Vivian Tam. Courtesy photo.

Local performance venue The Triple Door is always serving up visual and culinary delights, and this holiday season is no exception. During December, Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann present an encore of their show Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker, and one featured performer is Seattle-based aerialist Vivian Tam.

In this show, Tam will reprise a prior routine while exploring a new aerial apparatus, the flying harp. “This was a role that I performed over ten years ago with the Aerialistas,” Tam recounted. “So, I am more than thrilled to be returning, and to be performing on such a beautiful aerial apparatus.”

She’s also thrilled to be among such good company on stage. “When you’re working on a Verlaine & McCann production, you are definitely working with amazingly talented professionals in the performing arts world,” Tam beamed. “It is inspiring and motivating to be part of that team and that intense level of dedication and attention to detail.”

Tam’s love of aerial work goes back to her early childhood days. “My family loved watching circus shows, so for certain, I had definitely seen flying trapeze,” she remembered. “I do remember seeing my first hand-to-hand acrobatics practice live while taking a stroll with my family down Venice Beach. That memory of the two burned into my kid soul and I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

Especially compelling was the hand-balancing contortion act. “I started practicing this on my own as a teenager, embracing the power of mimicry, alone in my bedroom,” Tam said. “Already then, I had dreamt of running away to circus school in San Francisco.”

But for a while, Tam set that dream aside and majored in studio art at UC Irvine. “I was already working full-time as a game designer and graphic artist when I discovered aerial classes,” she said. “Aerialists were performing at a Hollywood night club. So, I called them up and it turns out they taught classes during the day at that club.”

Tam started slowly as an adult recreation student, taking class in LA at Hollywood Aerial Arts. “Ultimately, the most important thing I learned over the years of training is that there is never going to be a point when I would feel perfectly ‘in-shape’ or perfectly ready,” she shared. “To try to accomplish that is like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Focusing on her passion instead has paid off. “I will just go and do that show or do that audition and not worry so much about the technical perfection of things,” Tam said. “And, as it turns out, I’m much better suited to go with the crazy flow of stage life and operate quite well in tiny bits of chaos and imperfection.”

Then Tam relocated to Seattle. “At this time, I was still just training recreationally,” she reported. “I was quickly immersed and in love with the circus, burlesque, and performing arts world here.”

In Seattle, Tam has performed with a variety of groups including The Aerialistas, Moisture Festival, Suite Lounge, and various Verlaine & McCann shows at Triple Door. “My work with the Aerialistas is probably the most significant to my career,” she said. “We all worked so hard during a time when there wasn’t an established circus entertainment industry in Seattle.”

This experience was life-changing. “It taught me about being inventive, creative, resourceful, brave, and most of all, to take care of people and to invest in community,” she relayed. “When we toured to Spain with our act, I knew instantly that travel and work was going to be something I would want to do for the rest of my life.”

In 2018, Tam formed a production company, Chrysalis Circus, to bring circus arts to the community. “My favorite project and one that I am most proud of is the Redmond Skate Park show in 2021,” she said. “I was very happy to bring circus to the community during a very difficult time for people. I was very happy to give work to my artist friends, so they could be seen and do what they love to do.”

Underlying this project is Tam’s sense of gratitude. “I am thankful that my body has given me the tools to continue to perform, to play so many roles of wonder,” she said. “None of this is accomplished alone, so it is important for me to give back to the community and to my audience.”

Looking ahead, Chrysalis Circus will continue focusing its efforts as a support team for amateur and professional artists. “I love what we can create together when we are supported by artistic collaboration and teaching,” Tam said. “We will continue to work events and entertainment, which is how many of these collaborations and art projects are funded.”

Any challenges in funding or coordination are outweighed by Tam’s passion for this art form. “I only hope that in any of my work, it truly shows just how much I love being a circus artist,” she said. “It runs deep in my heart, whether or not it is performing, teaching, or directing, I just love it.”

For now, Tam is enjoying her current show. “Both my parents immigrated to the US from Hong Kong. I am quite sure this was not what my family had intended for me to be doing and the journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing,” Tam shared. “Every day, I am beyond grateful to live my life as a performing artist.”

On top of that, Tam is excited about the glamour and glitz of Land of the Sweets. “I love the beauty that Lily Verlaine has created for the Triple Door stage,” Tam said. “I can’t imagine anyone watching the show and not just be swept away into a delightful holiday world.”

Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker runs from December 7 to 30 at The Triple Door, 216 Union Street, Seattle.

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