The First-Ever Circus International Film Fest

Emily Fulton

Last February, I was given the extraordinary opportunity to be the Festival Assistant for the first-ever Circus International Film Festival (CIFF). This was a volunteer position where I was a key team member in the inner workings of this revolutionary festival. Let me just say, it was an amazing experience.

CIFF was founded by Marisa Diamond in early 2021. Marisa is an inspirational circus professional and filmmaker, on top of being one of the first youth to hold a leadership role at AYCO. She founded the Circus International Film Festival because she felt strongly that circus films deserved proper recognition by the film industry and they were simply not receiving the attention they deserved at other film festivals.

In February, I started my duties as Festival Assistant. In the beginning, my main responsibility was to review the 95 submitted films. This was a mammoth task because we needed to make sure that only films that met our criteria were accepted. It was incredible that, in our inaugural year, films were submitted from 25 different countries!

Next, I helped notify the creators’ of the accepted films. I really enjoyed this part because the filmmakers were all so thrilled when they were notified of their acceptance! Then I had to upload the 84 selected films to our official YouTube channel. I was surprised that this took me a super long time to do because many of our awesome films were quite long and very high quality. It took me what seemed like forever, but I did finish the task in time for each film to be screened!

Next came the actual screenings. These started on March 14th and ran until World Circus Day, April 18th. Each film was screened for 24 hours via a private YouTube link sent out to our ~1,100 audience members each morning. I was amazed at how many people watched the fantastic films we were showcasing each day!

There were four competing categories this year; Under 18, Shorts – Documentary, Shorts – Performance, and Full-Length. To allow even more filmmakers to participate, we also had an exhibition only category this year. CIFF had 12 total jury members who selected the winning films in each category, and we even had audience choice voting!

And the 2021 Circus International Film Festival’s winning films are: 

**drumroll please**

Jury Selected Awards:

Roses and Thorns by US based youth circus creator Izzi Kessner (Under 18)

New Horizons by French based circus professional Antoine Menard (Short – Documentary)

Wake by UK based circus professional Tamzen Moulding (Short – Performance)

Cirque Du Cambodia by US based film professional Joel Gershon (Full-Length)

Audience Choice Awards:

Isla Bonita by Puerto Rican youth circus company ENC Puerto Rico (Under 18)

Fer Sumundo by Mexican based circus professional Arelly Cantellano (Short – Documentary)

Zéro Vulnérablité by French based circus professional Antoine Menard (Short – Performance)

TEN by Canadian based circus professional Katelyn Ryan (Full-Length)

Next came my favorite part: Interviewing the creators of the winning films! We hosted four Instagram Lives on April 17th. I had the amazing opportunity to interview Joel Gershon, the winner of the Full-Length category. It was awesome to hear about his inspiration for and experience creating his film Cirque Du Cambodia! That was definitely the highlight of my CIFF volunteer work!


CIFF is always looking for more volunteers! If you are interested, shoot an email over to circusinternationalfilmfest@gmail.com. We love volunteers of all ages and I would encourage you to reach out if you are interested. I assure you that it will be a rewarding experience, and who knows what great opportunities you will get through your volunteer work!

Circus is a Chosen Family

Revely Rothschild

Our hands were linked wrist to wrist, pulse to pulse, as I held my trapeze partner in the air. The stage lights illuminated the contrast between dark and light skin as we moved through our act in unity. As our feet touched the ground, we took a bow and joyfully scampered into the wings, where a dozen friends fell upon us with jokes and hugs. Like squirming puppies of the same litter, we all collapsed into a laughing dog pile on the polka dotted floor.  

Those friends are my circus family. Though we come from different backgrounds, we love each other deeply and openly. When we hold each other up physically while practicing circus arts, we learn to lift each other emotionally as well. In an unparalleled and nearly breathtaking way, our mutual trust and shared vulnerability reinforce each other to build bonds stronger than the aerialists who form them. 

So when members of my circus family are hurt because society marginalizes them in some way– whether that be their race, gender identity, religion, or mental health– my blood boils for them. I want to support them, so I listen. I make myself available and willing to hear and validate their stories. And when they trust me with their perspectives, no matter how greatly these differ from my own, I honor their experiences and use them as motivation to educate myself. My circus family has made me aware of my privileges, but I have also learned that privilege is not an excuse for me to blindly disregard discrimination. Rather, it is a cause for me to defend others, love them fiercely, and lift them up with me.

The Media Behind the MainStage

By Tessa Wallington

The phrase social media may be a little different for everyone, but we all know that today, it’s the leading source of the spread of information. Whether it’s a cat meme on Instagram, or a breaking news story on twitter, we rapidly spread information through our social networking pages. Luckily enough for the circus community, social media has increased the knowledge of the art dramatically. Circus has been around a whole lot longer than social media, but not everyone was aware of the modern practice of aerial arts and acrobatics before the convenience and ease of socials. The dramatic rise in TikTok challenges, Instagram reels, and snapchat spotlight stories allows for people to spread their work at a dramatic rate. Modern circus and traditional circus are very different, and one of the large differences may be that modern circus relies heavily on social media. The last twenty years there has seen a large increase in awareness of the circus community, and the access to which beginners can get involved in recreational circus. Hashtags such as “circuseverydamnday” have become a universal bond that brings posts from across the world together into one explore page. The rapid increase of posting of new tricks or upcoming circus festivals has also created a stronger bond within the circus community. It is easier to connect with people who live far away, with the modern forms of social media. The social network phenomenon has changed a lot of things this past decade, and one of the most unexpected may be the new light being shined on the art of circus. As always, follow the American Youth Circus Organization on social networks.

AYCO Festival Review

This year, the American Youth Circus Festival was a two-day virtual event April 17th and April 18th! Online activities include workshops, social events, youth-led activities, and more.


Emily Fulton:

Wow! This year’s Virtual AYCO Fest, equipped with a scavenger hunt, panels with circus professionals, a performance showcase, and lots of other great opportunities, was so much fun that it is hard to choose a favorite activity! If I had to choose, though, I think that my favorite activity would have to be the afternoon hangouts lead by my fellow Hup Squad Representative Carleigh. Now I have to admit; I had my doubts when I signed up for the hangouts because I was nervous that I wouldn’t have anything in common with the other attendees. Gosh, was I wrong! I enjoyed getting to chat with circus youth from around the country, and it was really interesting how much we had in common. I can’t wait to get together with my new friends at the next AYCO Fest!

Another really cool opportunity that I had at this year’s AYCO Fest was moderating the From Youth Circus To Professional Performance panel. I loved asking professional circus artists Kia Eastman, Tristan Nielsen, Spencer Mathey, Ariana Ferber-Carter, and Kerren McKeeman questions about their circus journeys. They all had such interesting stories to share, and I especially enjoyed their answers to “What is the weirdest circus creation that you have been a part of?” I made that question up on the spot, and I was super impressed with all of the unique experiences that had been made available to them through their circus careers!


Carleigh Saberton:

The American Youth Circus Festival looked a little different this year, but it was still a great time! We got to do circus with people around the U.S. from the comfort of our own home which I though was pretty cool. I hosted the hangouts and they were really fun! We had a lot of great conversations about our favorite things inside and out of circus and how our circus community is wonderful in so many ways. My favorite workshops that I attended were probably both of the juggling ones. I love to juggle; I’ve been working on numbers which is why Sean Petric’s 5 ball juggling was super helpful. I also learned cool 3 and 4 ball variations and partner tricks with my mom from Eva Rowland’s workshop! Thanks to everyone that made the festival possible during these crazy times!


Lyra Gross:

The AYCO festival was amazing! I got to meet so many new people! I learned so much from it and thought it was a great experience for circus lovers!


Sounds like the Festival was a great time and hope to see you at the next one!

Interview with AYCO Board Member Jens Larson

By Lyra Gross

“When given the choice to join the circus, I automatically took the opportunity.”
-Jens Larson, circus performer

Jens Larson is a circus coach and AYCO board member. He performed in the circus from 1981 – 2000, taught math for 14 years, and then decided to return to circus as a coach. He has been teaching circus ever since. He specializes in hand balancing and aerial rings, but is also always willing to try new forms of circus arts. I was lucky enough to be able to interview him and hear about all his amazing experiences as a circus artist. Here are a few of the questions that led to some incredibly inspiring stories.

What is one of the craziest things you’ve done or witnessed as a circus artist?

I’d say maybe the easiest one to describe is Roman riding on two Percheron horses through Cortlandt Park in the Bronx! Roman riding is standing astride two horses that are bridled together, and Percheron are a type of draft horse so they’re really big and easy to stand on, but also very imposing and quite noticeable when going by women with strollers! Now, of course, the people most likely knew the Big Apple Circus was in town, so they probably put two and two together, but we were not right next to the tent either, so that also added to the peculiarities of the situation. 

Have you ever made an act that you felt emotionally connected to?

Well, when I joined my first circus I got to see Dali Jacobs perform on the rings. When I watched her I was thinking, “that’s a beautiful act.” But I was in men’s gymnastics at the time and they did the rings totally different. So I decided to create a whole different act. It took every, every last bit of energy out of me each time I did it. It was my own creation, and it was scary, because I was swinging very high in the air. But the effort it took made it even more meaningful.

Have you ever had an act with animals in the circus?

I helped out with some of the animal acts, and I helped get the animals ready for shows at times. I also substituted in Circus Flora as a patron who was served things by an elephant. I had to be sure that I wasn’t too goofy, though, when I performed the act. If I was, I would lose control over the elephant, which could be really dangerous. I also at one point had to introduce a bear act and move props around during the act!  I also remember one time I was getting this horse all bridled up and ready, and then just as I was supposed to bring the horse out it ran in the complete opposite direction! So as the curtain drew back to present the horse the audience just saw me chasing after the horse out the back.

What is your favorite act that you got to do in the circus?

The chair balancing act with my wife was my favorite act. It allowed me to do my full on hand balancing skills, but it was also part of a comedy act, and just worked really nicely. My wife got to be my assistant because she was also really funny. It was a fun act to do because we got to be a little goofy, and I still got to show off my hand balancing skills.

Do you have any hobbies outside of the circus?

Well, before I started Phoenix Youth Circus Arts I got back into juggling . . . as a hobby. There was a local juggling club that met in the park and I would just show up with them and juggle for fun.

How do you motivate / push yourself in Circus?

I guess it is just part of my personality that I always want to get better. Doing the same old thing isn’t as much fun, so I am always pushing myself and asking myself what I could do to get better.

Do you have any advice for a circus performer like me?

Shoot for the very best training available. There is a constant balance between having kids explore many different acts, because versatility is always valued in the circus. But also not spreading yourself too thin so you don’t hurt yourself. It’s also good to have a backup plan if you end up not being able to perform as you get older or are out due to injury. 

I had so much fun interviewing Jens Larson and hearing about all his amazing stories! He shows us that really anything is possible if you have the determination and bravery. He  inspires us to live a bold and fearless life!

Review: Omnium

Review by Carleigh Saberton

I had the amazing opportunity to attend Omnium’s virtual show this March! Omnium circus is all about diversity and inclusivity. This nonprofit organization features “multi-talented, multi-racial, and multi-abled performers” and has given the opportunity to all people and families to enjoy the show. Although I had a bit of trouble logging onto the show, I received help from a lovely representative and once I was there, it was very user friendly. There were 4 options that you could choose from. The Typical video included the hosts talking and signing as well as captions. The ASL video was very similar to the Typical video, both always had a way for the deaf and hearing to enjoy. They also had an audio description, where the audience can hear the dramatic music as well as a narrative of the people, actions and events taking place, and a plain language video, where the narrator spoke in a simple language that made everything very easy to understand. 

The show consisted of a variety of skills from cyr wheel to juggling, aerialists to acrobats and hoops to horses! All of the performers, from all over the world share a love of circus and have a strong appreciation of this organization. They strive to break the brand of society and embrace diversity. Watching the acts from my living room felt like being at a live performance but more exciting because we got to enjoy the incredible feats of strength from awesome camera angles and transitions. My personal favorite was Jen Bricker Bauer, an aerialist with no legs, who performed on aerial silks with her husband. Not only did she showcase her amazing aerial skills, she shared a touching moment dancing with her husband with her aerial silk ballgown. Overall, I really enjoyed the show. It was so inspiring, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to inspire people of all ages and abilities to pursue their dreams.  

Review: Artistes of Colour: Ethnic Diversity and Representation in the Victorian Circus by Steve Ward

Review by Revely Rothschild

To some, history books may seem boring– everything they discuss has already happened, so what’s the point? But from the moment I picked up Steve Ward’s Artistes of Colour: Ethnic Diversity and Representation in the Victorian Circus, I knew this wasn’t the case: the rich details and approachable writing make it a valuable and enjoyable read. Whether you know the ins and outs of Victorian circus as well as Ward, or whether this is as new of a subject to you as it was to me, you will find Artistes of Colour to be a compelling and accessible take on a largely unexplored aspect of circus history. 

Artistes of Colour is Ward’s way to celebrate those circus artists who have been unjustly forgotten, and to honor the memories of those who experienced racial discrimination during life. While the book does an excellent job of covering such a deep and important theme, it’s also a very accessible read. Each chapter covers one performer, so whether you intend to read the book cover to cover, or would prefer to read the chapters individually, you will find yourself immersed in a narrative that’s compelling for a variety of reasons. 

For one, he paints an awe-inspiring picture of all these artistes and their terrific skills (for example, one woman, Leona Dare, hung from her teeth from a hot air balloon). But it’s by using interviews, press clippings, and posters or photographs from the time that Ward really brings the performers (and society’s response to them) to life. Not only does Ward use media about the artistes, he also investigates their personal lives, and through that, these admirable circus heroes become lively, complex individuals in their own right.

Ward pays great attention to detail, not only in the lives of each individual performer, but also in the connections between all of them. One of my favorite elements of this book was the way that Ward makes references to previously-discussed performers in later chapters and describes the interactions or relationships between all the artistes. By drawing unifying ties between all the artistes, Ward reminds us of something that has always, and still is true about the circus community: no matter who you are, it can be your home.

Review by Stacy Gubar:

One may think that a non-fiction, historical novel would be overly dense and boring, but Artistes of Colour: Ethnic Diversity and Representation in the Victorian Circus by Steve Ward is anything but that. This work contains fascinating personal stories accompanied by broad overviews of the time period which creates a beautiful balance between entertaining anecdotes and important historical context. For this reason, I really enjoyed reading this book and did not find it overbearing in content at all. I also loved looking at the included timelines and pictures because they provide wonderful visuals of the discussed people and events. Additionally, they further dilute any possible insipidness and make the book very entertaining to explore. The timelines also work to contextualize and chronologize the book’s events, which ensures the work is accessible and easily comprehensible to a varied audience including adolescents like myself. In fact, the entire text is extremely well organized in a clear, logical order and includes a glossary at the end which allows readers to quickly locate sections they might wish to re-read. Furthermore, each chapter is concluded by a list of cited works which can be an invaluable resource for those wishing to learn more about the subject. I personally admire the citations because they allowed me to trust the information I was reading, and feel confident about the author’s integrity. In conclusion, I feel everyone would enjoy perusing this brilliant, accessible, and trustworthy look into the history of POC representation within the circus, and I highly recommend you give it a try.

Purchase your copy here!

Review: NECCA’s Circus Spectacular

By Stacy Gubar

Recently I had the pleasure of attending NECCA’s 11th annual Circus Spectacular show. The performance was truly incredible despite being virtual this year. NECCA admirably adapted to the current circumstances to create a beautiful programme for an admirable purpose. The board chair, Elizabeth Wohl, and Jenna Struble explained that the Circus Spectacular is the main source of fundraising for NECCA students needing financial aid, and that NECCA has recently been able to fund a blood drive, food drive, LGBTQIA+ scholarship, and BIPOC scholarship in addition to that. Additionally, the speakers acknowledged that NECCA is located on Native land and that all their work would not be possible without the sacrifice of the native people. I knew very little about the organization beforehand, but found NECCA to be a very admirable, responsible, and humble one. 

I was equally impressed and inspired by all the stunning performances the evening included. The Advanced Youth Troupe performed beautifully to the poem “Freaks” by Moo Butler. The poem was incredibly powerful and fit well with both the occasion and the choreography. The routine included fluid group dance, trapeze, ribbon (silks), German wheel, acrobatics, straps, and webs which proved to be a wonderful, varied display of circus skill. The group’s choice to wear mismatched costumes further highlighted the individuality of the performers and matched well with the poem’s message regarding inclusivity in circus. 

The next act, performed by the incredibly experienced and talented Joel Herzfeld, was simply breathtaking. It was a very creative hand balancing routine with clever theatrical aspects. Herzfeld demonstrated exemplary strength, balance, flexibility, and aptitude for fluid motion throughout the whole incredibly active routine. It was a mesmerizing and rare experience to view a hand balancing routine with so much motion and I was entranced the whole way through. 

Another very unique and seemingly gravity-defying performance was carried out by the incredible Eric Bates. This particular routine was no exception to Bates’ admirable use of performing arts to bring awareness to climate change, since the items being juggled were cigar boxes. I found this to be a very interesting choice, and one that created a juggling act unlike anything I had seen before. The routine was very active and upbeat and demonstrated such skillfulness that, in the hands of Bates, the nearly impossible feats seemed effortless. 

The next routine seemed to be equally effortless for the spectacular founder of Droplet Dance, Molly Gawlerl. It was a very beautiful, fluid routine with the Cyr wheel. Gawler and the wheel seemed to be one and the same, and were truly mesmerizing to watch. The incredible, heartfelt facial expressions Gawler displayed throughout the routine matched the music very well and added a beautiful theatrical aspect to an already stunning performance. 

Another very theatrical act was presented by Micah Ellinger and Sylvian Ramseier. They were an incredible acrobatic duo with a beautiful, highly emotional routine that I simply could not look away from. The dance elements blended wonderfully with the awe-inspiring acrobatic feats the pair displayed. Having experience with partner acrobatics myself, I was absolutely astonished by the ease with which they completed such advanced tricks. Their talent and strength made each feat seem effortless. Furthermore, they were so impossibly in sync with each other that I found it difficult to believe these incredible performers were regular humans. 

Another artist that must be extraterrestrial is the astonishing contortionist, Ariana Ferber-Carter. The routine Ferber-Carter presented at the Circus Spectacular was certainly spectacular and seemingly inhuman in the best possible way. The flexibility and fluidity demonstrated in this performance are unbeatable, and seemed so natural and effortless for this talented performer. I also really loved the shining body suit Ferber-Carter wore, and the way it emphasized the beautiful bendy positions demonstrated in the routine. 

The next routine, performed by Chloe Somers (Wailer), was a very creative, cheerful hula hoop act. I have not seen many hoop routines in my life, so I had no idea a childhood toy could be used in so many beautiful ways. Somers (Wailer)’s incredible coordination and creativity produced quite a spectacle that I could not stop staring and smiling at. I was particularly entranced when four, or perhaps it was even five, hoops were spun at once! That, as well as the entire routine, was truly incredible. 

Last but not least, Kevin Beverly and Gravity and Other Myths presented an incredible group acrobatic act. The seemingly impossible flips and leaps they performed convinced me that gravity truly is a myth for these talented artists. I also really loved the fact that the routine was performed alongside a band playing live music. As both a circus performer and ensemble flute player myself I really appreciated witnessing my two favorite things collide in such a beautiful, dynamic routine.

Despite being a virtual event this year, the 2021 NECCA Circus Spectacular was an amazing show. The combination of pre recorded acts and live, and very lively, ringmaster and emcee, Jeff Raz and Tristan Cunningham, allowed the evening to run smoothly, but feel personal as well. The concluding live Q&A with the featured performers also helped make the show feel more like an in-person experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, and lament the unfortunate fact that I missed Mario Diamond’s pre-show because I am certain it was wonderful as well. 

Get to know your AYCO board member, Lyra Gray!

By Tessa Wallington

Lyra Gray

Get to know American Youth Circus Organization board member, Lyra Gray! As a member of the board, Lyra hopes to share her passion for circus with not only her community, but also the country as a whole. Gray holds a seat on three committees, dealing with development, finance, and insurance and deals with releases and policies for the circus community. Gray spoke on how the cohesive board has some exciting things coming up, and with dealing with the pandemic, the team has been working hard to provide a circus-filled year to the organizational members. You may have heard of one of Gray’s first projects, as she is the former owner of Aerotique, one of the only aerial studios in Columbus, Ohio. Due to covid, Gray has since moved on to focus on her involvement with the board, however was able to pass on the torch, and left her mark on the studio. Gray began her circus career in her adult years, and was able to build off her gymnastics background to improve her skills. Gray’s “strong desire to see the circus community grow” allows for her to share her passion in a meaningful way, as the AYCO board gives members the opportunity to be involved with the circus community in a different light. Gray described her circus career as “creative,” and when asked about her proudest moment, Gray responded that she loves that she was able to allow access to circus in her community.

Interview with AYCO Board Chair Dr. Jen Agans

By Emily Fulton

Dr. Jen Agans is AYCO’s dedicated Board Chair.  She is a passionate circus educator and circademic.  She started her journey with AYCO as a youth in the early 2000s, and her involvement with AYCO and ACE grew over the years.  When not working with AYCO, Jen is an assistant professor and researcher for Penn State.  You can find out more about Jen and contact her at https://hhd.psu.edu/contact/jennifer-agans.  Recently, I had the honor of meeting with her over Zoom to hear her circus story.  I hope you enjoy reading our interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with her!

How did you get your start in circus?

I went to the Pine Hill Waldorf School, and when I was in Second Grade, the Seventh and Eighth Grade teachers brought in this cool lady who lived in the community to put on a circus with their kids. I remember watching that circus and being like, “that is the coolest thing, I want to do that.” Luckily for me, the school agreed that it was a cool thing and brought Jackie Davis on as a part-time and then eventually full-time Movement Teacher for the First through Eighth Grades. I got to have classes with Jackie, and I did a summer camp with her. I think Fourth Grade was my first time actually getting to try circus, and then by the time I was in Fifth Grade, we had circus classes, so I had juggling homework, which I did not like at the time. I was not very good at it, but thanks to Jackie’s homework and the requirement that I keep trying even though I didn’t want to, I became a juggler. That was my main circus skill, juggling. So it’s kind of fun that the thing that I did not like at the beginning ended up being the thing that I liked the most.

What is your favorite circus discipline or trick?

I don’t like just juggling by myself, I really like juggling with other people. My favorite thing is 2 or 3 or 4 person club passing. I really like the challenge of trying to work together as a group to make the patterns work and trying to link patterns together. All club passers have their own repertoire of tricks that they know, so when you get a group of three or four club passers together, pretty much everybody will have a trick that somebody else doesn’t know. They can teach the group. So it’s a really cool thing to do with other people and a cool way to hang out with people.

What is the most unique experience you’ve had through circus?

I think an obvious answer to that question would be when I toured with Circus Smirkus in 2004. Getting to travel around New England and performing in a big top tent is something that if you don’t do circus, you’re not going to do. And even a lot of people who do circus don’t get the chance to tour. So that was a really fun thing to have done. I think because I haven’t followed a circus career, my summer with Smirkus was the most performing I’ve ever done. Instead, I followed more of a circus education track. After Smirkus, I spent the next 10 summers coaching at, and then eventually directing, the Silver Lining Circus Camp, but I’ve spent a lot less time doing circus than many other people in the AYCO community. 

In the 10 years I spent my summers doing circus, I was also going to college and then graduate school. Now I work at a university, and there’s no circus within a couple of hours of where I live. Given that sort of non-circus lifestyle, circus has been a conversation starter. I always have an answer when someone asks for something surprising about me; “Oh, I juggle.” It’s a cool way to find out who the cool people are when you come into a new community. If I say “I juggle” and somebody goes, “weirdo” then I know who I don’t want to hang out with! It’s not a specific unique experience, but I think circus has given me something unique that I can carry into non-circus spaces. 

What’s your role at AYCO now? 

My current role is Chair of the Board, which means I lead meetings, I get to be a figurehead at events, and stuff like that. I’ve been on the Board for a few years, and prior to serving as the Chair, I served as the Secretary. There are all sorts of roles within a nonprofit organization so it’s interesting to serve in different capacities. 

Why did you decide and what inspired you to join AYCO’s Board?

I have been to every AYCO Festival except for 2007, which was the year that I was first over 18, and AYCO at that time didn’t have any role for circus kids who grew up. So I thought I was too old for AYCO, which was sad. For the following event in 2009, they created the work-study program, which is for people ages 18 to 26 who love circus and want to be part of the event. It’s great for transitioning into a leadership role; you’re not taking all the workshops, you’re helping to produce the event. I got to do that in 2009, and I came back to AYCO very excited. I started going to the educators’ conferences, which are held on the off years from the youth festivals. I guess my involvement in AYCO sort of evolved as I developed my career. 

When I was a youth circus performer I was going to the youth festivals, but starting in 2009 I was beginning to see myself as a circus educator. That corresponded with me going to college, getting a degree in psychology and education, and then going to graduate school and getting my Ph.D. in human development. In my academic work, I study adolescent involvement in extracurricular activities and why it’s good for kids to do stuff like circus. So I actually started to get more involved with AYCO as I got less involved in directly working with kids, because I was starting to become a circus researcher or a Circademic (using Jackie Davis’ term combining “circus” and “academic”). As I became a Circademic, I became useful to the circus community in a different way. In the academic world, it’s cool and weird and random that I juggle, but in the circus world, it’s kind of cool and weird and random that I do research. So I started to get a lot more involved in AYCO through the ACE side. I was helping circus educators to conduct research on their programs, and helping them demonstrate that their programs are effective because people who give money to programs like to get evidence that they are working.

I think through that involvement, I started to take more of a leadership role as somebody who people would turn to, to answer questions about research. Around that time, the then Chair of the Board, Jesse Alford, sent me an email. He had been the leader of the work-study people when I was a work-study person, so we had known each other a while. He reached out and asked how I felt about possibly being on the board. It just felt like a logical next step, since I was already serving on a committee, and I was honored to be asked. I felt completely unworthy. I had never served on a board before and I was in my 20s. I was like, “what do I know?” Luckily, they convinced me that I should join the board anyway and I’ve learned a lot along the way. 

One of my messages to folks out in the community is that if you love youth circus or you love circus education, you could be a good fit for the board. You don’t have to be somebody who’s been a member of AYCO for a long time. You don’t have to run your own organization. I don’t even work for a circus organization, and I haven’t for over a decade. Being on the board is a way to serve the circus education industry, and I want to see that industry thrive. So I do that by being on the board.

What is your favorite circus performance that you have ever seen?

My most recent favorite circus performance that I’ve seen is Humans by Circa. They came here to State College, Pennsylvania, and performed a couple of years ago, which I thought was very cool, because we don’t really have any circus here. Our Performing Arts Center is run by somebody who thinks circus is cool, so she brings in a circus to perform there at least once a year. 

I really liked Humans because it felt very different from a lot of other circus shows I had seen. Contemporary circus is supposed to feel different. There were just so many little details that were cool. There was very little on the stage, and they were doing amazing tumbling and acrobatics. They did a lot of interesting things with the sound, like moments of silence where you couldn’t even hear their feet hit the floor. It felt very, very different from many of the circuses that I’ve seen before. That would be the most recent one. 

I think maybe my other favorite circus performance that I’ve seen recently was the UniverSoul Circus, which I saw at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2017. That was just like the epitome of a fun show. Every act was riveting and energizing, and super cool. Anybody who has a chance to see UniverSoul should see it.

Those two shows are almost on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. So I also really like that circus has so much variety inside of it. 

What is something in circus that you’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?

Through going to AYCO festivals, I’ve gotten to try a lot of the things I wanted to try. I’ve gotten to try Flying Trapeze, I’ve gotten to try German Wheel, and I’ve gotten to walk on a super high wire. Those were all former answers to that question.

I think my current answer to that question is that, being far from circus practice, both with COVID and with living in Central Pennsylvania, I just miss doing circus. I just want to do it!  I like that feeling of shared accomplishment and shared struggle. You know, just being able to play in the circus space is something that I miss. Some people thrive on practicing alone, but I like the social parts. If I’m lucky, some circus youth will come to Penn State for college and start a circus club here. 

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