Defying Gravity and the Status Quo, FOCUSFish Soars
July 12, 2012 – By Kim Zanti
PHOTOS BY KIM ZANTI, MESSENGER, 2012©
Downsizing from a huge Hollywood studio to a backyard rig wasn’t a problem for Kristy and Paul Beauvais of FOCUSFish. The family still enjoys hanging out and learning together, even though all local classes are now held in the Pavilion at Big Rock Ranch.
When a local, non-profit organization does a lot of things built around the central idea that fitness should be fun and that hanging around upside down does a body good, of course you name it FOCUSFish.
“We can’t be reduced to a marketable idea,” says Executive Director and Chief Flounder Kristy Beauvais. “We’re so much more than that.”
She’s standing at the stove in her comfortable Top O’ Topanga kitchen, sautéing yellow squash. Paul Beauvais, her husband and producing partner, heads for the backyard grill with a foil-covered plate of seasoned steak.
Nine year-old Gabbi draws at the kitchen table, while negotiating with her mom about how much squash she has to eat at dinner. Two and a half year-old Brodie, and Pippin the dog, are at a sleepover with family friend and FOCUSFish volunteer, Sherry Noyes, aka “Sherry Poppins.”
(In a follow up interview, Brodie — clad in diaper, rainbow hued tutu and green eye shadow — clutched her doll and ran like a wide receiver to make sure she didn’t miss out on the fun with her sister’s friends. They had raided the prop and costume boxes to make a fairytale village in the backyard.)
The Beauvais family is at the heart of FOCUSFish. Their values of fitness, family and community distinguish them from the many aerial arts performance troupes, circus acts and teaching studios that have sprung up in recent years throughout California.
Kristy describes aerial arts as “understanding the mechanics of the body in conjunction with a person or a thing. We teach how to properly warm up your body, stretch and, yes, perform, but also how to take care of yourself.”
Hanging upside down from a static trapeze or falling from the sky suspended in brightly colored silks are not typical fitness activities. Yet, FOCUSFish has found a way to make them accessible to all kinds of people.
Teacher Ivanna Wei takes a break at the FOCUSFish Open House on June 6 from showing parents and children how to play on the silks and trapezes to pose in a fusion of creative expression, physical strength, balance and grace.
“Our programming is all over the map, so that’s where we are,” Kristy said, referring to a wide range of programs that include circus camp, circus therapy, community aerial classes (including aerial yoga), in-school and after-school classes and the Flying Circus shows that reach all ages, from toddlers to senior adults and those with special needs.
She is also referring to FOCUSFish’s ability to customize programs for schools, learning and community centers, gyms and other facilities throughout Los Angeles.
It wasn’t always that way. For three years, FOCUSFish was a for-profit business operating all of its programs from a cavernous 7,000-square-foot Hollywood studio with 30-foot ceilings and exposed beams on which to hang rigging. The space was so unique that all of the circus performers in town converged there, having found an ideal place to audition, train and rehearse. So did major touring acts such as Paul McCartney, Madonna, and Cher.
However, there was a price to pay for being a Hollywood hotspot: $18,000 a month, to be exact. That paid for rent, but not overhead or for some of the best instructors in the city to teach classes. Adding to the negative column was the high ratio of trannies to nannies outside the studio. Their presence on Santa Monica Boulevard kept families away.
“In New York City, it’s not a big deal; you just live with it,” Kristy said. Here? Not so much.”
The Beauvais’ had opened the studio in March, 2003. Gabbi was born in May and the couple was married in July. Three years later, Paul drove through Topanga and remembered that when he first came to L.A. years ago, he thought, if he ever moved here, Topanga was where he wanted to live. The wattage of inspiration glowed. Kristy felt the connection, too.
“It was like we were Cinderella and Topanga was the slipper,” Paul said.
Jessica Deltac, a Marriage and Family Therapist MFA candidate and home-school group organizer, feels fortunate to have FOCUSFish in our mountain community. For a year and a half, her two daughters took aerial classes in the Beauvais’ back yard on a small rig with static trapeze and silks. The girls moved on to ballet and tap classes, but soon requested to go back to FOCUSFish.
Deltac said that the greatest gift that FOCUSfish gives to children is confidence. She relates this to the Family Fitness class, which, she said, “collapses the hierarchy within the family. Kids can see their parents try something that they are not initially confident about. Their methodology of creating a comfort zone, a confidence zone and a personal expression zone is great.”
HARD WORK AND …
It takes a lot of training to sustain a rich learning and performance environment. The Beauvais’, and their teachers have both the chops and the heart to make it so.
Originally from Slidell, Louisiana, a small community across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, Kristy took jazz and ballet classes, as well as taught at her mother’s dance studio.
“I’d spend my mornings at regular high school, go home to watch “The Young and The Restless” with my mom, have a Lean Cuisine and a sweet tea, then cross the lake for classes at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts,” she recalls.
In 1988, at the age of 17, she arrived alone in New York City armed with a scholarship to study dance at NYU’s Tisch School of the Performing Arts. For the first year, no one wanted to work with the girl who said “y’all”. By the end of her second year, all the students wanted Kristy to choreograph their work. By the time she left university, she was dancing the lead in a Mark Morris piece.
In between her studies, she performed in summer stock theatre and with a company that performed Bunraku, a traditional form of Japanese puppetry. She immersed herself performing in cutting-edge plays at LaMaMa E.T.C. in Manhattan. At one point, she joined a Butoh company that challenged every fiber of her being. “It was cool and degrading at the same time. Like working for a samurai,” she said.
Struggling to make a living, she became a personal trainer for Crunch gym and then branched out to work privately with clients who suffered from degenerative nerve diseases, such as Parkinson’s. Helping people relearn how to move is where the eclectic, artistic dancer found her passion.
Paul Beauvais began performing on the opposite side of the country. He became a member of the San Francisco Boys Chorus at six, then shelved his performance aspirations in favor of the “cooler” pasttime of playing baseball and football. When his family relocated to Phoenix, Paul continued to play organized sports.
Just before tryouts at the University of Arizona, he injured his leg, permanently dashing his hopes of playing at the collegiate level. To fill the void in his life, he began singing again at Scottsdale College with the Sundance Singers, an upbeat, pop-inspired group reminiscent of Up With People. He was then accepted into the conservatory program at the School of Theatre at Boston University and graduated magna cum laude.
The next stop was New York, where he worked with LaMaMa E.T.C.’s founder Ellen Stewart. He was a few years ahead of Kristy, so their paths did not cross, but LaMaMa left its mark on them both.
“[Ellen Stewart] was a conduit, one of the most wild, hardcore theatre producers of all times,” said Paul.
Teacher Lexi Pearl leads warm-up exercises with her Aerial Kids, Samara Ferra (in background) and twins and Kendal (left) and Kaia (center) Huebner.
By the time he got to L.A., he was ready for anything, including comedy. In 1999, he attended a sketch comedy meeting and met Kristy.
“When we got together, it was like fireworks,” she said. At the time, she was teaching adult Creative Movement and the Young Theatre program at the Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre. She told Paul about her upcoming production of Charlotte’s Web, and he offered to make the webs.
“We had this amazing date in Griffith Park where he built these giant beautiful rope webs and little, dancing webs so we could have interludes of dancing webs and I’m like, ‘This guy? I’m marrying this guy. This is the hottest thing I’ve ever seen!’
“We had the germ of the idea and then we just turned each other on by creating FOCUSFish,” Kristy added. “Once we decided that we were going to do this, it just happened.”
From their start in the enormous Hollywood studio, to their downsized operation of one, small backyard rig in Topanga, to the new outdoor pavilion at Big Rock Ranch, the “Fish” has become ever more mobile with programs in South Central Los Angeles, Eagle Rock, Sherman Oaks, Woodland Hills and Topanga.
Board President John Midby and his daughter, Simone, have been attending FOCUSFish classes for six years, before it became a non-profit organization in 2007. Midby is also the Arts Coordinator at the James A. Foshay Learning Center near USC, which brings world-class training and resources in the arts to underserved children.
When the Beauvais’ made the change to non-profit tax status, Midby said, “I saw how they were leveraging all of the for-profit work to do good and I thought that was just the greatest thing.”
Since joining the board, Midby has seen the programs grow by 50 percent and expects that by the end of the year, FOCUSfish will grow by another 50 percent.
Paul is also confident about the organization’s stability and future. “I see very solid, organic growth that’s sustainable. Each time Kristy hits a new milestone and it goes to the next level, it’s because she’s put in the work and is ready to go to the next level and then to move beyond that.”
FUNDRAISING FOR THE FUN OF IT
FOCUSFish must fundraise to fulfill its mission. Local realtors Melissa Oliver and Paul Ferra funded the new outdoor aerial pavilion at Big Rock Ranch, where FOCUSFish offers summer camp, classes and performances as part of Cali Camp. Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky recently awarded the organization a $10,000 grant for the purchase of new equipment. The Annenberg Foundation also awarded FOCUSFish a $10,000 general operating support grant following their successful participation in the prestigious Annenberg Alchemy program for leadership and organizational development.
Kristy said of the program, “it was like a Master’s degree in non-profit management. I’m now enjoying my position as Executive Director because I understand it more thoroughly and feel like I’m doing things correctly.”
“Kristy really emerged from those sessions as someone who was suited for this work,” said Paul. “They saw the merit behind the effort and the talent behind the lady.”
Everyone is a learner at FOCUSFish. Executive Director Kristy Beauvais (r) looks on as teacher Lila Grace demonstrates a new technique on the silks. Beauvais is known for encouraging students of all ages to share new techniques, poses and moves with their peers. Jessica Deltac said that this attention to personal artistry and shared learning is why her daughters prefer aerial classes over traditional ballet classes.
UPCOMING EVENTS YOU MUST SEE
To see FOCUSFish in action, attend one of the awe-inspiring fundraisers scheduled on Saturdays at Big Rock Ranch from 6 to 9 p.m.: July 14, “Because We Can”; July 28, “Let Love Rule”; and August 11, “People Help the People.” Kristy is directing and co-producing with Paul, who does all the rigging, set building and float construction.
Did you see their award-winning float in the Topanga Days Parade this year? Then you may have an inkling of the treat you’ll receive when you attend one or all of these performances and support the amazing Flying Circus that is FOCUSfish. A $12 donation is suggested. For more information: focusfish.com.
FOCUSFish – “Because We Can”
July 26, 2012 – By Katie Dalsemer
PHOTOS BY KATIE DALSEMER, 2012©
FOCUSFish director, Kristy Beauvais in this flouncy gold lamé tutu, laughed and danced with student Mikayla Williams before the show.
On an idyllic, July 14th evening, FOCUSFish’s circus camp presented their latest event — “Because We Can.” Billed as a fundraiser it seemed more like a “fun raiser” with program director Kristy Beauvais clad in a gold lamé tutu bouncing around the lush grounds of Big Rock Ranch making sure everyone was enjoying themselves. Festival guests picnicked and were entertained not only by antics of their excited children with freshly painted faces who would later be performing, but also by a magician, DJ and peddlers of gourmet treats.
The main event took place in the new permanent home of FOCUSFish: an outdoor pavilion, open on each side and outfitted with aerial silks, trapezes and various contraptions that helped to fuel the audience’s anticipation as they waited for the show to begin. It was clear that something big was about to happen.
And the waiting was not in vain. The show was a feast for the senses as the cast twirled above the crowd, darted on and off the stage, moved to the music and practically beckoned the audience to join the extravaganza from seats that were only a few feet from the action. That invisible wall that usually separates the audience from the performers was gone and it was great.
“Because We Can” was a fitting mantra for the show because everyone from young kids (who had only been at summer camp for a few weeks), to older kids with years of experience, to seasoned professionals, all performed together in the aerial circus. The smiles on the kids’ faces showed that no matter what their skill level, they had been learning in a positive, nurturing environment where fun was the number one goal.
How cool is that! The next fundraisers are Saturday, July 28 and Saturday, August 11. For more information: focusfish.com.
Cali-Camp camper, Lily, not only explored the heights of aerial arts, but also the grounded world of acrobatics and hooping, during her week-long camp experience.
Magician David Elkin had many sleight-of-hand tricks to entertain the kids before the show.