Performing in a Pandemic Requires Improvisation

Cirque by the Sea's Drive-In Live at the Payomet Ball Field

PROVINCETOWN INDEPENDENT - Inseparable performers work a socially distant stage

By Jospehine De La Bruyére and Olivia Weeks - Aug 20, 2020

TRURO — Teddy Ment and Eleanor Getz, the two halves of the acrobatic performing duo Teddy and Eleanor, have spent the past six summers at the helm of Payomet Performing Arts Center’s yearly Cirque by the Sea. Cirque isn’t just “circus” spelled funny; it’s circus theater, with a topical central message. Payomet’s recent cirque shows include Circus of the Living Wage, The Scurvy Urchin, about the implications of overfishing, and 2019’s Some Like It Hotter.

“You can guess who liked it hotter,” quipped Artistic Director Kevin Rice, referring to certain climate crisis deniers.

This year, though, in March, it looked like curtains for Payomet’s planned cirque, which is directed by Getz. Production sputtered to a halt until July 29, when Payomet got permission from the town of Truro and the National Park Service to proceed, drive-in style.

Ment and Getz had at their disposal an outdoor stage on a repurposed baseball diamond, half their usual cast, and just a week to get their act together. So, they drew on a familiar theme, literally, and one that made sense after five-odd months of enforced domesticity: family.

Ment and Getz may not be related, but their roles as sisters in this year’s production, titled Sandman, came naturally. After meeting at Vermont’s New England Center for Circus Arts in 2014, the pair “matched up right away,” according to Getz. “Our dynamic just worked.” They quickly became inseparable friends, artistic collaborators, and business partners.

They have traveled together all over the world — “wherever the work takes us,” said Ment — from New England to France to Kenya to Montreal, a hub for specialists in duo trapeze. They spent last year based in New York City, spending 20 to 40 hours a week teaching and performing, and picking up other jobs on the side.

“I would say we really are like sisters,” said Ment. “We work together, we live together, we vacation together. We do everything together.”

That’s not to say it’s all smooth sailing for the duo.

“Of course, there are conflicts here and there,” said Ment. “But what we do requires so much trust and communication — we use those skills onstage and off.”

That dynamic mirrors Getz’s and Ment’s characters in Sandman: two sisters who spend the first half of the show bickering as they flip and fly from a hanging trapeze. Then arrives the Sandman — real name Trevor Pearson, a Brewster native — to juggle and shimmy his way to mending the sisters’ relationship.

A caveat: he does it all from six feet away.

This is Pearson’s seventh summer performing with Payomet, but he’s not a part of the cast’s core pod, which includes Ment, Getz, and the show’s pianist, Roberto Acosta — who happens to be Ment’s boyfriend.

Getz describes Pearson’s role as “the magical mediator.” He steps into (and resolves) family strife from a distance. He might have wizardry on his side, but conflict resolution at a distance is a concept recognizable to anyone who’s tried to figure out how to take a break from family during lockdown.

Despite the hurdles, Getz was able to quickly adapt past performances to form this year’s show into a cirque that draws consistent audiences — and which, she said, “we’re really proud of.” But the obstacles continue. The Commonwealth reduced Payomet’s outdoor capacity from 100 to 50 audience members last week.

Their annual summer camp for kids ages 2 to 14 was canceled, too, but the duo remains hopeful and full of plans for the future. Next on their agenda: a socially distanced, piano-accompanied “yoga circus” class, and a flexibility course Rice hopes to call “Seventh Inning Stretch.”

Weather permitting, Getz and Ment will continue their performances through October. But nothing this year is certain. If they can’t, said Getz, easy — they’ll improvise.