Chicken Soup and an Acrobat’s Soul

By Courtney Hebb

Just when I thought that my magical days as a stagehand were over, the Sirens’ Song (aka the Executive Director informing me that I was to return) lured me back to  work the final weekend at Pacific Place.

I was immediately received by warm welcoming hugs from our wonderful performers. This gave me the false confidence that my previous work must have been at least above average; after all, they were not running in fear upon my return. Maybe time had erased all memory of the incident of “the ball, the ring and the flying radio”! Or maybe the fact that I was dressed in black gave the impression that I was an authentic stagehand. Such illusions were immediately deflated when the show started. I opened the stanchions for Eric and he whispered to me with a smile, “Don’t lose your radio”. Ironically, minutes later I did; it came unclipped when I bent to set his mat but I was able to discreetly retrieve it. At least that time Eric was the only one flying (on his trapeze) and not my radio.

What a difference two weeks makes! The show had gained a loyal following and Pacific Place was packed with fans and families. One young girl arrived over an hour early for Eric’s warm up.

“So that is Eric.” She informed me as Eric was warming up on the trap, introducing me as if I won’t have met the man for whom I was holding the rope. “He’s so handsome” she gushed. “And then there is Trevor who does the Diablo and a German girl…” she continued to recite the show and then started explaining to me what all my job entailed. “So you will need to help Eric get up on the ball…” I nodded in agreement, smiling at her enthusiasm.

“I just met your number one fan!” I exclaimed backstage. But apparently I was wrong. My eye caught a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers that I assumed was a gift for one of the performers. However, Eric asked if I could take them out to the information tent so he can give them to the reall biggest fan after the show.

It turns out that Aerial Antics’ number one fan was a tiny old lady who once upon a time was a ballroom dancer. Throughout the show’s run, she was a frequent audience member always perching herself on one of the café stools and watching with awe as Eric gracefully performed above. After the show she would patiently wait until her turn to speak to the performers. She would often bring goodies and treats. One time she made brownies. Another time she brought him homemade chicken soup. Unbeknownst to her, Eric is a vegetarian, a fact will she never know since he didn’t have the heart to tell her and graciously accepted the soup.  A secret I promised to keep, so shhhh, don’t tell anyone!

After the show, Eric approached her with the sunflowers and serenaded her with “You Are My Sunshine”. Overwhelmed by this gesture, she gleamed with joy.  I too smiled with amazement. What impressed me most about Eric, Trevor and Manuela is not their world-class talent as performers, but their generosity as individuals. All through August, they would stay as long as necessary after each and every show to mingle with the audience, posing for pictures, and offering hugs.

On the very last show, they thanked everyone, listing by name all the people who worked behind the scenes to make the show possible. And then Eric gestured to me and personally thanked me for not letting him die. I’m sure this inside joke baffled most of the audience, but such gratitude warmed my heart, much like the proverbial chicken soup.

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