We got the chance to have a chat with Antti Suniala, famous performance artist with staff twirling as his speciality. This exclusive interview was done in October 2007.
Hi Antti. What are you up to now?
Right now I'm eating and spending another day as a hermit in my home. I should do some promotional work and I did take new photographs but other than that I will be slacking.
Do you make a living solely out of performing?
I live on performing definitely. Sometimes barely but there have been more good times lately. The last "job" I had was 7 years ago as a minimal wage vegetarian cook. After that I worked as a DJ and a musician (such a fine word for an mc) and did some shows and sold independent releases of my albums and started doing fire shows also. I did that for a few years before getting into a circus school and lived on random gigs and the student funds and loans. When I realized I wanted to be a performing artists or more accurately realized what I want to do in my life I didn't hesitate to concentrate on it fully. So I never wanted a second job to support myself. Right now I'm getting a few teaching gigs in circus schools also so it's all good.
How did you start out with what you do?
A few friends of mine did fire spinning and I was studying kung fu at the time. So I built myself a staff out of a heavy iron tube and put some linen cloth on it and some gasoline that I found from our warehouse. A friend had shown me some moves so it was sort of safe. From there we formed a 6 person group and we had a director with a theatre background and we worked with that concept for some years. Not really doing theatrical fire performances but let's say we had very precise choreographies and so on. This was around 2000.
What do you want to learn next?
I've been doing my thing for a long time now and I don't get easily excited about new styles of tricks. I might go to a fire festival and skip all the workshops. I don't have an open mind anymore, which in some way is a restriction but I also know that it is important to focus on what I'm good at. And I usually think that a certain style might be cool but I let the others have it. Also I feel the most important thing for me now is to work on my routine and finalize it for promotion. In a way I don't need to learn anything new. Just need to make everything I have in my routine now cleaner and better. Sure there are some tricks that I'd love to "update" but at the moment it's not my main concern. But I dream about getting really good in the Chinese contact staff "fei cha".
What is it that pushes you forward to perform and develop?
I love to perform and I am very critical about everything I do. I can't stand not being good enough and I set high standards for everything. So I'm still catching up to those standards. Plus fire performing is the only thing I really know so I have to make the most of it.
Best/weirdest/worst show you can remember? The Show of your dreams?
My favorite would be performing my non-fire contact staff routine in a circus festival for the first time. I was really nervous at first because it was a competition also. And I hate losing. But at some point I found a lot of courage and I just knew that the audience and judges would love my performance. And it went almost perfectly and I got the first price. Another one for sure is the Eurovision finale performance due to the massive scale of it and professional people doing the show. I have my high goals for my career but performing for good money in fancy event is not always all that. So the community project performances I did in Thailand are the ones I will always remember. Some street shows have also been amazing, where I've had the whole audience in total control following and loving everything I do. It's a great feeling.
One of the weirdest situations that I've gotten into was the Amazing Rubber Heart Duo (RHD) performing in Estonia. When we got there we found out that they were going to put us performing on a 3×5 meter raft in the middle of a river! It didn't happen though. Weirdest show that I've done is definitely the Beltane Fire Festival. Worst one probably is RHD doing a wedding gig. The timing of our show was the worst and we had been freezing outside waiting for it to happen. It didn't go well and I was too ashamed to look people in the eyes.
I now dream of getting longer contracts for circus productions. Work with professional people for a wide range of audience. Not having to carry my stuff around.
How often do you practise?
Anywhere between 30 hours a week to 3 hours a month. It depends a lot on why I am practicing. I always have a goal. And if I momentarily lose that goal I might not do anything for a while. Besides training staff I try to go swimming quite often and stretch sometimes.
Favourite music to train/perform to?
I usually don't train to music. I can concentrate better when it's absolutely quiet. But sometimes I do "spin" to music and it's either hard drum & bass or soft singer/songwriter stuff.
Favorite clothing to perform in?
I don't have a large set of costumes or characters. And I usually offer just the Antti Suniala the way he is. So really rarely I would listen to a client on what would be nice for me to wear. I got my old black suit pants from late relatives and a cheap white shirt and some sort of hat. I like the stylistic worn out clownish gentleman look.
What do you think about fire as a way to express yourself?
My relation to fire is far from spiritual. But we've come a long way together and I still like it. I am an artist and a performer so I am always expressing myself in some way when I'm on stage. I have done projects where I've been more personal about what I do but lately it's been maybe a bit too much concentrated on doing a great tight show to make the money. Even though I am happy with what I do and the way I do it I still long for more expression in my work. I always say that there are no limitations to what you can do in a performance. Be it with fire or not. And I would like to see people taking the expression further and not just spin things that look nice. I need to see personality for me to enjoy a fire show.
What kind of fire safety do you use?
I use top quality equipment and check their condition before shows. I have enough blankets around and depending on the occasion somebody with a fire extinguisher. Fire safety is really important to me and I love to take it seriously. I use lamp oil for fuel and my clothes are all natural fibres. Having the audience far enough from my performance is one of the most important things also. I also have an insurance for my performing.
What equipment do you use?
I have a dark history in poi but now I do only staffs. Single contact staff which is about 150cm and two and three juggling staffs that are 110-120cm. Sometimes I perform with fire snakes but I don't feel too comfortable with it. For some shows I might use steelwool and such effects.
What’s is the largest audience you've performed for?
The Eurovision finale had about 10000 in the audience and 100+ million watching it live on television.
What’s your favourite trick?
I'm working on a new busking magic trick that involves a volunteer. I pick a beautiful girl from the audience and she has to add her number to my mobile phone without telling me what her name is. And if I manage to find the number and call her we'll go on a date, fall in love and get married, have children and a dog named Salza. I'm waiting for a chance to try this out.
How do you handle bad audiences, heckling/disturbing people
I rarely get bad audiences. But when I do I feel so bad. I just grin and bear it and later cry myself to sleep. But if it's a street show and somebody starts heckling me they don't know who they're up against. I can talk trash. Don't get me started.
That's all. Thanks a million, Antti!
For more information, visit Antti's website anttisuniala.com