SARAH COOPER, Stunt Woman, Adventurer, Circus Performer, Trampwall
By: Krysta Kearney
Imagine putting your arms out wide, breathing in the warm fresh air and allowing yourself to jump. To jump off a wall, that is; into a trampoline, head first. To be able to trust yourself, in the rhythm and the movement, to understand the velocity of the trampoline when your body lands and what will happen next when you get catapulted into the air! For some, this feeling makes their world complete. It encompasses everything, a release of energy, and is a space for both self awareness and community. Sarah Cooper, who is part of the group known as Junktramp, is doing just this. Recently both herself and the tramp wall group have gained popularity on social media outlets where they display their kick ass abilities to defy gravity and push their bodies to the limit. Since the Covid - 19 Pandemic, she was invited to join to continue training and to start something new with them, as a team.
They all come from different backgrounds; circus performers, Volta (Cirque du Soleil)
and some having contracts overseas with a variety of performance groups. The main purpose is to master the craft while having fun and also to establish sustainable careers independently, on their own. Post Covid-19, they would like to be able to advance in their professions whether it’s solely based on the group or in addition to other contracts. They want to to continue on with their careers post covid and have their social media following fund them and keep them afloat. Many performers battle with finding contracts that yes, are great for the advancement of their career but aren’t completely beneficial to their livelihood as they can be unstable and sometimes underpaid. This physical and mentally demanding work can be very taxing. In hopes to be able to self-sustain, and have consistency in finances much of the burden and stress will hopefully be taken away.
“Once you’ve dropped off the top of that structure, you have to commit, you have to commit to the trampoline to whatever you're going to do coming out of the trampoline. You can’t jump off and be like, ‘Oh no, I'm scared, oh no, what’s happening,’ because when you hit that trampoline, if you're not committed, it's even more dangerous.”
Sarah Cooper is a professional stunt woman, circus performer, an aerialist, basically anything you can think of that is daring and life threatening. She lives for it. From a young age she has been no stranger to taking risks and living on the edge. In middle school, she joined an after school program called Fern Street Circus that had a focus on circus arts and performance. It’s a nonprofit that is designed to bring circus performing to kids who normally wouldn't be exposed. Here, she learned how to perform and they would put on shows for their community. She also learned valuable life lessons such as what true friendship is and what it means to make sacrifices for others. The relationships she made at this program still hold strong to this day. She continued with this for some years and then eventually started working for an entertainment company called, Ariel of Revolution Entertainment where she was an instructor and performer. At the age of 21, having been interested in Circus since middle school and continuing post high school, she began to feel discouraged and thought, maybe this wasn’t a career for her, just a passion. So she decided to pursue, as she says, real jobs for a bit, take a gander and see what they are all about. While working at a variety of places such as restaurants, gyms, gymnastic studios, sales associate jobs...she found herself in a place in life that wasn’t quite that fulfilling and searching for a path that seemed right. She had a friend who was a performer at Legoland, an acrobatic show, who encouraged her to apply. She got the gig and worked there for a bit but she still felt like she was just going through the motions of life.
“I never believed in myself enough to try. It was the failure.. afraid of failing but also afraid of succeeding. Anywhere different from our norm that we look at. If you are a failure people will look at you and if you succeed people will look at you and that fear will hold you in place. It’s just like; you have to be able to fail.”
Then there was a tragedy, the death of a good friend. Amongst the grief and sadness, a revelation transpired. Life can end at any moment and why was she allowing herself to be unfulfilled? She realized she didn’t want to settle for just anything, a mundane lifestyle, why be unhappy when there is a world of opportunity that awaits. Cooper says we can get in our heads so much, and convince ourselves that something seems right even though we know it is wrong. She recalls thinking, “What’s holding me back is me, I’m the one who’s being like you can’t do this. I can’t hold myself back anymore.” Sometimes in moments of sadness, light shines through. Cooper changed her mindset. She allowed herself to realize her worth and decided to kick into gear and follow a career that makes her happy. Through her job at Legoland, she heard of auditions for a casting role at Waterworld for Universal Studios, which is in Osaka, Japan. Knowing this would be a great experience for her, she applied and about a month later she received a call saying, “You got Japan!.” This was one of those moments when you question if you are dreaming or if you are in reality. She was ecstatic, couldn’t believe she would be performing in such a large production overseas.
Waterworld is a Universal Studios production that is a live sea war spectacular. It is based on the classic 1995 film, starring Kevin Costner. Her contract lasted for two years. It was Universal Studios’ first stunt show, filled with pyrotechnic explosions, planes, jet skis, spraying water, and fighting. Cooper even had to learn how to drive a boat! This experience was wonderful for her as it challenged her skills. She got to live abroad and travel the countryside while meeting some of the most memorable people.
Let’s hold up a minute though. Might we say, a Fearless Female? Cooper packed a bag, left the states (on her own), went across the globe to a foreign-speaking country, and performed live in front of large audiences. We just wanted to take a moment to point that out.
There she was, immersed in Japanese culture. Between contracts, she was able to travel and went on trips with friends as well as some solo adventures. During her time at Waterworld, she learned so much and loved being abroad that she decided she wanted to continue but work elsewhere. There was an opening at a stunt show in China, at a well known Russian theme park. She auditioned and got the contract! The park was the Tianjin Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park. It was a Russian aircraft carrier that they made a park around. The two shows she partook in were Strike Back (a water show) and the Binjai Car Show.
This was another two-year stint, and in the middle she was able to travel for a few months. She knows people from various places around the globe, one being from Australia. This friend’s father owned a stunt school, called the Australia Sun Academy, and Cooper decided to attend. She learned everything from how to repel, how to fall downstairs, drive cars, be in fire...she loved it and realized this is what she wanted to do! In the china stunt show she was more of a sexy, fierce pirate lady who fought and did light stunts. After learning some of these more challenging moves and how to do them safely she knew that she wanted to pursue them somehow. In the last weeks of her time in Australia, she traveled solo, just having fun and letting loose.
Upon returning to China, she went to her bosses and basically said, “Hey guys, I know all of these things now, will you let me play these roles?” Thankfully, they were very open to this. She was ecstatic! They gave her a role where she was able to repel and in general, just involved more skills. This was actually a male role, and they were willing to change the voice-over to a woman. She was so thankful. Cooper says that it is hard to change a role from male to female or vice versa because so much time has already gone into the development of the character and dialogue. In general, the industry is starting to see more women but unfortunately, most of the scripts are written with male leads and have very few women parts in general. It’s the way that the stories have been written. Such as in WaterWorld, there is only one female role, it’s Helen. Although she isn’t in the tv industry, she said there is gaining momentum for women’s equality going on right now and she hopes to begin to see a more equal representation of gender.
While in China, (2018) her contract was coming to an end and she was trying to figure out her next plan of action. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to come back to the states or to stay abroad and find another job somewhere, no matter what she had planned to pick up another contract. Traveling abroad had been so good for her, and was such development of her character. Then, something devastating happened back in the states, at home.
“Then in October, my stepdad put my mom in a chokehold. He strangled her, fractured her Larynx, so I went home! I get a text being like, ‘I’m ok, Chuck attacked me, I’m in a hotel room.’ I’m like, are you really ok?”
For Cooper it was pretty out of the blue, she had known him since she was 13. Looking back there were signs of him being narcissistic but she never understood nor knew the severity of it. Cooper says she is so proud of her mom, that she got out of it and took action. Cooper wanted to be home to know she was ok, help with divorce, restraining order, and provide comfort. During this time, she still needed a job and knew that SeaWorld shows had always been aerialist shows, so she went to audition and came to find out, it is now only Tramp Wall!
“I was like, ‘Nooooo. I have to learn the tramp wall?!’ So I spent two months learning it, auditions were in January.”
She took classes at the Circus Center in LA and learned enough to try out for auditions although she still needed a lot of work. Auditions in January of 2019 and she did well but didn't make it. Here she was, living at home, without a car and no job. Unsure of what to do, she ended up driving for LYFT. They have a program where if you drive a certain amount of hours you can use it for your own work. Then got a job at a circus place as a personal trainer. It was new so she didn't get many classes which made her go back to where she once had worked prior to Japan, at Orangetheory Fitness. The Orangetheory in San Diego has such an amazing community and she is thankful to be a part of it. She was basically working all day, every day. By October of 2019, she was a personal trainer and coach.
During this whole time, she still wanted to perform and decided to train and audition for SeaWorld again. The criteria is fitness but and personality-based. In January of 2020, she passed the audition, they knew she needed a lot of work but also felt like she would be a good fit. She was getting ready to start, and then the Pandemic hit. So she found herself in an odd place.
Being home, quarantining for her was very depressing. Her mom is 66 and she didn’t want to risk anything and the divorce still hadn’t been finalized. She had gone through so much, it was still lingering but was feeling a lot better and could be on her own. As time went on Cooper realized she couldn’t be there, for her own reasons. She had meant Jay Kinga and some other people at the SeaWorld audition and they had rented a home in Joshua tree to continue training with tramp wall.
“It's been a journey with them, we are all really good friends, we know a lot about each other and we’ve had to grow with each other.”
They have traveled and changed locations through the year, from Joshua Tree to Big Bear to Fallbrook. It has been great for her, training is amazing. A man named JR owns Junktramp. He is everyone’s mentor and lends Cooper and her group all their equipment. They fall under the same group name. Originally they were trying to brand their name as Trampwall Tribe but everyone still called them Junktramp. So, they figure it’s best to stick with that name! Junktramp has a very well-known social media profile. They both work for him and have their own project as well. They have done everything from following storylines, and make skits on Tik Tok. More recently a lot of their attention has been focused on YouTube.
“The goal is Sustainability. The ability to perform but also sustain. Also to be able to choose your own contracts. A lot of them have been burnt out from contracts, they want to be in charge of their own performing, of their own creativity, of what they want but they also want it to be sustainable. We want to be able to earn money off of social media so we can support ourselves as a business for performing, or for whatever we want to do as performers.”
This group is some of the best of the best in tramp wall. Cooper, having felt intimidated going into the group has grown immensely in the past year. It was something that she wasn’t naturally good at, a lot of these guys come from backgrounds of parkour, trampoline or gymnastics where her background was more in acrobatics. It’s been a journey for her but she has come to the realization that she absolutely loves it.
“They say, ‘WALL IS LIFE’. It kind of means, whatever you want it to mean to you! Everyone brings something else indifferent to Tramp Wall and they fight through something, they go through something to make it work for them. For me, a lot of it has just been letting go of the fear that I'm not good enough, that once you jump off that wall it’s a commitment, and to not be afraid of that commitment. When something feels good on Tramp Wall, it flows. You are just so happy doing it but you have to work to get to that point.”
Tramp Wall has helped her realize what she needs to do to work on herself as an individual. Having an activity where she is systematically training, and having a goal to build up to, has allowed her to open up to her own thoughts. She has realized there’s a lot of stuff leftover from her stepdad and mom that she has to deal with. Prior to joining the group, she didn’t realize how much she needed to focus on herself. Since being back in the states she was spending all her time working and helping others.
“There’s always those times where you think, I can’t do this, it’s hard work, I’m not gonna keep going.”
They have been working really hard and are finally starting to see rewards, Instagram accounts are gaining followers, they have a merch line, It’s nice to see there is a payoff. It’s easy to not recognize those moments in social media. Not every piece you make trends. It can be discouraging but they try to celebrate their victories with the support of each other. She doesn't know what the outcome of the future is but is excited for where she is, where she has found herself. There is so much uncertainty right now, like if her contract at SeaWorld will pick up.
“I feel really lucky. Like, I feel like everyone can have this too, which is maybe short-sighted to say but it’s also like, you just have to find your people. Find the people you resonate with.”
Cooper has a lot to look forward to. What she has achieved thus far in her life, in her career, has shaped her to be ready and prepare for many possibilities. She is a true example of how doing what you love can pay off. The journey hasn't been easy but she has allowed herself to open to the path that calls her. She is well aware of the times that she has both doubted and listened to herself. She recognizes when she falls and when she flies. Understanding who she is and internalizing her strengths will continue to bring forth many good things in her life. Her attitude and charisma have gotten her so far. After talking with her, it’s hard not to recognize the pure energy about her, that you can tell the sky isn’t the limit. We can’t wait to see what this fearless female continues to do in the future.
Q + A
Q: What does Moxxi mean to you?
“Moxxi the word...in general is sass, powerful and sass, just showing your Moxxi, showing your power.”
Q: Is there ever a time where you are like, ‘NO, i'm not going to do that!” Or are you always like, “YEsss!”
“I’m an adrenaline junkie. There are times I will question whether I should do something or not. What I love about stunts is a lot of it is an ascendant mentality, you have to just do it. You learn how to do things safely and you learn how to protect your body, but in the end, you just have to say, “I’m doing this” and that’s hard! If you think anywhere in between it, you’ve already messed up.”
Q: Any crazy moments on set?
“We had to restart a show once at Waterworld. I had accidentally left the boat slightly in reverse still, so I jump out, this poor Japanese performer (he was very talented but petit) was trying to pull the boat back and he can’t swim and it started going backward…the boat just went back and to the very back of the set, then we hear a sound that goes ‘Kaaaboomm!!’ and the show stops. They were like, ‘Ok Sarah, we are going to reset the show, are you ok.’ I remember after that show, I cried in the shower, I was like oh my god they’re gonna fire me.” - All was ok, the show still went on!
Q: Is there anything you do to prepare yourself mentally?
“The mental training comes with the practice. Like in fight scenes you train it over and over again until you know your partner's movements and that comes with trust and being able to let go more. Same with Tramp Wall, for me, just being on the wall, you visualize what you're gonna do before you do it. You visualize how you’re gonna move, what’s gonna happen and as long as you have that visualization in your head, you feel better.”
Q: What's next for you?
“I still don’t actually know where I’m going right now, and that’s kind of scary. But I think a lot of us don’t. It's something we all are doing and it's like what’s happening, yes I have the contract for SeaWorld but is it gonna happen?”
Q: What’s some advice you give to people taking a leap that don’t know how to dp it?
“It’s ok to be afraid. That’s the thing. You will feel afraid, and unsure, and terrified, but that is ok and you just have to sit with those feelings and be like, ‘I made this choice, I'm making this choice and now it’s gonna happen.’ If you have to think about it first then fine, but once you’ve made that decision...You’re doing it! Don’t go back! Allow yourself to go and allow yourself to embrace that fear.”
Q: Do you have any advice for women specifically?
“Give yourself grace, give yourself forgiveness that you’re not as strong as you think you should be. That it's ok to take baby steps. That even a little bit of a centimeter is growth, just be kind to yourself because we’re not going to be what we want to be right away.”
Q: Who are your mentors?
“My mother has always been someone I admire for how strong she is. She has always been emotional and I think she feels bad for being emotional but I’ve always admired her for her strength of femininity, being a strong female and having that emotional aspect.” She went on to also talk about her friend, Brita, she is a good friend who has gone through a lot and is constantly growing and improving herself, “She’s not stopping, she’s embracing the femininity of it and being ok to still move forward.”
Q: What is the power of community to you and what would you say to someone who feels alone?
A: “I started with a circus community when I was 13; that group growing up...it was like family! So that for me is always what circus was, was family and performing and going through my different jobs in different places, I still tried to have a community, otherwise, I would feel lost.”
B: “Vulnerability. It’s ok to be vulnerable. The more alone and segregated you feel, the more closed off you will feel, and less likely you will say hi to someone at the bar, on the street or playing frisbee. If you feel isolated and alone, that is your world and you don’t want to be like, ‘Hey, I want to hang out with you,’ because even saying that...and being afraid of getting rejected, you're not going to say that. Say hi to people on the street. Say hi and be like, that’s an awesome frisbee you have there!”
Q: Any last words?
“I always go back to food. (Haha) As a performer, it's been a struggle with food and being healthy and fit but you just got to enjoy it, enjoy life, don't limit yourself just because you think someone will judge you for it. Just go be in the sun, have fun! If you want to cut your hair off, cut your hair off! As long as you're doing it as a conscious choice. I'm big on that choice. If you are choosing to do this and you are aware you’re doing it.”
Looking for some people besides @secooper to follow with Tramp Wall?
Check out some of the other Junktramp crew! The names are Jake Hinga @HingaFlips on IG and Tiktok, Luke Diestel @LukeDiestel on IG, Mo Armstrong @son.moku on IG. Junktramp @Junktramp which is owned by JR, who we mentioned in the article. Cooper says, “They’re all just such good performers and tramp wall artists, it's not just tricks, they transform it and it's amazing”
Sarah Cooper’s Instagram Link:
JunkTramp’s Instagram Link:
JunkTramp Youtube Link:
Trampwall Tribe Link:
Find out more about the Tianjin Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park. https://www.mirageent.com/binhai-car-show
Fern Street Circus