BSR on xoxomoongirl

Almanac’s ‘xoxo moongirl’: Circus and storytelling in the #MeToo era

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

June 19, 2018

Nicole Burgio started doing gymnastics at the age of three and continued to study and compete through her high-school and college years. But when she began graduate school (Burgio holds a master’s degree in clinical and counseling health psychology from the Philadelphia School of Osteopathic Medicine), she put gymnastics aside to focus on her studies. Until one night, when the Ringling Brothers Circus came to town and Burgio bought herself a ticket.

As she watched the acrobats, she thought to herself, “I could do this.” The Master of Ceremonies came over to her after the show, having noticed that she was totally enthralled. He told her about the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts… and a new way to use her years of gymnastic training opened up for Burgio.

She started taking circus classes at the school for up to five hours a day. From there, she found her way to the intersection of circus arts and theater, becoming lead acrobatics coach for Philadelphia’s Almanac Dance Circus Theatre. Now, she’s a world-renowned circus artist in her own right, touring with circuses in Europe for six months out of the year. It was during her downtime on tour that Burgio began to imagine staging a solo show with Almanac when she returned to Philadelphia.

“They don’t have to define you”

Her artistic collaborators at Almanac welcomed her ideas, and they began to explore her concepts by coming together and playing — Almanac creates all of its works as devised theater through a multidisciplinary exploration of storytelling and acrobatics. But when they started to explore her initial ideas, Burgio didn’t expect the autobiographical story that she began to tell: growing up in a family racked by the chaos of domestic violence. It is a story, that even as she shares it onstage, continues to unfold in her family.

“I come from a broken home, where chaos, domestic abuse, and fighting were a daily routine. I firmly believe that stories like this need to be told, and [this needs] to happen now,” Burgio explains. “This is how I’m choosing to use my voice in an era where sexism, bullying, and abuse are rampant. Bad things happen and they don’t have to define you. This is for the underdogs, the underheard, and the improbable.”

Flying at night

The show that emerged — xoxo moongirl — will run June 26 through 28 in Old City. Burgio emphasizes that the show is funny and adventurous: It tackles the very serious subject of abuse in a unique way, by using acrobatics as well as language. She credits director Ben Grinberg and her colleagues at Almanac for helping her to find this balance. And the show features live original music from returning Almanac artist Mel Hsu (Leaps of Faith and Other Mistakes).

xoxo moongirl is all of the things that life is — both light and dark,” Burgio reflects. “Circus performers are just like the human beings sitting next to you, except we go fly at night.”