by Saori Wall
The origins of aerial silks, or tissu, are mysterious. The oldest known photograph of the art is of a woman named Amy LaVan, dating back to the early 1900’s. Since then many people have been credited with pioneering silks. A small french newspaper in 1959 was the first mention in print. However, many agree aerial silks were internationally recognized between 1995-1998 at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, where Isabelle Vaudelle premiered the act and, later joined by Isabelle Chasse in Quidam, a Cirque du Soleil performance. As a child I was taken to Quidam, where a young girl named Zoe, bored out of her wits, wanting to escape the monotony of her life, imagines an alternate world. Her companion is a headless man in a suit carrying an umbrella and bowler hat. Quidam is said to be the embodiment of everyone and no one, and the whimsical world brought to life by set designer Michel Crête remains one of the most extraordinary performances I have ever witnessed.
Luckily for us yearning for an alternate world, there is an outdoor pavilion in the canyon with aerial arts classes for children and adults. Whether you can relate to Zoe’s quest to escape the mundane or you’ve been feeling like an apathetic headless man carrying around your bowler hat and umbrella (and the rain is somehow coming up at you from the ground) FOCUSfish is most definitely the school for you.
FOCUSfish, is a 501c3 non-profit partnered with Cali-Camp to design and implement an outdoor aerial pavilion. With a unique pulley system by Paul Beauvais, the pavilion allows people of all ages to move safely, outdoors. Executive director, Kristy Beauvais says “It was time for innovation, not evacuation.”
“So much of our lives are dictated with such prohibition and alarm. Isn’t that dangerous? What if my child falls? What about our body’s ability to take care of itself? To trust itself in a situation? To be independent? And now we wear masks. We have to cope. This makes us stronger and our bodies more informed. This is why FOCUSfish had to come up with a plan to get back up in the air during the age of Covid-19.”
FOCUSfish opened in early July, and classes have been filling up. In August a new program developed by Kristy and Lexi Pearl, the organization’s advanced aerial teacher and local Topangan, will begin. Children will learn costume and makeup through online tutorials, as well as receive private vocal coaching through videos and Zoom. All will culminate in a video performance. Kristy says they are “happy to be outdoors, where the space is safe, nature thrives, and art lives.”
I met with the Beauvais family for a socially distanced preview of their updated pavilion. Greeted by Big Rock in the distance, to my left were two sisters supporting one another with words of encouragement as they finessed their craft. Kristy stood nearby proudly beaming as her youngest, Brodie climbed the tissu tied to the 18-foot-high structure and spun beautifully into a split. In this space, when on the mat there seemed to be only room for discipline and encouragement between sisters. I asked their oldest, Gabbi, if there is any hope for me to put down my bowler hat and umbrella and to learn a completely new skill.
“If you want to feel like a fierce fairy warrior god/goddess, I highly recommend aerial arts,” she replied. “It’s an amazing workout that builds all the right muscles for you to feel strong, safe, and graceful while levitating. It’s kind of a super power! To everyone who is just starting out or wants to, remember that it is always going to be hard, but our bodies are amazing things and if we persist, we get stronger every time.”
For more information on their program visit www.focusfish.com
More than 12 years ago, TECS parents Jill Williams and Sue Schmitt founded the school’s theatrical program, and this year FOCUSFish continued this tradition with auditions for the musical Cats, which will be produced by Jaya Ely and directed by Kristy Beauvais.
More than 75 children auditioned and all will be part of the show, as part of the mission of the production is that all children who auditioned are guaranteed a part. Even children who don’t like to be on stage can learn the backstage craft by becoming part of the volunteer crew who will assist in the ﬁnal shows. Rehearsals for Cats will bring a ﬂurry of excitement to the after-school enrichment programs, as children start learning songs and practice the dances in preparation for showtime in March.
by ANNEMARIE DONKIN
Despite a nearby four-acre fire that interrupted the Saturday afternoon and evening performances at the Topanga Community Center, the young actors quickly pulled it together for a final performance on Sunday afternoon when Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum came to the rescue and offered their stage. There’s no business like show business with a heart.
The latest youth musical to hit the boards in the Canyon was Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical that played at the Topanga Community Center (TCC) on Friday, Nov. 15, and Saturday Nov. 16 for just the first act due to a fire nearby that broke out around 2:35 p.m.
During the intermission, the play’s director, Kristy Beauvais, calmly informed the audience that the second act of the show was cancelled, as well as that evening’s performance.
Remarkably, after striking the entire set from the TCC on Saturday, the show was completely restaged and somewhat rehearsed on Sunday morning for a final performance at 2 p.m. at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.
That is an outstanding example of the entire cast and crew living up to the theatrical tradition of “the show must go on!”
All the young performers knew their lines and choreography, adopted British dialects, hit their marks, and shined while singing and dancing their hearts out.
Winner of more than 90 international awards, including 23 for Best Musical, Matilda is the story of an extraordinary little girl—neglected by her parents because she wasn’t a boy—but who is armed with a vivid imagination, a sharp mind, a bit of telekinesis, and dares to take a stand to change her own destiny. She is also “a little bit naughty!”
Matilda in Topanga
The Topanga production was the result of the efforts of FOCUSFish, the non-profit that brought the circus to the canyon with their aerial arts pavilion at the Cali Camp/Manzanita campus, which has expanded to bring children’s musical theater to Topanga.
FOCUSFish founder and Matilda director Kristy Beauvais, along with her producing partner, Jill Williams, have been creating shows for more than ten years with their musical productions at Topanga Elementary.
In this production Matilda featured more than 35 actors between the ages of 7 to 13 from six schools, including Manzanita, Topanga Elementary, Topanga Mountain School, Viewpoint, Waldorf, Paul Revere, and many homeschoolers.
During the show, several performers really stood out, including tiny Maxine Hexum as the Young Matilda and, of course, the amazing Sailor Ramos as the older Matilda, who acted, danced, and sang her way into our hearts.
Playing the adorable Little Kids were Mahina Choothesa-Sargis as Alice; Anika Williams as Luce; Echo Hexum as Horensia; Macie Kennedy as Eric; Bo Schmid as Tommy; Freddie Fulcher as Nigel; Brodie Beauvais as Amanda and Tallulah Gandee, who had some hilarious bits as Lavender.
Matilda’s cruel and clueless parents were played by Charlie Burrows as Mr. Wormwood and Aurora Finetti as Mrs. Wormwood.
Burrows had some clever moments singing “Telly,” and Finetti’s amazing performance of “Loud” was a real showstopper.
Tanner Boynton played Matilda’s brother, Michael, alternately indulged in and ignored by their narcissistic parents, and was double cast as The Cook. Cassius Brown nearly stole the show with his comic antics as Mrs. Wormwood’s dance partner Rudolfo.
Cheering Matilda on was her demure schoolteacher, Miss Honey, played by Allegra Frost, who performed touching renditions of “This Little Girl,” “I’m Here,” and “My House.”
Sophie Sexton was also wonderful as Mrs. Phelps, the sweet librarian who not only encouraged, but was addicted to Matilda’s fantastical stories.
Helping to spin Matilda’s tales were the Escapologist and his wife, The Acrobat, each well played by Wolf Momoa and Lola Momoa.
Naturally, there must be a villain and Emma Farkas camped it up and brought down the house as the evil Miss Agatha Trunchbull, the school’s headmistress.
Filling out the cast were Santo Wagstaffe as the Doctor; Gaia De Mesquito as the Nurse; Birdie Douglass as the Puppeteer; and Phoebe Krull, who stole the show as Sergei, the Russian Mob Boss, assisted by Henchman No. 1, Henry Whittenberg and Raiden Ray as Henchman 2.
Playing the “Big Kids” were Santo Wagstaffe as Ben; Gaia De Mesquito as Butch; Chloe Gaines as Tamika; Virginia Burkons as Taylor; Satya Finch as Doris; Bodhi Lae as Ryan; Henry Whittenburg, Raiden Ray, Birdie Douglass, Tanner Boynton, and Farrah Whittenburg.
The Parents were played by Phoebe Krull, Sophie Sexton, Gaia De Mesquito, Chloe Gaines, Satya Finch, Henry Wittenberg, Raiden Ray, Bodhi Lae, and Paige Murillo.
The Aerialists, Chloe Gaines, Gaia De Mesquito, Bodhi Lae and Satya Finch took to the trapezes to the great thrill of the audience.
What Beauvais took on, in her own words, “a challenging family theater production,” was an ambitious task, not the least of which was the last-minute restaging with 35 young actors and crew. Together, Team Matilda made it all work. Brava! Bravissimo!
As Beauvais writes in her director’s letter: “Let’s continue to address bullying and empower our children with love and community. Like Matilda, let’s never be afraid to say, ‘That’s not right!’”
The production team was headed by Jill Williams, who helped put the whole show together. The music director was Gabbi Beauvais; choreographer was Kristy Beauvais; set building and trapeze rigging were designed and constructed by Paul Beauvais; and Sabrina Zeri did the scenic painting and props.
Jewels Nation was the stage manager; lighting and video was designed by Tom Mitchell, who also provided the sound with Glenn Gaines, while Richard Brody manned the spotlight at the TCC. Eliza Schneider was the dialect coach and Paulina Plopa was the junior dialect coach.
Gabbi Beauvais and Mikayla Williams did hair and makeup and the backstage moms, Destiny Finetti and Tanya Farkas, wrangled the kids and costume changes. Bonnie Graves and Hilary Boynton provided the concessions.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the Musical, is still a big draw in London, on Broadway, and in touring companies throughout the world. It is based on Dahl’s 1988 children’s novel of the same name. The Tony Award-winning musical was adapted by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, which was later made into a movie starring Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson.
Matilda, The Musical cast is bookended by Producer Jill Williams (far left) and Director Kristy Beauvais (far right). (l-r front row) Raiden Ray, Birdie Douglass, Brodie Beauvais, Bo Schmid, Anika Williams and Macie Kennedy. (l-r back row) Tanner Boynton, Jill Williams, Santo Wagstaffe, Chloe Gaines, Emma Farkas, Gabbi Beauvais, Satya Finch, Bodhi Lae, Echo Hexum, Henry Whittenburg, Mahina Chotthesa-Sargis, Tallulah Gandee, Gaia De Mesquito, Sailor Ramos, and Kristy Beauvais. Not pictured: Maxine Hexum, Phoebe Krull, Allegra Frost, Sophie Sexton, Charlie Burrows, Lola Momoa, Wolf Momoa, Aurora Finetti, Paige Murillo, Freddie Fulcher, Virginia Burkons-Tackett, Cassius Brown, Farrah Whittenburg. Photo by Annemarie Donkin
by ANNEMARIE DONKIN
Youth theatre is flourishing in the Canyon and the latest extravaganza to hit the boards is Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the Musical for three performances at the Topanga Community Center (TCC), November 15-16.
Matilda the Musical is a long-running London and Tony Award-winning stage musical based on the 1988 children’s novel of the same name by Roald Dahl. It was adapted by Dennis Kelly, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, which was later made into a movie starring Danny DeVito and Mara Wilson.
Winner of more than 90 international awards, including 23 for Best Musical, Matilda is the story of an extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.
Currently, the only other theatre to produce Matilda in Southern California is at the La Mirada Theatre in La Mirada.
The Topanga production is the result of the efforts of FOCUSFish, the non-profit that brought the circus to the canyon with their aerial arts pavilion at the Cali Camp/Manzanita campus, which has now expanded to bring community children’s theater to Topanga.
FOCUSFish founder and Matilda director Kristy Beauvais, along with her producing partner, Jill Williams, have been delighting audiences for more than ten years with their musical productions at Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS). The pair has now collaborated to bring musical theater to other schools and communities around Topanga.
As a result, Matilda will feature the talents of more than 35 student-actors, ages 7-13, from six schools, including the Manzanita School, TECS, Topanga Mountain School, Viewpoint, Waldorf, Paul Revere, and many homeschoolers. The show will include aerialists flying over a set that will be moved around by the actors themselves.
“We will be doing the show “in the round” at TCC and will feature the famous Roald Dahl story with singing, dancing, trapeze, and acrobats,” Williams wrote.
FOCUSfish has had aerial programming for all students at Manzanita since the school opened more than five years ago,” Beauvais wrote. “The four featured aerialists were chosen for their experience on the static trapeze, gained as a student of this program at the school. I had to know that they were going to be safe and mature enough to handle this big moment in the show.
“Instead of the swings used in the Broadway version of the song, “When I Grow Up,” we have chosen to replace the swings with trapezes that the children will swing on and perform tricks on. Also, the roles of the Acrobat and Escapologist (performed by Lola and Wolf Momoa) will utilize the trapeze as a symbol of their love.”
The cast rehearses Monday through Wednesday afternoons at Manzanita and in the FOCUSfish pavilion on campus. Williams said that there will be plenty of adults and parents who will also help with sound, lights, sets, and costumes. In fact, Kristy Beauvais’ 16-year-old daughter Gabbi adapted the musical parts for the actors.
“When kids see the parents volunteer on their behalf, it is a good example [of how] to give back to the community,” Williams said.
Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, will play at the Topanga Community House on Friday, November 15 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, November 16 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The Topanga Community House is located at 1440 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. For information, contact Jill Williams at email@example.com; for tickets, go to https://matildatcc.brownpapertickets.com.
Interested in Registration information? Contact Kristy at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in bringing FOCUSfish PE/Arts services, aerial arts or theatre programming to your school, contact Kristy at email@example.com
Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristy Z. Beauvais.
Kristy, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been a dancer since the age of three. My Mom owned a dance studio and my Dad owned a gym. It’s not surprising I run a dance theatre fitness business. The unpredictable part is the aerial arts element of our non-profit.
You see, my Dad wanted to be the next Lou Ferigno (the original Incredible Hulk). So, he sold our house, packed our things in boxes, and moved us to the LA area when I was 11 years old. It was cool for my younger twin sisters and I because we were in the back of a very 70’s looking van, complete with a brown satin-sheeted bed. We got to stop at all of the best tourist spots along the way. We did the classic “Vacation” visit to the Grand Canyon. We looked at the big hole in the ground and left. We got to play Circus Circus in Vegas while Daddy gambled. We won a lot of the same dog stuffed animal. That was weird. But what I remember telling my Mom was, “I’m going to be a trapeze performer at Circus Circus one day.” (We stayed in LA for three months and my Dad quit trying and moved us back to Louisiana).
Well, that didn’t happen, but I managed to start an aerial arts business by accident. When I met my husband, Paul, the first week of my moving to LA (we worked at the same downtown theatre in NYC, even lived in the same neighborhood, but never met), we knew we were going to create art together. We just didn’t know we were going to get married, have a baby, and start FOCUSfish all at the same time.
Paul came from an acting background. He was making movies and writing. I had come from a very conservatory, contemporary dance life in NYC, along with musical theatre touring, puppeteering, and avant garde theatre. We wanted to create a business that allowed us to be creative with other families. Introduce moving theatre, not only to our children but any children that would create with us.
We opened FOCUSfish in 2003 in Hollywood. We thought we would change the landscape of the seedy Gower and Santa Monica Blvd area. We created a family-oriented oasis in the middle of some unsavory sights. Clients loved our 7,000 square foot, sprung maple floor, sky blue walls of spinning, GYROTONIC, massage, dance, open indoor toddler gym, birthday parties, and CIRCUS! Yes, we had 30 ft barrel-vaulted ceilings. Perfect for hanging static trapezes, lyras and many colorful silks. As soon as the community caught wind of our space we had aerial artists dropping in just to hang their equipment in our space. Madonna, Beyonce, Paula Abdul and Cher all rented our space for their shows. The problem was Los Angeles. Los Angeles loves their cars. They love their parking garages. They love their valet. We couldn’t afford that, nor was there space for that. So, Dr. Phil swiped our space and we left for greener pastures. Literally, we decided it was time to get out of the city life and into the canyon of Topanga.
I just never wanted to hang out in a regular gym. And, as much as I love dance and teaching dance, I didn’t want a regular dance studio. My Mom and Dad did that. I wanted to be different. Create something new. And, my husband always supported that. And, because he is also a contractor, he learned the rigging trade and became our rigging specialist, so that whatever I dreamed up, he could help to facilitate it.
I had no actual home base, at that time, so I became a mobile teacher. I started circus camps, theatre programs, fitness programs for children in need, and school physical education programming. Elementary schools were taking PE out because of lack of funds. Here I was, an artist, starting a family. I definitely didn’t have the private school tuition in my bank account, so I felt inspired to do something to help change that sedentary landscape in our young children’s school days. We started artistic fitness programs in public and private schools from 2003 until the present. We have served over 20 schools in the LA area.
Moving to Topanga has brought out the PTA Mom in me. It is such a close, all-in kind of community. After living in NYC where I didn’t even know the people living in the apartment next to me, I found this refreshing. I literally became the President of the parent board at the elementary school and started choreographing the school musical. And I should interject now and say that this was no little kid, cardboard sets-kinda school play. This was high end, Topanga Canyon artist parents-type stuff, and it was just where we needed to be as a growing family that liked putting on shows. My oldest girl, Gabbi was now 6 yrs old, already a little artist in her own right, and my second girl, Brodie, was on the way.
So, while aerial arts has been much of what I’ve taught to people of all ages and abilities, it’s not all that I do. I was missing choreographing dance that actually happened on the floor, so getting back to musical theatre has been exciting. One of the original creators of the Topanga theatre program, Jill Williams, has become my producing partner, and we’ve taken our program into other local schools from Koreatown to Calabasas.
The manager at Cali-Camp at the time said they wanted to build us an aerial pavilion so that we could run our non-profit out of it through community aerial classes and events, and also build the program for the summer camp and new-to-be-established school. Here we are eight years later. We have this beautiful outdoor pavilion at Big Rock Ranch that we call our home.
It’s funny. As I write this, I’m sort of dizzy from it. I guess I do a lot. That was always the issue. People wanted us to fit in a box. Choose one thing and do it really big. Well, FOCUSfish is really big and it’s a lot of things to a lot of different types of people, and that keeps my family busy and happy, MOVING. Yes, I teach preschool aerial programming on Monday morning, then drive back to theatre rehearsal in the afternoon, while FOCUSfish teachers instruct aerial arts programming for Manzanita School and the community in our after-school schedule. I get to take my dance and spinning classes on Tuesdays and actually tend to my family’s needs (like driving my kids to their extracurricular activities, which does include aerial at our pavilion). I teach adult aerial fitness and choreography on a Wednesday morning, and do the administrative duties after that, before getting back to musical rehearsal… there, you get it. It’s varied, it’s busy. It’s all-ages programming. And it keeps me healthy.
The one thing I forgot to write about is one of the most rewarding things I get to do. I get to bring the challenging sport of aerial to children with terminal illness and special needs. This last week, my now 16 yr old Gabbi and I got to drive out to The Painted Turtle (this is our third summer doing programming there) and teach aerial workshops to large groups of children who are told that they can’t do normal things like summer camp and strenuous extra-curricular activities. Well, we taught climbs and upside-down straddles, and how to make the fabric look like a tornado. The kids performed a routine that we choreographed to Rocketman and they got to share it with the other children who chose different camp activities. They blew everyone away!
That kind of impact is why I do what I do, and why I don’t choose one type of person to teach or one type of art to create. FOCUSfish doesn’t fit in a box, and neither do I. I’m a Cancer, born on the 4th of July. I’m choosing to go through life, swimmingly. Navigating through the choppy waters of life, like a firecracker… HAHA, I’m done with the puns. Just trying not to take it all so seriously, ya know?
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As I stated earlier, parking for our beautiful oasis was a huge problem, and people with money and Hollywood pull were breathing down our necks.
Since then, we became a non -profit. But because I enjoy the activity of teaching and directing the programs, I am not in my office typing away at grants. So, it’s hard to get the funding we need to pay for all of my administrative and executive director duties, as well as afford insurance and all of the specialty equipment we need for our programs in the schools and in our community centers. Often, we have to ask Paul to take his off-time from regular contractor work to rig FOCUSfish events. There are rarely enough funds for his work. Paul puts in a lot of charity time to our non-profit. And all of my time sending out emails, registering students, meeting with school principals and event coordinators is donated time, as well.
Our beautiful outdoor pavilion experienced a whole new treatment this last Winter and Spring because we created this workout space in the middle of a drought. This year, we broke that drought and the rains came! We had to cancel some classes or refund some clients. We had to ask for the purchase of new mats and replace equipment much sooner than usual. Now our pavilion has limited shade because the winds destroyed our curtains. Replacing these items is tens of thousands of dollars. So, although we love our unique training space, it’s not without its challenges.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about FOCUSfish – what should we know?
FOCUSFish is an artistic fitness program that inspires people of all ages and abilities with its unique and passionate approach to the art of physical education. We empower these communities with FLIGHT by offering aerial arts education grounded in sound physical education principles; and lift their spirits with family circus and community theatre entertainment, featuring people of all ages and abilities.
What makes us different than other circus schools or theatre programs, is that we don’t just choose the top athletes who want to be in Cirque Du Soleil. We want everyone to feel like they could be in Cirque Du Soleil, simply by training where they are, physically… continually challenging the body, through self-expression, as well as strength-building.
Our theatre programs for children are the only musicals for young children that incorporate many styles of dance and martial arts, like Capoeira, Contemporary, Jazz and Modern, but also include aerial arts!
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I have a big energy. It’s a motivating energy that works with kids, especially. I direct 100 children in a single musical and it works! I love watching children find themselves through character acting and creative movement.
Kim Zanti, Stacie Burrows, Ian Bailey, my family.
Focusfish, the non-profit that brings aerial & theatre arts to schools and communities, is proud to introduce it’s musical theater program as an innovative, after-school, community theatrical experience.
FOCUSfish presents an array of creative opportunities, including costume design, set design, aerial, singing, contemporary dancing, social and cultural dancing, stage managing & more! In true community theatre fashion, Focusfish & community artists will mentor children… while the older children mentor the young performers!
Inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org More details coming soon!
Past productions include 8 years at Topanga Elementary, with its lauded Lion King 2018 and Mary Poppins 2019! …And come see Cats at Topanga Elementary this March 14th and 15th!
FOCUSfish returns to St. James School this Spring 2020 with Cats!
FOCUSfish has also choreographed the children of Topanga Youth Services for the past 7 years! See Fiddler on the Roof this April!
Thank you so much for your support of FOCUSFish and all its partnerships in the schools, and communities of special needs. We couldn’t do it without your help. With growing insurance costs and specialty training for coaches… and the still reduced funding for schools, we need your help.
Please consider clicking on the DONATE button of the home page, at the top right-hand corner.
It is tax-deductible and our TAX ID# is: 26-0530647
With much gratitude and LOVE!
Happy Holidays… and here’s to 2018!
SOUL FOCUSfish RIDE
9:30am Tuesday September 13th at Soul Cycle Malibu at Cross Creek… For more information, contact Kristy at email@example.com
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.