my friend Heidi, that I told you about, she’s a performer but she’s also now a coordinator.
Thea Rae: It’s like once they’ve reached a certain level in their performance skill and their awareness and experience on set and also know enough performers and know their limits, they can start crafting scenes and they can be the person who works with the directors and say, oh, that’s the gag you want to have. We know who will make that look good. We know how to shoot that, we know how to obscure things like pads and make it super safe because a big part of stunts is about making these unbelievable feats, like getting hit by a car or falling off a building or being set on fire, look believable while being safe.
Craig: I don’t recall who I heard this from but someone that I talked to made the point that you don’t really get to warm up. So you’re basically like on the set and there’s a million things that have to all come together at that one moment. You’re one of those million things. You can’t be like, can I have seven minutes to warm up before you yell action. So I’m guessing that it’s much more of the things that you’re doing. You have to be sure that they’re eminently within the envelope of like, I can do this cold. I can do this literally cold. I can do this reproducible.
Thea Rae: One of my friends, I love the way he put it, because before I was even trying to do stunts, I was like, “What are you training for all the time? You train like I train, but I was training for straps act.” He was like, “I’m training to make my body bulletproof.” I was like, “What do you mean?”
Thea Rae: He’s like, “I want to know that it’s able to handle anything I asked it to do. At any point, cold or not cold.” As someone who’s had injuries and knows the difference between winter me and summer me just based on my joints, yeah, if you don’t train regularly and well enough, then even something like jumping can be problematic when you’re cold. I remember as a circus performer one day watching a friend who was muscle bound in her abs hang cold, just hang from a trapeze, and she pulled her abdominal muscles.
Thea Rae: That’s someone you think like, oh, she’s a performer, she’s going to be fine, but she just didn’t stretch and take care of her abs and make sure that they were as supple as they needed to be while they were strong. So I think stunt people, the priority is not even so much training gags but training their ability to kind of withstand anything that’s thrown at them.
Craig: We’re sitting in your studio, where are we? Williamsburg, east of Williamsburg.
Thea Rae: East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Queens.
Thea Rae: It’s Queens over the bridge, I don’t know.
Craig: There’s a whole bunch of different stuff in here. There’s a hoop hanging from the ceiling. There are-
Thea Rae: Aerial hoop.
Craig: An aerial hoop. Yes, sorry. There’s some like rubber matting. There’s some things that look that they could be sculptures and I know you do kinetic sculpture. I’m just wondering, if you could go do one project right now, like money isn’t an object. What’s the one project that you could actually know where to start and would like, oh, I’m going to go do x? What would that be?
Thea Rae: Making the most badass interactive video game level of fun playground to get adults into their bodies and playing like their two year old children.
Craig: What’s the thing that keeps that from actually happening?
Thea Rae: Lots of bureaucratic legislation, funding and insurance policies.
Craig: Is there anything that you were thinking on way over here, like, I have to make sure or I hope we really get to talk about?
Thea Rae: No, I really didn’t come into this with any expectations. I said yes to the interview, because I figured that I should say yes, because I’ve never done this before and I like to say yes to things that I’ve never done before.
Craig: What could possibly go wrong? Do you have any, there’s so many millions of things. So I want to talk about kinetic sculpture because I’m a big fan of climbing on sculpture, but I’m just wondering, so kinetic sculpture is like a big field, and I’m wondering what types of sculptures catch your eye and draw your interest? So when you’re out and about, wherever you go, you see sculpture, what are the kinds of sculptures that catch your eye, and what about them draws your attention to them?
Thea Rae: I think my favorite installation artist, and I say installation artist over sculptor, is a group called Newman for use. They make things like, they fit on a pallet but they roll it out inflatable three story tall climbing structure that inside, there’s just a bunch of ropes. I was in Thailand last year and I went to the biennial show at the museum in the Siam, and it had one of their tape structures which were like, you know how ants make the weird, asymmetrical tunnel systems?
Thea Rae: It’s like that but made out of tape and rigged on the ceiling, and you can climb inside of it. I really love what they’re doing because it’s not kinetic, but people move. It changes the way people move if they want to experience it. Last year, I was in Thailand because I was building a installation for a music festival there, called Wonderfruit and it was a six meter tall ladder essentially, like a spiral staircase out of bamboo. Then there were different elements that you could pull on it to kind of actuate and move different parts of the facade of the structure.
Thea Rae: Because what I’m interested in, in life, like my biggest interest in life is how to move my body in new and interesting ways and how to get other people to play with me.
Craig: So what do you do to scratch that itch?
Thea Rae: Make weird things. So some of the sculptures you see around here are what I like to call my wiggle machines, and they came out of me, trying to figure out what movement can both represent happiness and awkwardness and sadness and wiggling, can be all of those things based on the quality of movement of a wiggle. So I just tried to make machines that would wiggle in a way that would convey a sense of emotion, that so when people look at them, they feel that and maybe they would mimic, in that way that will mimic one another.
Craig: I think the one that I saw was, I’m going to say hoops, like strip bands of metal that are bent over. It almost looks like a recumbent torso in layout of the bands, but that one was tabletop size, the one that I saw. Have you built any better large scale or installed outside? I’m wondering, okay, that’s what you wanted it to accomplish? Have you actually seen it in pseudo somewhere and does it work? Has it attracted people to mimic?
Thea Rae: Well, those were tabletop size, but I did find that they evoked those kinds of feelings in people when I showed them, and then the one in Thailand really got at what I was hoping for, like people would just be pulling on them and so they’d be moving and swaying while the whole facade of the structure was moving and swaying. So that one was a very large one and it still is in existence, it was operational, this last wonder as well.
Thea Rae: I don’t often have the opportunity to build on the scale that I’d like to. I’ve been granted the opportunity a few times throughout my life, mostly through music festivals, and mostly in other countries where the rules around adults playing, I’m climbing on things that are, by American standards, considered unsafe. Seeing, as you’ve talked to, Jesse, you probably heard a lot about what Americans consider unsafe.
Thea Rae: Because, well, here, we’re worried that if you stub your toe, you will sue, but in other countries, you can really play with things. So in Costa Rica, a couple times I’ve gotten to build on a large scale like playgrounds and by playgrounds, I mean pop up for music festival installations that involve different ways to traverse space. It’s like, the questions I like to ask are like how can I make two people interact with each other in a new way? Like, how can I make them have to finagle moving past each other?
Thea Rae: So making narrow spaces for people that both want to exist in them? Like, how do they move around each other? Does one go below? Does one go above? Do they awkward big shimmy beside each other? How do we navigate those moments? Because that’s when I think people start to move in the most interesting ways is when they’re awkwardly trying to move around people.
Craig: That’s interesting. My brain just leapt off to, I think it might have been at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art. I don’t know how many decades ago, there was an art installation, I read about it, I didn’t get to see it. The part that I remember is in order to enter the small gallery or area where the installation was put, they built a doorway. So to get in and out of this space, you had to pass through like a normal human sized door, and it was relatively deep, like three feet of like a teeny tiny hallway.
Craig: Stationed on either side in the hallway where two actors or actresses, like it varied, they worked in shifts, who stood there in nude on either side, just stood perfectly still, just two human beings standing there. The space that remains is not that wide and it’s like, just like random people going to the museum, you had to get through the space. The whole point of installation was to observe the people who were trying to navigate through.
Craig: It was like, whoa, connections. I forgot my other train of thought was. I was always debating, should I tell the story or should I keep going with the train of thought that I had? Do you have any kinetic sculptures that have been horrible failures? I don’t mean like it fell over and hurt someone. I mean, you had an idea. You tried to implement the vision and then it was completely different than what you’re imagining is what I’m getting at.
Craig: It’s like I’m looking for places where the visual and mental, you strike me as somebody who is really good at visualizing how this is going to work, whether this is a movement or a structure and places where then when you transition [inaudible 00:24:03] the real world, it was like, oh, that’s not at all how I thought that was going to work.
Thea Rae: Yeah, for a while I was really interested in not work based webs and making things that looked kind of like spider webs. I really wanted them to move and shift. So I kept trying to put actuators on them so that they would move around, but then there’s like so many points of tension in a web, that the actual physics of how to shift it involves so much more than I was thinking about at the time because you have to release tension when you’re taking tension on one side.
Thea Rae: So that movement and how the tension was transitioned wasn’t something that I think at the time I was thinking through well enough and so I just kept breaking lines. It just didn’t pan out the way I’d had hoped it to pan out. It’s something I’d like to revisit because I took a stunt rigging course two years ago in Australia, and it was really insightful for both my art making and also my stunt work because it was all about rigging based on lines and moving people around in space in really interesting ways.
Thea Rae: So it was cool to see how rigging abilities and tooling that I’d been using for helping do circus or build structures and stuff like that could be used to move humans around in space in very dynamic ways and control their movements. All of that started to inform the way I was thinking about building artistic structures as well and how we can make things that can move an object or create a space that’s always in flux.
Craig: What were you imagining for the failed web that you were building? Were you imagining that would just be a visual thing you look and it’s moving or you were expecting it to hold weight so that one could interact with it while it was moving and shifting?
Thea Rae: At the time, I was making a prototype trying to make something that people could climb on. I would still like it to be something that people can climb on. I think just things that you can look at are great, but I get really bored in a museum, because I’m like, I looked at it a lot.
Craig: That’s a sight gag, you missed it. I like to collect people’s stories, and I don’t mean like I want to know about you. I’m looking for stories that people want to share that give us insight into who they are. So I’m wondering if there’s a story that you have that’s maybe related to, I guess maybe a story related to stunt work. You don’t have to go there, but sometimes it’s helpful if I give a little context.
Thea Rae: Well, I think stunt works, interesting for me to talk about in the sense that I’m new to it, and there’s like this big faux pas, like talking about it when you’re new. Talking about it really at all, it’s like this kind of black box, that there’s not a lot of insight given into from the outside. I think part of that comes from the fact that it’s still not acknowledged by the larger film community as a big part of film.
Thea Rae: Everything from like, a comedy to an action movie has stunt work in it. We don’t really think about how many people are actually performing stunts unless you’re in the film and television industry and then since so many actors like to say they do their own stunts, it’s something that gets brushed under the rug a lot. Around that, it’s very old school in the way it happens, where it’s like, usually someone’s like, hey, yeah, you should do stunts because you like have all of these skills that are totally stunt related.
Thea Rae: Then there are also some people who go to stunt schools and stunt schools can sometimes be seen as less than, like you can’t really learn stunts from a school, which definitely the more I’m on set, the more I understand that mentality because every stunt, every gag, every situation is different. Every director, every cinematographer is different, every camera ops different.
Thea Rae: So what they want out of the situation is always going to vary. When you’re learning really the things that people should focus on are just having a diverse and solid skill set and knowing what they can and cannot do, and making sure they present themselves as honestly as they can. I think that it’s really a crazy industry because you go up to get a job by like, going to where someone is actively working, finding them at their job and saying, hey, I’m a stranger, I haven’t met you before.
Thea Rae: Here’s my resume and headshot and there’s a link to my reel on that. Nick, could you watch that and maybe hire me. I mean, not quite that way, or maybe that way depending on the person. I’ve heard horror stories about people hustling, it’s called hustling poorly and the coordinators never wanting to talk to them again, because they just [crosstalk 00:29:32] so awkward. No other industry do you harass someone at work in order to get work, but that’s the way you show face.
Thea Rae: So it’s a really complicated industry that has a lot of politics to it, and I think there’s so many layers. I love it. It’s the most fun job I’ve ever had. It feels the most me job I’ve ever had, but at the same time, it’s a really challenging job like you were joking about, like don’t do podcasting unless it’s like the only thing you can do ever because it’s hard. It’s like stunts, I think is the same way. It’s like a lot of people think of it as a good way to make money because acting doesn’t often pay the same.
Thea Rae: You have to put in so much time just to get one job that it’s like you have to love doing it in order to do it, but I love it. I had one day where I got hit in the butt with a tennis ball, and it was just such a ridiculous day because she could have easily served the tennis ball right into the back of my neck and it would have been a really bad day for me. I mean, for her in the scene, it probably still would have been a really great day but I would have really been in a lot of pain but because she managed to somehow, she almost hit me all sorts of places, but the one time it landed was smack on my butt.
Thea Rae: So it was great, but that’s one of the fun things about stunts is that you don’t always know what’s going to be the danger of a stunt. There’s so many things that make it kind of dangerous, that there’s also, this for me, adrenaline euphoria that happens with doing things that are mildly dangerous.
Craig: So did you want to tell an actual story or is getting hit in the butt with this tennis ball your story?
Thea Rae: That’s the extent of my story. I don’t really-
Craig: That’s a good story.
Thea Rae: I don’t know that I have specific stories about stunts, because, I can tell you about doing a stunt like getting hit it in the ass with a tennis ball, but they’re generally pretty stupid things. It’s like you run away from glass, you throw yourself at the ground, you pretend you’re getting punched and slam yourself into a wall. I don’t know, I think a more seasoned stunt performer would have better stunt stories for you, someone who’s pulling like crazier gags.
Craig: I was just curious. It’s always interesting to see what people think would be interesting for others to hear. I think everything you said was very interesting, because it’s a whole world that I have absolutely no knowledge of it, although, I think I’ve talked to one other person I know who has done stunts. So two little glimpses. I think it’s all very interesting. Then there’s a million lines we could draw, like anything from programming that you think applies directly to the aerial aspects? So a lot of what appears interests you is aerial silks and aerial hoop work and it’s very kinetic with your own body. I’m wondering, how does programming fit into the same brain?
Thea Rae: Well, if you think of programming in terms of if else statements, aerial is pretty much if else. It’s like, if I did this thing, then I can do these things out of it. So you’re constantly like, basically running through loops of combinations of things that lead you to having a couple choices. So then you choose them, and I’ve actually written out algorithmic sequences, in a sense, where you write different choices you can make and so there’s mapped paths based on your choices and it gives you just Boolean options.
Thea Rae: So you can have a really long sequence that you don’t actually have to generate on the fly, but you can improv it by only choosing between the different options and I’ve used that as a teaching style too, for students that don’t know how to choreograph or improv. So I’ll give them like, these are your pathways you can take. So you can do this one, and then this one, or this one, and then that one, and just like programming, you learn little building blocks.
Thea Rae: Then those building blocks get stacked on top of each other. So after you learn how to do if else, you learn how to do a for loop or a while loop. So you learn these different ways of cycling through and thinking about problem solving. The same thing can be applied to circus or movement. The way that you think about moving you can think like, okay, I can do a forward roll. Out of a forward roll, I can stand up and do a cartwheel or I can do a backward roll, or I can do a macaco or I can do a handstand.
Thea Rae: So you have all these different options, and there’s different levels of skill sets and like a cartwheel then turns into a one handed cartwheel, which can turn into a front walkover, which could turn into something else. So it’s like you build these skills, and then you find ways of cycling them to create loops. So I think it’s actually similar to programming if you think of it in a building block way.
Craig: How did you get into riding, I’m assuming that’s a fixie.
Thea Rae: Yeah. I’ve been riding fixed since I started riding a bicycle.
Craig: Oh, that’s not what I was expecting. So how long have you been running a bicycle first of all? I mean, roughly, I don’t think you can give me an exact age,
Thea Rae: I think since I was like 14 years or something.
Craig: Oh, so you weren’t riding a bicycle as a real little kid?
Thea Rae: No, I was really afraid of going downhill.
Craig: Okay, because my brain was like, how do you teach a five year old kid to ride a fixie? I was like, what? I get it now. So first bike was a fixie. Any particular reason? Did somebody have a fixie and said, you should try this? Maybe we should unpack fixie and fix it.
Thea Rae: So one of my friends, a guy I briefly dated, really wanted me to ride bikes. This is when I lived in Boston while I was still in college, and I was like, I’m so afraid of bikes. I don’t, I can’t. Which is hilarious because I live and breathe bikes these days. No one I know now can imagine me without a bicycle.
Craig: I saw you walk through the hallway, I’m like, ooh, bicycle person.
Thea Rae: Yeah. With my beautiful Japanese frame that I got myself two years ago when my old bike that I’d had the whole time I’d ridden bikes got stolen, very sad moment. He was like, “No, no, you’re totally going to ride,” and I was like, “No, I’m not.” Then one night, he made sure I had like a few beers and was good and drunk. He was like, “You’re going to try riding the bike.” I was like, “Okay, I will try riding your bike.” I had no clue about the difference between fixed gear and single speed or anything and his was brakeless.
Thea Rae: So he helps me on the bike by holding the front wheel so I can step over. Thankfully, he’s a little shorter than me. So I could actually stand pretty comfortable, but then I started peddling. It doesn’t coast. So you got to keep peddling and I’m going forward, and I’m still peddling. So I’m just stuck in this circle, screaming at him that I don’t know how to stop because A, there were no brakes.
Thea Rae: He was like you should try going backwards, which resulted in me stopping and falling off the bike a little bit, but it wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it was going to be. Because I didn’t actually fall over and end up dying, which duh, it’s a bicycle, but irrational fears be irrational fears. Then I tried it again and I liked it and I realized I could stop by just controlling the leg muscles. So just restricting my own pushing would stop me and that felt really nice. I felt like I had really good control.
Thea Rae: Then I moved to California and I was driving to the climbing gym every day, and it took me 15 minutes to drive to the climbing gym. Then I would bike for 10 minutes, as soon as I got there to get warm before I would climb.
Craig: I smell optimization.
Thea Rae: I was like, this is silly. Then my friend who lived a few blocks from me, rode his fixie to the climbing gym every day and it would take him less time to get to the climbing gym than it would for me to drive. So I asked him to help me buy a bicycle. So I bought my first bicycle. It was an IRO, which no longer exists. It was a brand out of Chicago steel, real frames, slightly aggressive geometry. I ran two brakes to start, but it was still fixed and I started riding my bike everywhere.
Thea Rae: When I lived in California, I got rid of my car and I was riding daily over 30 miles just commuting. I’ve sprained both my ankles a few times, and I got to the point where I could ride one foot with crutches strapped to my bike. It was just my life lived on that bike. I’ve tried bikes where you can coast because I’ve dated people who thought I really needed to have a free wheel because they were worried for my knees and I get really freaked out if I’m coasting.
Thea Rae: I just don’t know how to stop with brakes. It’s not what my brain goes to first. I can definitely ride bikes with coaster wheels, but I prefer a fixed gear just because I like the connection to my speed and cadence. Oh, a funny bike story is, so in Oakland, there was this one strip that I’d ride every day that was like a couple of miles. The lights would always be timed in green and oftentimes riding home from work, I’d be like changing my shirt and swapping out different clothes so I could go somewhere else looking nicer.
Thea Rae: I managed to swap my shoes twice, but I never figured out how to swap from shorts to a skirt. I really, this was one of the things that I haven’t figured out how to get that good balance on my current bike, but I wanted to get to the point where I could go from work clothes into evening wear while riding and have someone record it. So there was a cutlass scene. I never got to that point, but I did change most of my clothes a few times.
Thea Rae: One time, I woke up in the middle of the road, missing five minutes of my life and assessed what was happening based on the time, the direction I was going and like where I was to figure out what happened. So helmets sometimes are good. I really wanted to get into a mini dress was what I was aiming for, but I couldn’t figure out how to like, I should have been on the unicycle basketball team. That probably would have helped because then I would have been able to stand and pedal and balance and put the skirt on like over my head.
Craig: Standing and not having to hold the handlebars, that’s hard. Do you find that having spent a little bit of time, four years was it, having spent a little bit of time digging into geology, that it really fundamentally changes the way you see the world? So like, drive through Manhattan, and there’s a lot of different stuff going on. In Tribeca, the bedrock will support tall buildings and there’s like that whole, I don’t know what it is, but there’s a space between canal and whatever it is, where there aren’t any tall buildings because the bedrock is different. Do you find that you see through the things that man has created and really understand what lies underneath it or is geology something that’s like, yeah, I can turn it on, but it’s not always there automatically?
Thea Rae: It lets me read about things when I feel like it and understand them or when I’m looking at like, geologic features in a national park and stuff like that, understand what those are. Like two years ago, I was working in Korea and I got into an argument with my boss, and he’s like, “This isn’t basalt.” I was like, “It’s totally basalt.” He was like, “No, this well looks like these columns.”
Thea Rae: I was like, “No, that’s columnar basalt. This is like pillowed basalt. It comes in water.” He’s like, 'It’s totally not basalt," and we just had this lovely argument. And then I handed him the pamphlet for the place that we were working. It says, basalt and I was like, “See, I told you.” I do like having it in my back pocket for those moments along with like, lots of other really random knowledge that I have.
Thea Rae: I don’t think geology does much in my day today other than fuel my appreciation for nature and the things that are happening. It has taken me on some fun adventures, but I didn’t dive into it on the level, I think you have to pursue advanced degrees in it to really have it be something that you do more with other than maybe using to go work at a company that does gravel or something like that and then you’re just crunching numbers.
Thea Rae: I have a lot of friends who got PhDs and have done really interesting things. One of my friends from my cohort, I convinced her to do geology instead of chemistry. I felt very proud about that. She writes for National Geographic now, and mostly what she’s doing is translating science from science speak into layman’s terms. I think that there’s a lot of interesting things people can do with it, but for me, it was just thinking back on it, it was really because we got to go out hiking in order to practice or like I got to go to the Bahamas and do like geologic research there because it’s one of the few places where there’s in situ reefs that date back to the last interglacial period.
Thea Rae: So, geology is one of those cool sciences that you don’t have to just stay in the lab for. There’s a lot of lab time but you also get to go outside. And once I started rock climbing, I was like, oh, that’s why I liked geology.
Craig: Where have you climbed, just roughly? I don’t mean list off all the place you may be climbed out west, have you climbed only in the east? Have you climbed in Thailand?
Thea Rae: Yeah, I’ve climbed all over California, though never J Tree, I never got to climb in J Tree. I’ve been to J Tree but haven’t climbed there. I’ve climbed a little bit on this coast. I’ve climbed in Japan and I’ve climbed in Thailand. I like to hit up climbing gyms in every country I go to. I used to go in every city but climbing is not that big of a part of my life anymore, mainly I stopped bouldering as much and having a consistent ropes partner is a challenge for me with my inconsistent life.
Craig: Yeah, I was going to say what kind of climbing do you like to do? Do you do sport climbing or trad?
Thea Rae: I really like to trad because you get to make cams if you do trad and cams are cool. I just like the idea of making the thing that then holds your body and that’s just fascinating to me. You get to like, make something and then decide that it’s totally solid enough to support all of your weight, but I’ve never done tread. I’ve only taken a couple cam building workshops. So I’ve done a fair amount of lead climbing and then tons of top roping and lots of bouldering. I have hated ropes. I have trust issues with people, like I don’t like partner acrobatics. I don’t like partner aerial. Just people drop you.
Craig: I was going to say, have you been dropped many times?
Thea Rae: Not many, but I’ve had one or two that have directly impact my body’s ability to do things. Now I’m more into rope climbing and I found people that I will really trust to be my belay but like my favorite belay, she’s currently in Costa Rica, and then she’s going to maybe be in the Bahamas, and then she’ll maybe go to California and she definitely doesn’t live on this coast. We’ve met up and climbed in Thailand, so I don’t know. My lifestyle doesn’t necessarily relate to having the most consistent climbing partner, but my favorite place to climb ever is Bishop.
Thea Rae: It’s in California. It’s mostly bouldering though there is a gorge for sport climbing, and I think you can do trad but I’m not sure because I definitely didn’t do trad there. I just did sport, but it’s so beautiful. It’s a high plains desert, Sierra-ish and then there’s these beautiful rock faces. There’s the happies, the sads and the buttermilks are three of the biggest ones. The buttermilks have like really crystally rocks. They’re so pretty because they just look like these oval egg things sticking up out of the ground a lot of the time and then you can climb on them and slice your fingers open on the granite crystals.
Thea Rae: Then the happies and sads are like these sharp reddish rocks and it’s so much warmer there. I hate the cold. I know I live in New York. I don’t know why, but I hate the cold. So the happies and through sads were always more my thing because I like being in the sun and being warm even though that makes you sweaty and slimy on the rocks. Chalk, all the chalk.
Craig: I was going to say, chalk or no chalk. All the chalk.
Thea Rae: When I was climbing a lot, I used to like downsize for shoes to make sure that they would stay on really tight and so I could really heel hook wherever I wanted. I don’t do that anymore. I wear my shoe size and it’s comfortable. I can’t heel hook for shit. It just pops right off when I try, but it’s not excruciating and I just muscle through a lot of things that should be footwork. In New York, my favorite gym to climb in is The Cliffs. I like they’re setting the best, but I go to BKB Queensbridge more because they have a sauna.
Craig: [inaudible 00:48:39] in the sauna, that’d be cool.
Thea Rae: I will totally do that.
Craig: I would totally fall off that right. Sweating. It’s right over the hot rocks, don’t fall.
Thea Rae: That’d be kind of fun.
Thea Rae: I loved to deep water soloing in Thailand. That was awesome.
Craig: Deep water soloing?
Thea Rae: Yeah.
Craig: Oh, climbing over deep water? So when you fall, I’m going swimming with all my rock gear, right?
Thea Rae: I brought my shitty climbing shoes for that one, which maybe didn’t make it any easier. It was definitely a challenge because everything was kind of a little bit slippy and slimy and your shoes would be wet, but it was still so much fun to climb in the heat and humidity in a bathing suit and go swimming. I went with a couple friends last year after we finished building that structure.
Craig: There’s an experience when you’re climbing about just being there, even if you’re climbing with a partner, typically so you’re just there by yourself, either your lead or you’re the second whatever. There’s something about that and it’s a combination of hiking, but it’s not hiking. There’s a communal quality with the rock. No two rocks are the same [inaudible 00:49:58]. No two rocks are exactly the same. The time of day, the moisture, everything changes, and there’s something visceral about using all four of your limbs to go for the hike. That changes. You’re not just standing on the trail taking in the beauty.
Craig: It’s you literally worked to get to that spot. I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on, along the, because we’ve been talking about kinetic sculpture, we’ve been talking about acrobatics, we’ve been talking about stunt work, all things which involve yourself very much and I’m wondering how rock climbing feels to you. So stunt work, and even kinetic sculpture. These are all things that like you’re trying to create motion, and rock climbing, yes you’re moving but it’s more like you’re trying to create stillness while you’re moving.
Craig: I’m just wondering what your thoughts might be on like the juxtaposition. You really seem passionate about rock climbing, which is really I think about stillness, unless you’re a super dynamic climber. Then that contrasts with all of these other things you’ve been describing.
Thea Rae: I don’t think it’s about stillness. I think that you’re channeling the sloth and the sloth isn’t about stillness. It’s about maximizing what you get for your effort. Rock climbing, for me is about efficiency. So it’s a puzzle, essentially, like, you look at it, and you try to read the rock, you try to read what works for your body too. Because when I used to climb all the time, I climbed with this woman called Mafia. She’s five foot tall with short arms. I am five six with an ape index of plus three. So our climbing style-
Craig: Ape index is the ratio of the tip to tip arm span, like from the tip of your middle finger to middle finger. How far can you reach that way versus how tall you are. So a positive ape index means you have long arms.
Thea Rae: Yeah, really long. So if I’m hanging on something over hung, and my weight is very far away from the contact points. Meaning my toes and my fingers. So I have to pull in a lot more, but if I’m climbing on something that’s very vertical or slabby, then I have a much better reach to get to things. It might mean that I have to pull with my muscles much longer in order to move myself a greater height, but there’s oftentimes a chance where I can get to a straight arm hang off of some crimp, and then move my feet around in ways that someone who’s shorter is going to have to do dynamic moves to get up to or find intermediate holds.
Thea Rae: So I think one of the most interesting things throughout climbing is that you’re actually problem solving the whole time and I love that they call bouldering like problems, because it’s the same sort of problem solving you would apply to any upset that comes in your day. It’s like, okay, how do I handle this? What works for me? How do I solve this situation? How do I get through this? So I think rock climbing actually teaches people how to be calm through all sorts of crazy situations, because climbing is a pretty stressful situation a lot of the time.
Thea Rae: We’re like, intending to put ourselves in as stressful of situations as our bodies can possibly handle, and then we’re trying to figure out how our unique bodies, because each person has a really different body, and has different strengths and different mobility, can get through this prescribed motion because the first person to have ascended decides what the problem is, and decides if there’s like a path you can take and that’s rated for one thing or a path you can’t take.
Thea Rae: There are people who climb on rocks not giving a shit about any of that and it’s great and it’s fun. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re like following the sport of it, then you have different grades for different difficulties. So you have prescriptions of where you can and can’t go and if it’s on route or not on route and in the gym, there’s usually color coded. Outside, it’s just like you’re studying a rock and trying to figure out your way through it while staying calm. Because once you start to get anxious, that’s when you start to sweat.
Thea Rae: That’s when you start to tense up, that’s when you start to shake, and all of those things are counterproductive to safely ascending your task. So I think it’s a really interesting sport in that it gives you so many life skills. I love it because you’re constantly forcing yourself to just stay chill.
Craig: Yes, I would agree completely.
Thea Rae: So you climb as well?
Craig: I haven’t climbed in a couple of years because I don’t look like a climber. If you see me I look like a gorilla. Not like a climber, but yes, I have-
Thea Rae: Some climbers are gorillas.
Craig: I have climbed. My biggest problem is I weigh too much, but I spent something like two or three, this is a long start, but I spent over two weeks in Colorado and have a friend, we’re still friends, who weighs like half what I do. The joke was, I used to call him the rope gun. So we climbed trad and I would jokingly launch him, because he could climb like 11 something and I can climb like five nine. So anything, he would just scale and leave trad gear and then I would climb second and just pick it all up behind him.
Craig: So we spent three weeks living in this climbing band, just climbing all over everything in Colorado, Lumpy Ridge and that was like the most fun I ever had. We did a couple things. There’s a state park that has the slabs, the flat irons in it. So we went in there, closes at dusk. We went in at dusk and then climbed the first flat iron, I think it was starting at dark and climbed, like we made seven traditional pitches out of it in the dark and that was the first outdoor rock I ever touched, was climbing that.
Craig: So that was my first experience outdoors, was climbing to the top of that at night and looking at the stars and learning how to do a fireman’s belay because it’s a wrap off the top one wrap and it’s an overhang. So you’re wrapping 80 feet, just I hope this ground down here [inaudible 00:56:06]. He knew but he was just like, okay, here’s how we’re doing a fireman’s belay and set it all up. It’s just like a literal peek with a ring on it and ringed all this stuff off and then he wraps off me because I’m ringing in front of him.
Craig: He repels off and the rope goes loose, real windy, so I couldn’t hear him. I’m like, I guess this is, he’s like, come down. Anyway. So I haven’t done a ton of rock climbing but I really fell in love with doing trad and the people that you meet are like, there really aren’t any expletives.
Craig: The people all are chill, because if you’re not chill, if you’re a whack job, you don’t survive like you fall off stuff and you run into people who were either couples or just, like Mike and I were a really odd couple, like two completely different size people. Once we got the hang of it, just climbing day after day after day, once we got the hang of it, he would do crazy ass shit. He would climb up there and get a piece of protection in and then he’d just be like, he would just jump, because I was always ready. He would just do crazy stuff. So that’s my climbing. Now I go bouldering gyms and cry. I’m just like, oh, v2. I wish I could climb v2.
Thea Rae: Hey, a v2 is pretty hard actually. I think a v2 is close to 5.10b Crux. Something like that.
Craig: Crux, yes.
Thea Rae: Yeah, because bouldering problems, the way they rate them is like it’s the crux of a rope climb. Plus you have the extra mental fatigue of knowing you can fall like when you’re on ropes. Yes, you can fall but-
Craig: Would prefer not to.
Thea Rae: You know someone’s got you. Especially if you’re on TR, meaning top rope.
Craig: When you climb trad, have you ever done it at all? So when you fall on rocks like that, it’s like, no, it’s not like a top rope. I’m talking to everybody who’s listening. When you fall, well, I don’t know where is the protection? If it’s off to the right, you’d be a pendulum, you’re going for a swing and it’s stretchy rope. So not only are you falling in the swing, but you first got to fall down. Yeah, all kinds of fun stuff.
Thea Rae: Yeah, you get a nice whipper.
Craig: If you’re lucky, you know you’re falling so you can run, but if you’re not lucky, you just, you know.
Thea Rae: Falling outdoors on ropes is definitely scarier than in a gym, falling on ropes. I’m just meaning like, don’t knock a v2 or yourself for climbing anything. I think that’s the least productive thing that we can do as athletes is get down on ourselves for being athletic in any fashion. Because we can all only be wherever we are on any given day, and as we age, there’s a lot we’re more in tune with. I wouldn’t say that children don’t have a lot of injuries and things.
Thea Rae: It’s just they’re taught to not talk about them. They’re taught to not express how they’re feeling and they don’t have the years of nuance to know that the pains that they’re having might be overuse strains and stuff like that. So I think that’s why you find a lot of adults who are much older, by much older, I mean much older than children, like in their 30s having injuries that they’re like, this really has been bothering me and it’s like something that probably came from childhood.
Thea Rae: I work with an amazing PT at Motiv NY and he’s phenomenal. He’s broken down so many weird things that I just accepted as part of my body, like oh, my back has gone out since I was 14 and stopped gymnastics. I’ll have two days where I just can’t walk. He’s like, no, that’s not normal. We can fix that.
Craig: What was the fix for that?
Thea Rae: I’m still working on fixing that. It’s learning how to use my glutes as glutes instead of my back and building up a better internal and external rotation in my hips so that they do all of the movements so I’m not using my back to compensate for lack of mobility in my hips.
Craig: Amen. Once more louder for those of us in the back like me, because that’s one of my issues is complete lack of forward fold. If I just do a forward fold, I don’t even make it to like 90 degrees before I run out of hip flexibility. Then I started doing basically what’s effectively a deadlift, but with free weights. First I was doing them on like an 18 inch, like the dead weights went to 18 inches off the floor. I’m like, well, that’s all the further I can go in the hip flex. I was just working on that.
Craig: I think that’s probably the greatest exercise, that and laying face down and doing hip or back extensions. Those are probably the two greatest exercises I ever started doing just to like, oh, let’s fix this weakness and look, now I can bend over. So anyway, off on a tangent.
Thea Rae: No, I love that tangent. I love like, rehabbing and pre-hab. I think especially with the diversity of activity I do, the load on my body is pretty high. I was dating someone who’s a weightlifter and they would have me try and work out with them all the time. I was like, okay, I’ll go to the gym with you and they’d be like, yeah, you should do this and you should do this. I’m like, I know your body can do those things, but you don’t do half of what I do.
Thea Rae: On any given day, I could figure skate, do yoga, ride my bike, train fighting, or climbing, or dancing, or aerial harness or aerial rope hoop or straps or something. So there’s a lot of things that I try to get through in a day. In order for my body to stay capable of doing all the things I want it to do, let alone like, just life, I have to do a lot of rehab and pre-hab. I get up in the morning and for the first hour of the morning, I’m just laying on my floor, trying to do things that activate my glute muscles, and that usually just means laying face down and trying to use just my glute to lift my leg up behind me, which really means that I think I’m lifting it like three feet, but I’m actually moving it a quarter of an edge.
Thea Rae: That kind of work, I think is actually so important to all movement artists and constantly overlooked. Then in the circus world, everybody just thinks that they should just sit in stretches, and this is one of the things that my PT is constantly working on me about, because-
Craig: Don’t static stretch.
Thea Rae: I love to sit and I stretch. I’m like, yeah, I’m working. I’m just like slumped over in this stretch. It’s like, no, actually, you’re just pulling on your already loose tendons. So retraining my mindset has been a really big thing in my more recent years of movement, to be more capable of lifting my body through range of motion. In doing that, not compensate with something else like using my back instead of my hips.
Thea Rae: It’s like, no, no, no, let’s, okay, the range of motion is maybe an eighth of what I thought I had, because now I’m actually using the appropriate muscles to actuate rather than going for the general shape of something. I’ve really fallen in love with ice skating over the past year.
Craig: See we haven’t even talked about that yet. Let’s go there.
Thea Rae: So I started that the last week of February last year, because I hate winter and I was like, I hate winter so much. Why do I hate winter so much?
Craig: Because it’s cold.
Thea Rae: Because it’s cold, but more importantly, because I don’t go outside and I live in a city, and I don’t have time to go snowboarding all the time because I love the snow. I love making snowman, but that’s like, two and a half hours or so-
Craig: To New Hampshire or something.
Thea Rae: Yeah, to get out to the snow. So I’m like, that’s not going to work for me. I have too many other things I want to do. Then I was like, Bryant Park has free ice skating, if you have ice skates. If I just buy a pair of ice skates, I can go ice skating all I want. I tried it twice and I was like, okay, I can skate. I can go forward. I can switch directions. I can cross my feet like I would rollerblade as a child, but I see these other people doing the spins, and these jumpings and that’s super cool.
Thea Rae: I was like, I want to do that. So, me being me and picking up most sports that I do in like six weeks, I get to an intermediate level usually, so I don’t know how to use my feet. I know how to use my arms. So rock climbing, aerial, hand balancing those things, that’s all about your arms. I am a complete dumb ass on ice skates. My coach used to make fun of me because she’s like, okay, lift your leg and then I pushed with my shoulder and she’s like, why are you pushing your hand down to lift your foot up? I was like, because that’s how you lift your foot up in the air.
Thea Rae: She’s like, you’re not in the air. You’re on ice skates. So ice skating has been amazing for me, because you can’t compensate. You can’t compensate with other muscles and other areas where you throw yourself off balance, and when you’re balancing on the edge of a blade attached to your foot, any shift in your hips is going to be amplified immensely. So it’s all about like subtle, controlled movements and really being in tune with what muscles you’re activating when and which direction you’re pulling and where your core is, where your shoulders are, where your head is, like if you’re on the ball of your foot, if you’re on the heel, and so it’s so nuanced.
Thea Rae: Obviously I had no idea when I got into it, otherwise, I’d probably be like, that’s going to be too much work, I’m lazy, but then I got hooked. So three pairs of ice skates in and I skate now six times a week, at least for the winter. It’ll probably drop down as the weather warms and I have to drive farther for ice skating.
Thea Rae: I love it and it’s improved my hip mobility a lot. So I’ve seen crossover, like biking without my hands on my rollers has gotten so much easier. I can bike for much longer, and rollers are like three cylinders that you balance a bike on rather than a trainer that supports and stabilizes the bike. So that’s gotten easier, longboarding has gotten easier. I have more stability and control in my kicking for like Taekwondo style kicking, not that I’m good at all. Please don’t ever, but like, I practice that. I’m not good at it, but I practice it.
Craig: So as with every conversation that I’ve ever had with everybody, they wander all over the map because people are interesting, and they have lots of different things to talk about. What I’m wondering is, is there, and I think you’re going to say ice skating but is there something that you picked up that really, like I said, I think it’s going to be ice skating, that really surprised you, not just in how hard it was but in once you started to get to the intermediate level on this thing that I’m asking about, that you then saw it changing other things. So has ice skating affected the way you mentioned that it affected your balance on your bicycle and it probably affects snowboarding and is it ice skating is the thing that really played in all that the most?
Thea Rae: I wouldn’t say it’s one thing. I’d say it’s everything. I think that everything you do affects everything else you do in movement, and in thinking too. Like I said, rock climbing teaches you how to stay calm in situations, which I found made me more calm when I was learning more advanced moves in circus. I was able to stay calm doing something that’s potentially very dangerous because I already had that training in a more constrained situation.
Thea Rae: In that same thing about like thinking about how you breathe, and having a dance background comes into ice skating too and thinking about body positioning. Having my PT from my ankle injury a few years ago taught me so much about my hips and back. So when my coach would be like, oh, you’re doing this thing, I understood where that was coming from. So I don’t think it’s like any one thing, just like I think when I’m weightlifting and training, like just strength training, I’m constantly thinking about the way the patterning and the firing of my muscles in a very constrained movement relates to that firing pattern in something like cycling.
Thea Rae: So I think every movement you do informs everything else and ice skating definitely has had all of those moments but aerial has too. I remember when I first started doing aerial, someone made me do stuff holding a wrench because when I was doing aerial, I looked like a gymnast. Meaning I was very position A, position B, go, go, go. Balance, perfect, form. Then as soon as it was holding something I was like, I don’t know. How do I move my body though?
Thea Rae: It’s like, wait, I’m not just doing exactly what I’m told, I have to be creative. So I think that’s one of the really interesting things about life and how if you’re open to it, everything can cross pollinate. I’ve always been a fan of cross training as soon as I started doing it. I mean, when I was a gymnast, I had no idea about cross training. I still rollerbladed Ben and ran around like a crazy egg because it was a child, but in my 20s, I started cross training and rock climbing was probably the first thing for that but then that’s around the same time that I started cycling.
Thea Rae: I was also doing aerials. So like trying lots of different things, and I briefly studied parkour and that really informed a lot of my movement patterns to be more playful. So I think that it’s really interesting what you can get by just trying to draw threads between things.
Craig: It’s an understatement to say that you’ve done a bunch of different things, and they’re a combination of things you do for yourself like rock climbing and things which are for performance, whether you’re doing them for performance or teaching them for performance. So it’s a combination of self reflective, self improvement practice, and then performance type things. Done a lot of different things, but I gather that you haven’t done many interviews like this. So I’m wondering, what is something that surprised you about this experience that we’re having here this afternoon?
Thea Rae: I imagined you probably have more of a theme you wanted me to talk about, and you have leading questions for that. I don’t think it’s bad that you haven’t I just, I don’t know. I just didn’t know what to expect.
Craig: I get that a lot. Partly that’s because I’m lazy and like having a theme and leading questions requires extra work, but mostly it’s because the podcast is meant to give each guest a platform, an opportunity for them to talk about what they want to talk about to present their ideas. As much as I sometimes get feedback like you ask rambling questions, just ask a question and shut up. I do generally try to just get out of the way and let the guests talk about what they want to talk about.
Craig: So, I think good. So it worked out the way that I intended, which is I try to come up with as many questions as I hope I would not need to be able to trot them out, but I mostly just, like, throw random ideas out.
Thea Rae: Well, since you know you’re listening bass.
Craig: I really don’t. People ask me all the time, who listens? I’m like, I have no idea. My mom doesn’t even listen. I don’t know who listens to the podcast and partly, it’s because statistics are really hard to figure out who is actually listening, but also, I really don’t care. What I’m trying to create is partly my personal journey. I’m interested in talking to you and I’m interested in talking to the next person, and the next person.
Craig: So I want to go talk to people that I want to talk to, and I’m also interested in just letting those people express themselves. I do understand there’s a body of work that’s created by all the podcasters who are recording all these conversations. This stuff is immortal, it’s going to be around forever. You’re going to look back on it 20 years later and go, I remember that conversation.
Craig: So partly I don’t want to be worrying about the people I always think are behind me. Shit like, why are you gesturing behind you? I don’t worry about the people who are behind me who aren’t here. I don’t want us to try and create something for the imagined listener. I want us to just create the thing that is mostly you and a little bit me. I’ll do as much of the hard work as I can, and then you do the really hard work, in my opinion of having the creative side of the conversation, but I don’t think about it from the, what do people want to hear?
Thea Rae: Yeah, well, then I guess I would say like, is there anything that I’ve talked about that you found extra quirky or fascinating?
Craig: You strike me as having done an extremely varied collection of things, like serious application on geology, followed by I’m not kidding around, I’m doing ice skating and a little dabble on parkour. Like, let’s do stunt work. Let’s do air. Like there’s a lot of different things that you’ve done there in a relatively short time. So that strikes me as really interesting. A while back, I was thinking, maybe we should go down. I try not to get preachy, and say, people were listening who only do one thing.
Craig: You need to go do multiple things, but that’s clearly, I think, a takeaway here that you even said, which is that, yes, the cross pollination is important. So you strike me as someone who’s really gotten that part down, like not only having done it, but realizing that you need to do it, and picking up things like, oh, I suck at this, I’m going, I often do that with climbing, like, in parkour concepts, a little climbing challenges, like, oh my God, that’s horrible. Let’s try this. I try it, fall off and then leave in rails, like [inaudible 01:13:45].
Thea Rae: Parkour was really cool at one point when one of the coaches over at Brooklyn Zoo was like, you need to work on falling. I was like, really? So they were just like, here, do this and then fall, do this and fall. I was intentionally falling all the time to practice just falling. I was like, I wish that climbing started with falling. I wish people started teaching climbers how to fall instead of trying to teach them to spot each other’s asses.
Thea Rae: Because it’s like, well, let me stick my hands up there and just touch your butt. If you’re not a 6’2 dude catching a woman, it’s not going to work. You’re going to get sat on. The following that I learned from parkour I think is invaluable in so many skills, like the bike accidents I’ve been in since have been much more minimal, because I know how to roll out of and get out of situations or take a landing. It’s improved my stunt work a lot.
Thea Rae: So I really think like those things are interesting and it made me realize also, like one of the greatest moments that ice skating gave me was, so I dive too, like springboard diving. Two years ago, I was really struggling with my hurdle. I couldn’t have a solid hurdle. A hurdle is the way you can press the board to get the spring out of it. It’s kind of like a gymnastics hurdle, but way different and there’s like arm flailing that needs to happen in the right synchronization with your hurdling in order to maximize the amount you push the board down and then spring back up off of it.
Thea Rae: I was really wobbly. Partially because my left ankle had been severely injured a few years back, and so confidence but then ice skating taught me so much about balance and stability and trusting my feet again, that my hurdle improved so much and my coach was just like, what happened? Are you hurdling on a different leg? How is this so different? It’s so good, and I was like, ice skating.
Thea Rae: Yeah, cross training is definitely one of my favorite things in life and I don’t just mean cross training in movement, because I actually find that movement informs my art, art informs my movement. The knowledge I have from working with people doing movement informs my design skills and that informs the way I create applications and games. So I think everything in life if you’re open to it is cross training your mind, and so much of movement is your mind and what you’re open to and how you think about life.
Thea Rae: It’s another language. We talk about how like, Chinese is really different from English and there aren’t the same 10th structures. So there’s like a few podcasts from Planet Money on how people with different language structures think about money in different ways. Because the way you literally think and talk about time is different. Movement is also a language to me.
Thea Rae: Just as much as we can communicate with words. We can also communicate with our bodies and we can say so much. So if we have a really robust vocabulary, then we’re able to communicate so much more and we’re able to think in a different way. Because we can actually think with our bodies, in how we communicate. We can totally shut up and think about how we’re saying things in the way we stand, in the way we move, what a different type of step means.
Thea Rae: I remember as a teenager watching The Matrix and the way the character Trinity walked, felt like it had so much power in it. I was like, I want to walk like her, because I want to be a woman that is seen as someone who has power. So having those moments and thinking about in life, how much we don’t think about our regular movement and what it conveys in gesticulation and we don’t talk about movement like it’s a communicative language in the same way we talk about English, but I think it is.
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.
Craig: This was Episode 82. For more information, go to moversmindset.com/82. I’ll leave you with a final thought from Isabel Allende. Show up, show up, show up and after a while the muse shows up too. Thanks for listening.
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