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Meet Alex Gruenenfelder of AlexStilts in Echo Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alex Gruenenfelder.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Alex. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’m a “Lifetime Angeleno,” born and raised in Los Angeles. I have two artist parents, a director and a writer, so it was something like destiny that I’d end up being in the entertainment industry as well. It may not be exactly like what I do now, but it’s similar. Growing up in an artistic family is an advantage that I am greatly thankful for and never take for granted. That’s not even just because the city is about who you know a lot of the time: it’s also the importance of being in an environment that supports and nurtures your passions.

Circus performance didn’t become a part of my life until I was a teenager, but once it did, it hit me in a big way. I was thirteen years old, at my third consecutive year of Magic Mountain’s “Fright Fest”. I’ve always been a huge fan of haunted attractions, dating back to my time in elementary school — I always wanted to act in our haunted house and my dream was to make my own slasher film. (Go figure!)

It was at this year’s Fright Fest that I saw the Joker on stilts, which was eye-opening for me. I’d seen him before, but something just clicked for me that night… The Joker is my favorite character in any body of work, and I loved the idea of being this character that was scary, exhilarating, and breathtaking. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be up there.

I begged my parents for stilts for Christmas. My aunt Suzi Hale, an amazingly talented makeup artist (she can be found on Instagram @LastLooksBySuzi), was working at Halloween Horror Nights at the time. She put my parents in touch with stilt performer Jaime Jessup. I got stilts for Christmas and Jaime became my stilt mentor, training me to use not only traditional stilts (“drywalls”) but also jumping stilts. I tried stilts for the first time the day after my fourteenth birthday, and I’ve been on the circus path ever since.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to perform at such events as the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride and Midsummer Scream. I’ve gotten to work with troupes like Aerial Butterflies and collaborated with talented circus performers I likely never would’ve met otherwise. I’ve also tried out aerial silks and flying trapeze. That’s where my circus arts journey has taken me up until this point, but I don’t plan on it ending anytime soon.

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?
Doing this interview in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more apparent than it has been in years that circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. I have watched fellow circus performers especially take a hit in these trying times. Our art is made so much more bold and beautiful when experienced in person. I continue to see videos posted online of performers practicing despite all that’s going on, but nothing can compare to watching in person.

I firmly believe, however, that we will get through this. There may be a “new normal” on the other side, but this pandemic will not kill the circus. We as artists have persevered for centuries and will continue to.

That’s one of the things that I think is so wonderful about my experiences. There have been economic and societal hurdles, but the community overall sticks together. I don’t see a lot of anger and ill will in this sector of the entertainment industry. I have nothing but love and respect for the circus arts community, for the haunt community, and for all communities of weirdo artists trying to breakthrough. We are all one, and we can overcome any obstacle together.

AlexStilts – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Most of what I do professionally is as a stilt performer, under the name AlexStilts. I do private parties and events, parades, haunted attractions, circus shows… all kinds of experiences!

What sets me apart as a performer is that for me it’s all about interaction. A show is never really about you: it’s about your audience. Especially when things become too large and corporate, you can lose sight of the magic of audience connection. When I perform in haunts, I make sure to give my best and never let things become repetitive. I think it’s okay to break script occasionally if it makes the scare more personal and, well, scary. And when I perform with private events, I never want to just be someone performing on a stage in front of people. I want to interact, to chat, to help audience members make memories.

That’s part of what is so special about having my own business as a stilt walker. By getting to personally choose clients and events to perform with, I have more freedom in building the best audience experiences possible. And when hired by troupes and organizations, I always make sure to bring that flare to their shows.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Performing with Aerial Butterflies for the first time was the proudest moment of my career. At the Pasea Hotel and Spa in Huntington Beach, that performance helped to raise money for the Thomas House Family Shelter. I worked as a stilt walker alongside acrobats, aerialists, and even a contortionist! As much fun as it can be to do your own thing, collaborating with a troupe is a rewarding thing that’s hard to completely describe. The highlight of the night was performing a stage show to “The Greatest Show” from the musical “The Greatest Showman”. Having so much fun, making great circus connections, and doing it all for a great cause is absolutely the proudest moment of my career.

Pricing:

  • You can contact me for pricing information at any of my sites! Generally the rate ranges from $100-$200+ per hour, but it depends on the nature of the event.
  • Even in the pandemic, I am still happy to perform at your event. (As long as it is socially distanced, and I am allowed mask and gloves.) I hope everyone stays safe and healthy, but doesn’t forget to celebrate.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Brian Smith, Aerial Butterflies, Robert J. Sexton, UCSD Theatre and Dance

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