'Her America': Twin circus performers featured in campaign

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BRATTLEBORO — The identical twin sisters known best for founding a world-class circus school in Brattleboro are now getting some attention for their personal outlooks in a new online video campaign called "Her America."

"Throughout this project, we were seeking ways to portray the complexity of American women today, after the 2016 election," Lea Goldman, Lifetime editor and chief, told the Reformer. "We really wanted to talk to women who were living many realities of the American political and social debates, women who bridged what seemed like opposing sides."

The goal, she said, was to amplify "the voices that go unheard and unrecognized."

From Arizona's first female Asian American state senator to a disabled gun enthusiast in Wyoming, "Her America" spans the political and social spectrum. Spots from the campaign started airing on Lifetime on Monday night and will be shared on the network's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

A production team of more than 20 women talked with women from every state. Subjects were asked: "If you could broadcast your story to the world, what would you share?"

"We scoured the country to find stories," Goldman said. "College papers, local radio stations, word of mouth. Sometimes, we showed up in a community and just asked around. Every town in this country has a woman everyone just knows. Our stories touch upon all the subjects women talk about when they are among their girlfriends or sisters — the challenges of marriage, our complicated relationships with our mothers, the hustle to pay the bills, sex. All of it."

Goldman called Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, the twins who once worked with Cirque de Soleil and founded the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, "dynamic women business owners, performers and enthusiasts of rural living."

"We found all of their realities fascinating — especially their candid ability to talk about life as twins, making parallel but very different life choices," she said, noting that Elsie chooses to live in a "tiny house" to reduce her carbon footprint and not have children while Serenity has three kids. "They live right next door to each other, run a business together and perform in tandem. Their choices, that often seem so large for women, were in fact just one factor in a complex and shared life."

Goldman said the twins shared that they vote for Democrats on the national level but sometimes vote Republican in local elections. "They favor local Republicans who are socially open-minded but fiscally conservative," she added.

To watch their segment, visit heramerica.com/film/elsie-and-serenity-vermont-brattleboro-film-page.

Serenity considers herself a very private person when it comes to family, politics and herself.

"It took a lot of consideration for me to say yes to this type of exposure," she told the Reformer. "But I am coming to realize that when I am gifted the opportunity to speak up, I am not being who I need to be for my children if I demure."

She hopes the video campaign will "inspire the normalization of speaking up and having a personal perspective in a generous, nonjudgmental conversation."

"I am concerned that too many times we tell our stories to the people who already know the story, already know the answers, already agree," she said. "How can we connect with the `other,' how can I hear from the `other?'"

Elsie said she is happy to share her unique story with others but often worries about how her words will be translated in the media. She hopes the exposure might spark more interest in NECCA.

"It's a place where magic is normal and transformation is an everyday experience, and I think we need this in the high stress and argumentative world we find ourselves in now," she said. "Circus is only possible with teamwork and collaboration, and you have to be respectful of and work with other people's strengths and weaknesses. You can't argue and demean and put down and talk at each other or circus just doesn't happen."

Elsie said she feels like a "pretty normal person," aware some might laugh at the statement.

"I may have grown up in a log cabin without electricity and run away to join the circus before coming home to live in a 'tiny house' with a pig farmer and start one of the most respected circus schools in the world but I am just like so many other people," she said. "I work hard, I want the best for the people around me, I care about the image I project to the world, I am saddened by the troubles I see around me, I struggle with how I can be the best citizen of the country and the world, and I want to make a difference. I worry about money, I question how I can afford health insurance, I shovel snow and cook and clean and manage a household. My story is really not that different than anyone else, and perhaps by being so normal while being sort of extraordinary, that will help people to hear how we are all so much the same. We have so much common ground to connect on."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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