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Inside the Rubys: Mara Neimanis

Part of a series of interviews with current and past Rubys grantees. Interested in learning more about the Rubys Artist Project Grant program? Go here.

  • Grantee: Mara Neimanis
  • Grant Year: 2015
  • Grant Discipline: Performing Arts

Mara Neimanis is an aerial theater artist whose work draws on traditions in mask performance, clown, and physical performance styles. Her work integrates acting and aerial elements to explore the rich topography and imaginative space of ground and air. Neimanis is the founder and principal performer of In-Flight Theater in Baltimore. The first installation of her Rubys funded project debuts on August 15 at 10pm at the BUS stop next to the Creative Alliance and more information can be found here.

GBCA: How long have you lived in Baltimore and what brought you here?

Mara: I’ve been here for 10 years now. I came from Northern California where I was studying with aerial pioneer, Terry Sendgraff, and teaching for the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre. I was at a point in my career where having an MFA seemed like an important next step. Towson University was the only school amongst places I was accepted that recognized me as an “actor-aerialist.” Other schools wanted to put me in their dance departments, which was not an accurate assessment for me or my work. So in many respects, the Towson Theater MFA Program, and especially Juanita Rockwell, who ran the program at that time, were the factors that brought me to Baltimore.

GBCA: How did you discover aerial theater and why does this type of performance suit you as an artist?

Mara: It was through my work with Terry Sendgraff, with whom I mentored for 5 years after my studies at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. Terry recognized that I consistently incorporated narrative and gesture in my aerial investigations just out of instinct more than anything else. At the time that I was studying with Terry, I still had more training in clown, mask, and physical acting, so maybe I was starting with what I knew, since I came late to aerial work. Terry felt that my instinct to tell 3-dimensional stories was unique and something I should pursue further. She encouraged me to follow that instinct, develop it, and expand the form. Now some 20 years later, I am still super interested in how this work necessitates fully embodied acting choices and gesture. I am still engaged in writing aerial plays and how to create apparatus to tell a specific story on and off the ground. I love working with risk, strength, and physical specificity – I still feel really busy looking at these elements as they create original work and alternative methodologies of teaching aerials and acting. My director, Bryce Butler, has been paramount in helping me reveal this integration and Tim Scofield’s sculptures have formed an amazing container for my imagination and application. I’m still really excited about my craft and feel that I am learning much.

GBCA: What is different about this latest aerial series, Unexpected Places 4 Unexpected Aerials, from past work you have created?

Mara: Well, I have never created a 4-part consecutive site-specific series before, so it is fun to do something that you have never done. Unexpected 4 is also different in that the actual geography of each site – its history, what it is used for, what has happened there, and the contemporary or historic structure/sculpture that exists there – is what I am using to inform each of the pieces. Movement and characters are emerging from each site as source material as well as the risk involved at each site. I am thrilled with the danger, density, and depth of each place and the process of transforming it into a performance venue, which is also different from the aerial plays set in traditional theater spaces.

GBCA: What experience do you want audiences to have with this work?

Mara: Baltimore has challenges, as we all know. It is such an old city with an accumulation of actions from a variety of other actions. I’m hoping this work will create an occasion for gathering, where a collective audience experience or memory is formed and thereby, adding to the interesting “accumulation” that happens here in Baltimore in a positive way. I would like to propose that a new space can emerge out of the old, or an old space can become new through gathering together. I also would like audiences to experience a unique performance that illustrates the importance of physical craft and how that creates something that is unexpected and specific to time and place and the ground that we share.

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