Freedom to Create
Los Angeles based Lindsay Benner is a juggler, a clown, a mime, and a unique storyteller with a heart of gold. She travels the world with her one-woman show, The Book of Love, playing with strangers that soon feel like friends. Her goal in life?
“To perfect the art of making people happy.”
What does “making people happy” mean to you?”
It means they’re laughing. Philosophically, since it’s impossible to make someone happy, my intention is to bring someone into the present moment. There’s something about juggling that does that in a unique way because it’s so physical and it’s such an expression of space and time.
How do you actively create those moments?
I don’t approach it in a “this is what I’m going to do to get people to be present” way. It’s almost the other way around: I’ll have a concept or an idea, and I won’t know what it is until I put it up in front of people. That’s when I’ll sculpt it. I‘ll have this zygote of “I think this will be funny.” Then I’ll make an excuse to do it in front of people, like at a dinner party.
I’ve noticed that’s different than the creative process of someone who’s a writer or painter; someone who can do something behind closed doors and nobody sees it before they are ready to have someone see it. For me, it’s about listening to audiences and how they’re reacting. I can’t quite explain what it is other than that works! I don’t know why that works. I know what that feeling was when I did it, and so I’ll do that again. It’s this dance. It’s muscle memory, and I get in touch with it.
Can you sink into your memory and describe that feeling, that muscle memory?
It’s like… there’s an experience you get when someone is reacting to you. Whether it’s laughter or total silent attention. When I feel it, it’s like… It’s almost like flying a kite. I’m thinking of a trick kite because you’re connected to the energy of the audience in this way that the connection — that wind — is strong. When I don’t have that connection — when I’m not communicating what I’m trying to communicate, or they’re not getting the joke, or it’s only funny to me — it’s like trying to fly a kite without wind. When people are getting it or when they’re with me, it’s like flying with great wind. I have more control, we’re connected, I can guide the audience where to go, and they’re with me 100%.
I’ve never used that analogy before, but that’s totally what it feels like. That’s cool.
How has your storytelling evolved?
I’m less afraid of being intense on stage. When I look at my tape from the very first time I performed Book of Love at Magic Castle, I did everything I could to be charming so that the audience would like me, because it’s terrible when they don’t. The longer I’ve been on stage, the older I’ve gotten, and the more I’ve become an adult, the more depth and flavor I’ve added. People love it; it’s been a really fun mix. Not everybody loves it: I’ve gotten comments from misogynist magicians who really hate it. “You’ve got to be sweet the whole time, it’s too abrasive when you do that other thing.” But for that one comment, I get ten comments from people who love it when I get “too mean”.
What does “too mean” mean?
I have this mom look that’s not mean but it’s, “Go here, now. This is what we’re doing.” It’s very commanding and very Alpha, because I’m the one on stage who knows what’s going on, so I have to command and let them know what they have to do. That combo of sweet and salty has transformed the most over the years, for sure.
Does that confidence have anything to do with the idea of strength in numbers? When you first started touring festivals, it wasn’t uncommon for you to be the only woman amongst a pack of men. There are many heavy-hitting female performers now. Does that come into play?
When I started, I was wet behind the ears. A lot of women were new and fresh, and got opportunities that men who had more experience would not have gotten: I recently returned to a festival in Victoria, Canada. The first time I did it, all of the women had between 1-3 years of experience to the guys’ 10-20 years of experience; now the women have 5-10 years of experience. For the first time, there were more women than men. That was awesome. So you don’t have to take shit. You did before because you were an apprentice. That’s the major difference – more experience and knowledge.
With all this experience, what’s still your greatest struggle with the lifestyle of the job?
The biggest struggle emotionally is, “Am I doing enough? Is this the right thing?” There’s no one to say you did a good job. You’re never really working, and you’re never really not working. It’s a really in between space. When traveling all the time, you’re constantly being uprooted, and there’s panic in the transition: did I get my bag, is the rental car there, am I going to get in an accident? There are all these fears. I’ve had to learn to trust that if I need to rest, I rest. And if I feel pumped up, I need to start booking flights.
Where are the most unique gains?
I love the freedom. I did a gig at a private theatre in Fresno, Texas. One of the owners wanted to go to New Orleans for a few days and asked a few people to join her. I looked at my schedule and BOOM: I got this amazing adventure. I was so grateful I could be a leaf in the wind at that moment. For all of the stress in the not knowing if I’m not doing enough, it’s worth it to have that freedom.
How has this shaped your view of the world in a way that others might not see it the same?
When I was sixteen, I house sat for this guy Frank Oliver: a juggler and legend in the street performance world. Here he was, this adult man in his thirties, with a living room of bungee walls and huge toys, this performer lifestyle, and this incredible fun home. Normal adults were like, “You can’t play with or touch this.” There were all these rules. Here the rules were: play at all times, because that’s where you come up with the most fruitful things as a performer. I remember thinking, “This is what I want to be as an adult.”
I’ve always been attracted to people who live like that – people who are open to living a different way. Being around people like that is my norm, and those are the people I like to have around. We’re harmonious vibrations.
What bit of advice would you give to a highly creative person who wants to take the plunge into an atypical field like yours? What makes it most worth it that you’d want them to know?
Just do as much as you can. Do as many performances and take as many opportunities as you can, in as many varied environments as you can. It’s important to not be in a bubble, in people just telling you that you’re great because it feels good to hear that you’re great. If you want to be a versatile and strong performer, you need to be in an environment where people don’t owe you anything.