As a circus student, sometimes I forget how much it costs to keep a gym open. But the reality is that circus is expensive, and it takes the whole community to raise money through grants, auctions and fundraisers so that we can keep our circuses afloat. There are about a thousand different ways to fundraise, but in this article I wanted to focus on one fundraising option that was fun, raised money, and brought my community together.

So I interviewed Wendy Cohen, the Educational Director at the Echo Theater Company in Portland, Oregon. Wendy has been a community member of Echo Theater, performing, teaching, and working in the echos office, since 1996. The Echo Theater is a nonprofit, and is always looking for creative fundraisers to raise money, and Wendy was a massive help to Echo in creating the FUNathon fundraiser that took place about 6 months ago.

The FUNathon was a one night fundraising event that took place inside the Echo Theater Company’s space. The night included, acts, pledges, concessions, jokes, poetry and puppets. Wendy described the event as being, “the circus version of a jogathon” saying that, “People could find a fun thing to do either repetitively in a short time or something that they could sustain. Then family members would pledge money for how long or how many a participant could do. The idea was to get pledges from family members and the community in a way that would be fun to watch.”

When I asked Wendy what she thought made the FUNathon a successful event she kept coming back to the idea that it was fun, silly and completely inclusive to all members of the Echo community. She told me, “It made people curious! There was definitely an element of, What is that? The event really brought the community together from all levels, whether or not you were taking a class at Echo.” It was clear to Wendy that what made a difference in this fundraiser was the inclusion of all generations. When I asked Wendy about the importance of including parents and relatives in fundraising she said that, “It’s really important, We need an audience and they are the audience. they want to support the kids who are working, and we wouldn’t be here without them.” Another great part of the FUNathon was the message it sent to both kids and adults, as Wendy said, “it showed that people with any age, body or ability could do circus, and it really gave those who had not been exposed before a chance to understand what circus is.” The FUNathon did a great job of capturing Echo’s mission to its community, “ To create unique, professional performances and classes aimed at bridging generational and cultural gaps while celebrating the collective potential of all people.”

Altogether the FUNathon raised about 6,000 dollars for the Echo Theater Company, and there are plans to do another event like it next year. Wendy, and everyone else at the ETC, hopes that it is just as successful if not more. Clearly fundraising works best when you can get everyone in your community in on the fun, and get every single member invested in the time and money it takes to make circus work.

– Zoe

You can find the Echo Theater Company at

A Brief Explanation of Circus Through The Ages

In the history of the circus lies both a community for all unordinary and extraordinary peoples and sense of adventure in its lifestyle. From its origins and creators to its classic demonstrations of the unusual, circus is many things.

The circus most people know today are often considered a child’s dreamland, presented through choreographed routines of acrobatics, tamed animals, peculiar human abilities, and other fascinating phenomena. Most people are familiar and fond of the classic Western circus, with its usual variety of treats – circus peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy – and tricks – puzzling illusions and humorous acts.

Maybe you’ve wondered about the origin of this traditional circus. Historians and those of more curious mindsets have accepted the likelihood of where, when, and how the modern circus originated: In 1768, London, England, circus showman Phillip Astley first introduced the circus, which spread across the world like wildfire. In the acts of his show, Astley presented lots of the circus elements known to us today – performing exotic animals, acrobatics, et cetera. Obviously a lot of Astley’s original acts are now what make up the modern circus.

Most circuses throughout the past estimated 200 years are known for traveling, popping up gleaming, colorful lights and enormous canvas tents in hours to prepare for shows. The exciting news of “The circus has come to town!” and the swarming crowds of happy locals always meant the same. However, circuses didn’t usually travel until it became much more convenient.

Before the mid-1820s, most circuses performed their shows in temporary wooden structures or more permanent amphitheaters, making circus travel a bit more complicated. Then, in 1825, a circus enterpriser named Joshua Purdy Brown was the first to use a tent, fashioned from weatherproof canvas, as the temporary home of a circus, and the clever idea took off throughout circuses all over the globe.

Another loved and well-known act from many, many circuses throughout the years is the display, as if in a museum, of both animal and human oddities and extraordinary abilities. This was brought to life and fame by a Phineas Taylor Barnum along with his accomplice, William Cameron Coup, in 1871. They created what they called Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie & Circus. The “museum” portion of their show was basically an exhibition, of humans and animals with odd abilities, like in a museum (hence the name.) These people often included the classics of the bearded woman, little people (referred to at this time as “midgets,”) strongmen, and contortionists, along with many other people with stranger abilities or traits.

Most of these people almost displayed in some circuses were more than just acts or performers. Hundreds of people still consider their circuses to be like family or like a community when they have trouble finding such in the outer world. Throughout its history circus has had a huge positive impact on the lives of some at the margins of society with a sense of security, family, and a place to belong.

As you now know, throughout history, people have been demonstrating and inventing new brilliant ideas and utilities to aid in the spectacular performance of the modern classic circus. And the circus has been offering a family to the people who have needed it most. The show people love so dearly shows an art and a special amount of hard work that is put in to perform, prepare, and end the show in thrown roses and a wave of laughter, and sometimes even awe.

– Mazie Jane


Expand Your Circus Horizon at a French Circus Summer Camp!


I don’t know about you, but I have always struggled to find circus camps that were both affordable and meaningful to me based on age or skill-level. However, when I went back to France two years ago (where I am originally from), I used the opportunity to sign myself up to a circus camp and discovered hidden opportunities to perform with other circus-loving teens. All of these programs below are part of what is called in French a “colonie de vacances”, or a sleepaway camp where the main purpose is to have fun. That is why all of these offer activities on the side, such as mountain-biking, swimming, tree-climbing… but don’t worry, circus remains the priority! These summer camps are also all based on a more-or-less camping environment, where kids sleep in tents but still have access to prepared meals and proper buildings (except maybe for the last camp!) Maybe they will also give you a reason to touch up on your French!

CPA LAthus- Cirque en tournée

This two-week long camp was the one which I went to and I had a blast! During the first week, a group of fifteen or so of us 14-17 year olds worked together to create a show with acts separated by discipline, but under the general theme of links and relationships. The instructor also had us perform a collective dance, which was really different but also fun for me! The second week, we drove to different local villages and performed our free shows for all kinds of audiences. Also, almost all of us unicycled, so we traveled this way to lunch, dinner, etc. In our free time, we went tree-climbing, did handstands and juggled on upside-down canoes, and went swimming. This year, the camp starts on July 30th. You can find more information on


 Oval Séjours- Les arts du cirque

This camp offers a month-long circus adventure in the heart of France! Teenagers, ages 14 to 17, prepare a show and perform it on the prestigious local stage at the end of the camp. The instructors can really focus on strengthening and teaching circus skills during this camp because of its longer duration and short performance time. For more information, visit



Aventure Artistique Itinérant Ado – Cirque Tournée Spectacle

Similarly to the first camp, this camp is two weeks long and focuses on creating a show during the first week, and performing it locally during the second. However, it is different in that the concept of camping is embraced even more, with kids helping with chores such as cooking. Working this way can definitely bring people together like family! More information at


Colozère- Séjour “Cirque en bullant”

If you enjoy rough living, this 13-day camp is definitely for you. After planning their show for the first couple of days, the team of performers embarks on a journey on bike or on foot, and travel around locally to perform their show. For details, check out their website:

I hope this little article gave you some new ideas on how to spend your summer and inspired you to “expand your circus horizon”! Best of luck to all of you in your future circus endeavors, and like we say in French, Au revoir!


Guest Article: Why Circus?

Ella in a lion’s costume performing at a circus-themed birthday party! (Photo by Casey Jacques)

Hi! I’m Ella! I’m 12 years old and I love exploring new places, eating peanut butter on ANYTHING and EVERYTHING, and bending myself in half up on top of the stage or whenever I feel the urge to just move around! When I tell people that I am a part of Circus Maine, many ask how I got into the circus or why I am so passionate about standing on my hands or placing my body in unnatural positions! So, I am going to tell you!

I went to a week-long circus summer camp 3 ½ years ago, and at the end of the week the coaches encouraged my mom to sign me up for classes. I thought that it could be a fun afternoon activity, so I was enrolled for classes at the beginning of the school year!

When I first started taking circus classes I didn’t know how to do anything! But I have never been one to quit, so I just kept at it, even when I thought there was no way I was going to be able to do a certain trick or stick the right position.

After a few months of doing classes, it was time for my first performance! When I was getting ready for the show with all of my friends I was really jittery, but I couldn’t wait until I got to step up on that stage!!! At the top of the show, when I first ran out onto that stage and I saw the audience’s faces light up with happiness THAT was when I realized that circus is my passion!

I love circus arts because not only can I go out onto that stage and be myself but the feeling that I get when I make someone smile is unequaled by anything else! Thank you for reading, and remember: you can do anything if you only TRY!!!

Hanging in There: Tips for Improving Grip Strength

photo credit:

Stronger grip means lower likelihood for injury. Weak forearm muscles can cause repetitive motions that strain and injure your wrists, hands and arms that can branch out and lead to injuries in other parts of the body. It is important to train grip strength in a variety of ways because there are so many muscles that go into having good grip.

For as long as you can. Play around with different handholds.

No More Grip Aides!
Don’t use ‘em! Depend on grip aides like rosin only when you have to, otherwise your grip will not improve.

Squeeze a Stress Ball or Tennis Ball
As many repetitions as possible. Switch between a stress and tennis ball.

Indoor Rock-wall Climbing
Loads of fun!

Crumple a Sheet of Newspaper with One Hand
Lay out a single sheet of newspaper and place your hand on it then begin to scrunch it up using only one hand. It’s harder than it sounds.

Try Finger Push-Ups
They’re pretty tricky but try finger push ups whenever you feel comfortable and confident. Instead of placing your palms on the ground use your fingertips. Be sure to keep the good form of a normal push-up.

Do a Farmer’s Carry/Walk
All you do pick up as many heavy things as you can like weights, dumbbells, a milk jug, groceries etc and walk. When you’ve gone as far as you can shake out your hands and try again.

Hit the Monkey Bars
Head over to a local park to try whatever monkey bars are there. Go back and forth as many times as you want.

Use Grip Strengthening Devices
You can purchase such items online in different amounts of resistance.

If you want to improve your grip strength try these tips out; I hope they help!

– Cailey


Kyle Driggs and Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio

Paramour is a story of a simple love triangle, but the activity around the story makes the show a spectacle.  Not only are the music and dancing beautiful, but like any circus show, there is activity on every inch of the stage and from the ceiling to the floor!  I had the same feeling I have at any circus production — wishing I had multiple sets of eyes so I could see everything at once and not miss one performer.  Also, having tall people in front of me became a special challenge at Paramour because every inch of stage that’s obscured means missed action!

The show includes so many circus skills including juggling, acro, unicycle, mime, CYR wheel, pole, lyra, trapeze, clowning, contortion, Spanish web, and straps.  The aerialists hanging from the chandeliers made me want to go home and find something in my house to hang from.  During a dream sequence, a zombie came down from the ceiling over my head!  The show also incorporated flying drones decorated like lampshades that “danced” around the actors as they were singing.

Paramour is set to close April 16, 2017, one year from its opening date, due to planned renovations in the Lyric Theater where it is playing.  You have just a short time left to see it! I hope it will reopen in some form down the road so I can go see it again!

Thankfully, an AYCO board member helped me arrange an interview with one of the performers, juggler Kyle Driggs.  Kyle was very generous with his time and not only answered all of my interview questions about Paramour and his career, but offered advice for me to share!

Kyle began juggling as a teen and was supported by the Philadelphia Juggler’s Club.  He was also involved with AYCO member school, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.  By the time he was a high school freshman, he knew juggling was his future.  He attributes his successful start in circus arts to the unwavering support of his parents.

In high school, Kyle mostly juggled juggling balls and clubs. In his senior year, he became interested in using rings because of the 1950s technique of rolling them around the body and over the back, coined by the Bramson Family. So when it was time for Kyle to audition for École Nationale de Cirque (ENC), the National Circus School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, he auditioned with rings.  For three years at ENC Kyle developed his skill base and routines.  Kyle also minored in dance at ENC, which was evident in his beautiful Paramour acts.

Kyle took my family and me on a backstage tour and showed us small dressing rooms, halls lined with tons of costumes, and a wig room complete with wig drying machines, telling us, “The wigs are constantly washed and styled. They are all human hair.” He took us below the stage where eight musicians play multiple instruments each.  Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel described how when fellow musician Seth Stachowski is unable to perform, his position must be covered by two replacements because he plays five instruments!

The costume room at Paramour taken by Allie

The wig room at Paramour, taken by Allie

Violinist (and mandolin player) Paul “Woody” Woodiel, taken by Allie

Paramour schedule, taken by Allie

Kyle described working on Paramour as intense.  After four months of rehearsals, the show opened with eight or nine performances per week.  Usually Kyle has one day off per week and only had two weeks of vacation during the whole year.

At the end of our tour, Kyle led us to the stage and enthusiastically described his career path. Of course we wanted to know how Kyle started juggling with umbrellas — his signature object!  The story is just how you might imagine:  he was playing out in the rain one day with an umbrella, and he discovered he liked the “feeling it had”.  Kyle describes himself as an object manipulator who looks to work with objects “with charisma and feeling”. He says that the story he is telling and the feeling he is portraying is more important than technique.  Kyle described the many emails he receives from aspiring jugglers asking him what kind of umbrella he uses.  He typically answers that he feels it’s a personal choice and that he had to break hundreds of umbrellas before he found what worked for him.

Kyle Driggs answering questions from Allie, photo by Lilly Voltaggio

Kyle left me with a few interesting thoughts about ENC (Ecole Nationale de Cirque, in Canada).  He described the audition phases which include physical tests (acrobatics, physical conditioning, and flexibility) and artistic tests (dance and acting).  Kyle recommends making sure the physical tests are “easy for you” before you audition.  I expressed my personal concern about attending a college with French-based communication when I have only studied Spanish in high school.  He eased my fears, telling me that the instructors don’t only speak French to students and speaking French is not a requirement.  He called ENC the best immersion program for learning French; however, and considers himself fairly fluent now.  Kyle cautioned that his three years at ENC were very challenging and that he had to work very hard.

Kyle lives a life of an artist entrepreneur.  He said, “It is hard to make a living as an artist in the US… in Europe, it’s different.  In France, for example, the government pays artists.  In the US, you have to constantly get gigs.  And you have to pay for your own medical insurance and cover your own liability. As a freelancer, you have to have a lot of hustle.”  He described that working for Cirque du Soleil is an entirely different experience similar to working for any big corporation: you have job security and perks such as very good healthcare, but that you surrender some creative control.

Kyle values his creative control and his ownership of his own routines. In fact, though currently employed by Cirque, he legally owns the material he performs in Paramour, a situation he describes as unusual and that required extra legal advice and negotiating on his part.

Once Paramour closes, Kyle will spend June with Circus Flora in St. Louis, Missouri.  He is spending his free time applying for grants to fund his independent projects and working on his next big step in life – starting his own company to produce shows himself.  He is working with a partner/theater owner in Philadelphia to bring that dream to fruition.

Advice from Kyle:

Network.  You can’t do it alone.  Reach out to people who might be able to help you.

Go for it.  “Whole heartedly go for it!” For me as an aspiring aerialist, for example, he recommended reading and viewing on line everything there is on my tool of choice, silks.  He told me to learn everything there is to know and to study it like I would a school subject that really intrigues me, above and beyond what is assigned.

Work hard.  Working as a circus artist entrepreneur is hard work.  Prepare yourself.  Make yourself an expert at your skill, and work until the physical parts of the ENC audition are easy for you.

Circus is an opportunity:  Circus is one of the few disciplines that is still “do it yourself”.  With dance and acting, so much has already been done that it seems like you are defined (in one style) before you even go to school.  You are pigeonholed.  Circus is still undefined and open to more creative interpretation.

Final interesting tidbits:

1) The performers actually do say “hup” (softly) on stage – I wondered where it came from!

2)  Kyle won the Paramour Blooper Award for once falling off the stage during a performance!

Thank you, Kyle, for spending so much time with me!  Best wishes for the future!  I hope to see you again down the road!

– Allie

5 Ways Circus Makes Life Better

Zoe on silks at The Circus Project, picture by Kim (a circus project student)

1. Circus Makes You Happier: Everyone has heard about the science behind exercise and why it makes you feel happier and more positive afterwards. The key lies in endorphins. Simply speaking, endorphins are chemicals that your brain releases during exercise that directly affect your body and your perception. Endorphins block some of the receptors in your brain in a way that reduces pain and triggers positive feelings. Use this to your advantage! Feeling down from studying? Get up and do some contortion!

2. Circus Builds Community: Okay, so circus may not technically be a team sport. But that doesn’t stop the amount of community that is created during training. There is no replacement for the amount of trust one has in their spotter, base, coach or partners. And people make life better, especially when you can laugh and play with them. Just walk around town with a few of your circus friends and you might find yourself doing handstands on a board walk or climbing a massive tree.

3. Circus is a Creative Outlet: Everyone needs a creative outlet so they can process emotions, relationships, problems and other daily experiences. Circus allows you to create art that is both intensely physical, and full of emotion. There is more to circus than tricks, and without some sort of creative outlet it is hard to grasp emotions. So put them into your work. Create a solo because you had an argument and you need to get out of your head. Work on a hand balancing routine so that you can think through your problems. Putting real emotion into circus just makes the show better.

4. Circus Helps Body Positivity: Many of us have issues with our bodies, but there is no reason to feel anything but love for ourselves! Maybe you don’t nail that silks drop every time, but think about the strength it took just to climb up there. Perhaps your hip lock isn’t the tightest but your hair twirls just the right way when you spin on trapeze. Circus bodies aren’t perfect but they are ALL strong and talented. Look at your progress when you think you aren’t capable of anything great.

5. Circus can be Inspiring: Maybe it comes from coaches, from friends, from a performance you watch, or a song, or a particular apparatus or trick. Sometimes you find something that gives you a flame to fan. Circus can inspire you to learn, to condition and be strong, to create an entire routine by yourself or to be the star of your own solo. It can be hard to find something that gives you inspiration; especially for kids that grapple with school, maybe a job, family and problems of their own. It is tough to be in a mindset to create, but if you can find that within circus then you should feel proud of yourself. Circus is hard, but circus is also beauty and strength and has something for everyone to find inspiration in.

– Zoe