meet UWW student and circus performer anna vigeland

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Not many people can say they ran away to join the circus, but twenty-nine year old UWW student Anna Vigeland can! Well, she didn't run away really. She followed her dream- a dream that has led her around the world and back as a circus performer and artist. Here Anna shares her inspiring journey, her plans for the future and how she balances it all. Her advisor- Shekhar Regmi.  

Tell us your story?
I graduated early from high school and moved to San Francisco to begin learning circus two days later. I couldn’t wait to travel, and I wanted to dedicate myself to learning circus. I was interested in writing and performing, but I felt writing could wait, while performing couldn’t.

I spent several years learning circus arts in California, France, and, finally, at the National Circus School of Montreal, which is sort of like a conservatory for circus arts. I’ve since been working as a circus performer since 2007. I’ve worked with circuses, theater groups, TV shows, installations, and other projects in Asia, Europe, North America, and the Middle East. A year ago, in October, 2011, I left a full time tour performing with a show called Cavalia because I was ready for the next step: I wanted to create my own work, and I was curious about doing and learning new things. This past year, I’ve been developing my own choreography and performance pieces, directing small-scale works. I also often translate and edit texts for circus and artists (I am fluent in French). And finally, I upped my course load with UWW, and am preparing to graduate this winter!

Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?
I don’t know of any other program that would have allowed me to continue traveling and working like I’ve been able to do, while at the same time receiving a high quality education. I travel all the time! Since starting UWW, I’ve logged onto classes from Minneapolis; Mexico; Michigan; Montreal; Portland, OR; Portland, ME; Bulgaria; Italy; Greece; Spain; Vancouver; Quebec City; San Francisco; Calgary; Boston; New York; and Amherst.

I was of course drawn to the flexible and supportive program UWW offers to adults returning to school, as well as UMass Amherst’s good arts and journalism departments. I grew up in Amherst, and my dad actually teaches in the UMass journalism department (ironically, I did not take any of his courses), so I was familiar with UMass UWW and its positive reputation.

What was the best part about being a UWW student for you?
Learning new things is I suppose an obvious answer, but that’s really been the greatest pleasure, and the main reason I enrolled. It’s also fun being in class with people of all ages, who are working in all fields, and who are living all over the world. On a personal note, UWW has been the perfect partner as I’ve been transitioning from a life as a full time circus performer towards the next stage. As I explore new professional possibilities, getting new perspectives--via learning about new fields and hearing from people from different backgrounds—has been indispensable.

You are studying arts journalism. What does that mean and what are your professional goals related to your degree?
Well, you could say that arts journalism is any journalism that reports on the arts. I’m looking at a pretty specific branch of this, because I’m interested in chronicling the arts from within. Traditionally, many forms of journalism require a certain level of distance between the journalist and the subject in order to be accurate and fair. In other words, I wouldn’t be able to write objectively if I were reviewing I show I was involved with, or if I were reporting in a conventional way on the performance of a former colleague! But I do think there is a way to write about the arts while also living and breathing them, and I’m exploring this. Actually, a lot of traditional performance reviews, in which the critic tells us what happened in a show and then gives his/her opinions, are really boring! I’m not interested in becoming an arts critic. Rather, I’m using some of my time at UWW to learn more about good journalism, and discover my way of writing about the arts, while also being an artist!

I’ve also taken many courses with the arts management department. Those courses, together with the journalism courses, have greatly improved my ability to communicate and write about the performance work I do. This has helped me realize independent projects. I’m better able to articulate and defend my work, and to view it in new ways. This has led to new opportunities, such as several international artist residencies earlier this year.

What’s been your favorite class at UMass Amherst?
I loved “People and Their Language” with Linguistics Professor John McCarthy. We got to look at how language relates to culture, politics, history, and biology—it was so interesting!

What was the best part of writing a portfolio to earn credit from experience?
Writing my portfolio was fun, but the best part of the process was being in a class in which the students read one another’s portfolios. The range of backgrounds in the class was astonishing. Our professor assigned each of us a fellow student “buddy” with whom to form a sort of editing duo. My partner’s background included running a farm!

What have been the benefits of taking your classes online?
If it weren’t for online classes, I would have been obliged to quit my work in circus and performance in order to get my Bachelor’s Degree. I would have had to choose between refusing international projects, or further postponing my studies. With online courses, I didn’t have to make that harsh choice.

How do you balance work and school?  What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?
Most adults are better than teenagers are at compartmentalizing parts of their lives—this is a huge advantage when finishing your degree while handling responsibilities at work and home. Adults understand that it’s normal to have many mini-identities, that you can be a student, and be an artist (or any other profession), and be a member of your family, and be many other things. Adults not only apply what they learn in school to the rest of their lives, they also apply what they learn in the rest of their lives to school. UWW is very sensitive to all this.

What are your future plans professionally and personally?
I have several projects coming up. In the next few months, I’ll give a circus workshop in Manhattan; co-direct and perform in a short collaborative piece at an arts residency in Lithuania; and create a site-specific performance in Naples, Italy. I am currently writing several other shows and plays, and am free-lancing as a translator for some circus groups and artists. In my free time, I’m working on some fiction—mostly short stories. We’ll see where it all goes! I’ve also been considering pursuing an MFA program in the near future.