Interviews

Social Circus – Promoting Diversity in Circus Schools

By Mira Gurock

Circus Up Founder Leah Abel on Why She Chose a Career in Social Circus 

Leah Abel is the founder of Circus Up, a nonprofit organization in Boston, Mass. that focuses on making circus more inclusive, joyful, and accessible. To learn more, visit circusup.com.

Mira Gurock: How did you initially become interested in social circus?

Leah Abel: Growing up in Cambridge, Mass. in the 80s and 90s, people highly valued diversity and inclusion. These were issues that people openly discussed and debated, too. That experience and environment instilled many values in me that I eventually saw were missing in many circus communities. Social circus felt like a way of addressing social justice issues through an art form I already loved.

MG: In starting to imagine Circus Up, what were some of these personal values that inspired you?

LA: I grew up in a very diverse neighborhood both ethnically and socioeconomically, and I just thought that was the norm. I think this shaped a huge part of who I am, including my values. When I got to college and started doing circus, I saw that circus arts were moving away from being more of a family-owned business. Circus was becoming more recreational, very expensive, and exclusive. At least in New York, unlike the traditional circus families of the century before, circus was attracting a more homogeneous crowd. So the art form that I fell in love with didn’t at all look or act like the communities I grew up in. I wanted to change that for two reasons. First, thanks to my strong social justice background, I saw social inequities and just wanted to work to change them. And second, I didn’t totally feel like I belonged either. I didn’t feel comfortable in some of the circus communities I participated in. In other words, I wanted things to change so that selfishly, I could feel more at ease. Even though I looked the part, I didn’t fit the mold in terms of other social norms. 

MG: What do you think is the most effective way for small or large circus schools to promote diversity?

LA: I would say by dismantling the patriarchy, working on equal access, and elevating the amount of attention paid towards valuing creativity and joy. I think the first step for people is to start learning about issues of social justice, white supremacy, and equality/equity. I also think talking less and listening more is generally a good idea. Observe what works and what doesn’t work in other organizations doing social justice work (not necessarily even circus organizations) as you build an effective strategy for promoting social justice. Also, if you’re trying to do outreach to particular communities, it’s important to watch and learn from the leaders of those communities! People don’t want to be told what to do and likewise, people don’t ever want to be told what they need. Instead, listen to people when they tell you what they need, and build an organization or program around those needs. Telling another community what they need is paramount to telling another person what their gender appears to be, or should be. Listening is key and responding to the needs of the communities that you say you want to work WITH is the most effective and respectful thing you can do.

MG: Have any of your definitions of what it means to support diversity changed for you since you started Circus Up? 

LA: Yes, of course. In this work we should all be committed to continually learning and growing. That should mean our work grows and changes over time, too. If it doesn’t, that is an indicator that no growth is happening either.

MG: What aspect of social circus needs the most work at this time?

LA: Diversifying circus staff and maybe working on what is a general lack of funding for the arts.

MG: What do you think are some benefits of belonging to a diverse circus community?

LA: To me, being a part of a truly diverse community is always more interesting. It also means that you’ll have your viewpoints challenged, which is a good thing. People have cultural norms that we often assign as correct “rules” of communication and interaction. But when you have a more diverse staff and student body, dominant cultural norms are challenged and we’re all encouraged to grow. When people learn to work and play with one another while truly creating space for diversity, we build empathy, respect, understanding, and connection. Moreover, we learn to understand cultural, political, social, and historical contexts for why the world is the way it is. This helps everyone avoid making stereotypes or from oversimplifying things.

C046A8F1-B0AB-4DD6-A856-F6B7825A0239

Mira Gurock and Leah Abel

Interview with Kerren McKeeman: Cirque Du Soleil Aerialist

By Emily Fulton

Kerren McKeeman is a professional aerialist who has performed with Cirque Du Soleil’s O, Varekai, and now KÀ, among many other circus shows.  She was a founding member of The Flying Gravity Circus in Wilton, New Hampshire of which I am currently a trouper. I had the honor of meeting and watching Kerren perform at The Flying Gravity Circus’s 2018 Starburst Gala.  She is a true inspiration to young performers and was happy to share her knowledge with me.

Varekai_El Paso_one toe Egyptian

How old were you when you started circus training?

I began learning how to unicycle and juggle at age 11 with Jackie Davis’ after school program and the Hilltop Circus at Pine Hill Waldorf School, in Wilton, NH. My first aerial training experience was with Circus Smirkus in 1998.

Did you do any cross training when you were a teen (dance, gymnastics, etc.)?

Yes, I began with gymnastics and ballet at age 6.  I began more intense circus training when my friends and I started the Flying Gravity Circus in 1999 when I was still in high school.

Did you attend a college or professional circus program? 

I chose not to go to professional circus school and did all my professional circus training with individual instructors in varying locations, from Montreal to Los Angeles. I attended Middlebury College in Vermont, and continued my athletic training there through dance while I was earning my BA.

What is your preferred circus discipline? 

My true love is trapeze, but anything that brings me into the air is a joy— I have most recently fallen in love with straps and have always loved partner acrobatics and hand-balancing.

How did performing with Cirque Du Soleil’s ‘O’, Varekai, and KÀ compare?

Great question. These are such dramatically different shows, all so beautiful in their own unique way! Performing at O took my breath away— it was my first Cirque du Soleil show, and if you’ve seen the show you remember the opening scene where the swimmers come out and chop up the water with that beautiful choreography along with the captivating opening song… and I got to see that from above backstage, sitting on my trapeze right before I started my act! Talk about a rush while you’re preparing to go on stage! Varekai was my dream come true— I fell in love with Varekai as a teenager because it was the first Cirque show in which the two main characters were acrobats! I felt, yes— we can tell the story too! Little did I know that I would eventually join Varekai and perform Triple Trapeze, then my solo single point trapeze act as the Huntress— a character created to further tell the story of Varekai— and finally I was given the role of backing up the main female character with my trapeze act during the end of the show’s run. Varekai completely stole my heart— the unique characters, bright costumes, the moving story, the vibrant love and conflict, transformation and hope, and the music that drives the soul of the entire show.  And KÀ is of course another journey and another story all together. At KÀ I perform Duo Straps with Pierre-Luc Sylvain, which is a coming-of-age and a love story called Duet.  It is such a gift to perform with a partner who is as much a partner onstage as he is a dear friend to me in real life.  He and I both feel at our freest in the air, so it is a dream come true to share the air with him! 

What is your favorite part of performing with Cirque Du Soleil?

Performing at Cirque du Soleil is rewarding for so many reasons— mostly it’s the collaboration— we are a large family who shares a deep love for something that we all pour our hearts into every night. We may not have language in common, or religion in common, or nationality, identity, culture, or really anything in common with fellow technicians, staff members, or artists, but we have passion in common— we have the common goal of putting on a live story, a living shared experience with immensely powerful moments from huge acrobatic stunts down to moments of minute but powerful detail— which all takes massive love and takes a team who can do anything we put our hearts and minds to.  

Out of all the shows you have been on, what was your favorite to perform with?

Wow, I have been lucky enough to have had incredible adventures with so many shows—Midnight Circus, Cirque Mechanics, Circus Smirkus, Flying Gravity Circus, Troupe Vertigo, Cirque du Soleil, Seven Fingers, Circus Couture…all such unique experiences created by brilliant people who know how to make art that gives more love and life back to their communities. It’s very humbling to look back on all that, especially now when we cannot have live performance in our lives. I don’t think I can pick a favorite— I’d need days to share all the amazing moments!!! But…I have to say that being a part of the wild machine that makes KÀ tick is incredible… there is nothing like watching the stages move in and out, knowing the automation technicians who make that happen, seeing the carpenters and riggers prepare the airbags and throw the nets, feeling the lights turn on at exactly the right moment, knowing the stage managers who make all the detailed calls, seeing the artists hear those calls on a mic in their inner ear and then plan their flips accordingly, and then stepping onto lift 5 and ascending into a cloud of falling yellow petals as our dear riggers lift up the straps and Pierre-Luc takes me up in his arms to begin our Duet… this show is an intricate machine that is truly like no other in the world!

Do you prefer performing with touring or resident shows?

Touring with Varekai in South America, with 7 Fingers in Asia, with Cirque Mechanics in Europe were some of the highlights of my life! Touring is an incredible experience that allows you to learn so much about the world— and yourself— if you let it!  Performing in a resident show is also a beautiful thing, and it is wonderful to come home to your own place every night. I learned so much from doing both, it depends on the stage of life you are in, and what you want to learn from your time spent not performing.

What is the most unique opportunity you have had as a circus artist?  

Telling so many stories onstage— I’ve lived and relived coming of age, falling in love, protecting and watching out for my sisters, transformation, bliss, joy, loss, redemption, and the feeling of rising above.

How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted you? 

Certainly live performances cannot continue during this time. Most live performers are completely out of work, as I am and almost all Cirque du Soleil employees. Of course this is very challenging for all of us. During this time it’s important we social distance for the sake of everyone’s safety, and that we take all measures to continue training so that we are ready to come back as strong as ever when the situation improves.  Surely this time is showing us all just how much we miss sharing a live experience together, so it will be that much sweeter to see a live performance in the future. Everyone will forever remember the first show they see after the pandemic is over! 

What advice would you like to give young circus performers?

Learn! Learn as much as you can from experts and then… keep learning! And be yourself! The stage is not a competition, it’s your place to be the best you can be, and that means doing things that make you feel free and challenge you to be your best. If you love something that has never been done, it might be harder to begin because you have to forge your own way, but there is always the first person who did something. Do it! Also, in this day and age we draw lots of inspiration from online sources (things I didn’t have at my early stages of training— we had to wait months to see a certain move or skill because we had to see it live!). When you are in creation mode, I suggest you turn off the social media, and get into a zone with some music, and see what your body comes up with naturally. The skills that I learned this way have lasted my entire career because they came from a unique place of discovery and not a place of replicating something I had seen. 

If you did it all over again, would you have done anything differently?

Keep a circus journal! You can put pretty much anything in there– a trick you saw that inspired you, an idea you have for an act, something that made you smile, a show you want to be in… the next trick you want to master. I have always written things down but I could never find all the notebooks and pages now– I wish they were all in the same book! And the best advice I can give is stay true to your values—why and what you love about what you’re doing—and allow yourself time to reflect on what you’ve done and accomplished. Ask yourself– what did I learn from that? Sometimes life moves so fast we don’t have time to absorb the lessons we’ve already learned. Take that time, it’s worth it.

Do you have any ‘blue sky goals’ you still want to achieve?

Yes! I have many goals on straps and I am still taking my solo trapeze act to the next level. There are still things I’ve never done so that keeps me going. I also want to do a hand-to-hand press with my friend (and extremely talented world-Champion) Ayla Ahmadova…one day!  I also would love to share the stage with Shakira, Zoe Keating, Aurora, and Isabelle Dansereau-Corradi.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the youth circus community?

Keep going, friends. Keep moving and sharing what you love— you never know you who are inspiring!

Varekai_El Paso_back lever rehearsal

An Interview with Tara Jacob, Executive Director of the American Youth Circus Organization

By Bronyn Mazlo

Tara_photo1

Tara Jacob, AYCO Executive Director

As a teenegaer, Tara Jacob first fell in love with the fun, creativity, and community she discovered in the circus at The Circus Space in London. Over the years, she founded the Circus Folk Unite! collective at Hampshire College, along with completing the 2012-2013 Professional Track program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts in Vermont. She is currently an instructor at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton, Massachusetts, instilling her love of circus in the youth of her community. Jacob now holds the exceptional role of Executive Director of AYCO (American Youth Circus Organization), but prior to her promotion she served on the AYCO Board of Directors and worked as AYCO’s Operations Manager.

The intention of the interview below is to introduce Jacob and to share her passion for her new role in the circus community. This interview was conducted by Bronyn Mazlo, a member of AYCO’s Hup Squad.

How did you discover circus and what has your journey been like?

I first discovered circus as a teenager when an outreach program came to my school and taught us stilt walking, juggling, and acrobatics. I was totally hooked – it was so much fun! I moved and there wasn’t a circus school near me, but I did as much circus as I could; gymnastics classes to learn acrobatics, flying trapeze classes, and self-taught juggling. When I got to college, I started a circus club there: Circus Folk Unite! at Hampshire College in MA. I realized I wanted to do everything I could to spread circus arts to others. After college, I did the ProTrack program at the New England Center for the Circus Arts (NECCA), and started teaching youth and adults at SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton, MA. Then I began volunteering with AYCO/ACE, then served as a board member, and then came on as administrative staff. I am very excited to have been named executive director!

How has circus impacted your life?

Doing circus makes me happy! It has also become my career, through teaching circus to others as a coach and helping to advocate for, support, and grow circus arts through my involvement with AYCO/ACE. It’s a part of who I am and how I interact with the world. Circus has also led me to many human connections with new friends and colleagues, and taught me to be tenacious and flexible at the same time.

 You became a part of the AYCO family in 2015. And you became the Operations Manager in 2017. How did those roles prepare you to be the executive director of AYCO?

I have really seen AYCO/ACE from all sides – as a member, event attendee, volunteer, board member, and staff person. I’m familiar with the work and history of the organization. This has given me a lot of insight, and being involved over several years, I’ve seen the organization evolve and grow. I’ve made strong connections with many of our community members and gotten an idea of the challenges we all face, and also know firsthand the passion and resilience of the circus education community.

 As an executive director, what are your responsibilities?

There’s always a lot to do! The executive director represents AYCO/ACE as a whole, balancing big picture visioning with micro tasks and planning. This means that among other  responsibilities, I meet with the Board of Directors, do financial management like budgeting and reporting, manage staff members, supervise programs and communications, help produce events like AYCOfest, EdCon, and regional festivals, engage with board committees, and interface with our members, press and the public! 

What do you find to be the greatest challenges?

Running a non-profit like AYCO/ACE means that there is always a balance of what you want to do and what you can do with limited resources. Our events, programs, and the connections we support are important to the community. Though we always have big dreams, we need to take small steps and raise the support to keep going and growing.

  What’s the best thing about your job?

I love getting to talk to our members — the people and organizations all over the USA who are doing circus in so many different ways. It’s incredibly inspiring to hear about the variety and also the common threads through people’s experiences and the work they’re doing to spread circus arts.

 What do you think makes AYCO unique?

AYCO and ACE’s success is because we are for and by the community. As a non-profit, we have always been motivated by our mission to “promote the participation of youth in circus arts and support circus educators”. It is the passion and creativity of our members that keeps us going – especially youth circus members like you!

The article was originally published at CircusTalk.com, the international online resource for circus professionals

 

Jenna Lowery, Circus Runaway Photography

Circus Friendships

It’s easy to take on different roles in different kinds of circus relationships. Some friends are more like mentors, some are like apprentices, and others are just sorta friends you hang out with. It all the depends on the circumstances where you meet.

Recently, Julaine Hall and Jordan Rempel-White, both Hup Squad members and students at the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA), sat down together to talk about circus friendships – with each other and other people.  Julaine and Jordan both took a straps class at SANCA not long ago and became closer through it. They also both performed solo straps acts at SANCA‘s annual spring showcase. How do circus relationships differ and how are they similar? Every circus relationship has a story.

Jordan Rempel-White (JR) – Hey, it’s great to see you!

Julaine Hall (JH)  – You too!

JR – How’s training been? I see you have pole face all over your neck. (Pole face is when the rubber coating of a Chinese pole rubs on the skin near or on the face making you look like a chimney sweep.)

*We both start laughing and the conversation totally derails, a few minutes later we continue*

JH – Yeah! I’ve been trying to train pole more recently since I came back from the big top tour. I did a rope act there, so I didn’t get a lot of time to train pole. But now that I’m back I’ve been training it more to get ready for an audition.

JR – That’s awesome! Good luck!! How did your relationships with your friends at Smirkus differ from the ones you have at SANCA?

JH – My friendships at Smirkus were very durable. Because we spent so much time together traveling and working together we all had to get along really well. But since we were all striving for a common goal it made it really easy. I’d call every trooper a close friend. They’re like a second family!  I think my friendships at SANCA are much more varied.

JR – Really? How so?

JH – Well I befriend lot of people in the younger performance groups and in other classes, but with Cirrus, the performance group I’m in, it feels like a little more business-like than at Smirkus. (Cirrus is the oldest performance group at SANCA (ages 12-18) Nimbus (ages 9 to 12) and Stratus (ages 5 to 9) are two younger performance groups also at SANCA. Julaine has been a member of all three and is a member currently of Cirrus.) But now it’s my turn to ask you! How the tables have turned!

*We collapse into giggles as Julaine accidentally throws a pencil across the room. Conversation continues several minutes later*

JH – Who do you think your first circus friend was?

JR –  Yikes, that’s a tough one. I think my first close circus friend was in a couple aerial classes with me, and then a tumbling class, so we really were able to bond over all of our miraculous failings together.

JH – That’s definitely a good way to bond. It takes 1,000 tries to get a skill, and boy, do we know that. Training is a great way to get close with someone.

JR – Very true. That reminds me of our straps class.

JH – And all the bruises too, from all the failed star roll ups we did.

JR – Yeah, I remember after accidentally bending my arm one too many times during a roll up in class, I went home with massive bruises on my upper arms, but unfortunately forgot about them the next day when I went to go see a play with my school.

JH – Ooch, what happened?

JR – I was in a rush leaving the house and forgot to wear long sleeves, so when I was using the bathroom during intermission, like 3 people came up to make and asked me if I was doing okay and my home life was safe for me. They then told me I could borrow their phones if I needed to call a hotline.

JH – Oh, no! What did you say to them?

JR – I tried explaining that it was all from circus, however I think the idea that I willingly let it happen to me via circus worried them more.

JH – Ack, I can feel their disapproving stares from here.

JR – *shivers*

JH – Straps are really nothing to worry about though. They just hurt.

JR – And give wicked bruises.

JH – True true. Well I have to get back to training, but it was awesome talking to you!

JR – You too! It was really fun to catch up. See you around!

JH- You too!

A Pathway to Circus: Interview with Cirque du Soleil Artist Beejay Joyer

Zoe circusing it up on a statue outside the Luxor in Las Vegas

Over my spring break, I had the awesome opportunity to travel to Las Vegas with my aunt to see some of the world’s most renowned Cirque du Soleil shows. I was there for four days, and managed to squeeze in four shows: The Beatles Love, Michael Jackson One, Mystere, and Ka. As always, I was astounded by the colors, set, stage, costumes, apparatuses and choreography which all made me daydream about performing with Cirque one day. But by far the best part of my trip was my chance to interview an artist. Beejay Joyer is in Michael Jackson One, a Michael Jackson tribute show described by Cirque du Soleil’s website as “An electrifying fusion of acrobatics, dance and visuals that reflects the dynamic showmanship of the King of Pop”. In the show, Beejay’s character is the thread which holds the acts together as he and his friends explore a Michael-Jackson-themed wonderland.

On a Thursday morning he picked my aunt and me up at our hotel on The Strip and brought us to a small restaurant near Fremont Street. Beejay offered to answer a few of my questions in exchange for some excellent breakfast, so I got out my notebook and started asking him about his history with circus.

Beejay’s first circus experience was when he was very young. His family took him to see the Pickle Family Circus in San Francisco. He began truly training circus in junior high, when he discovered juggling. When I asked him how he chose this discipline he simply said, “I’m not really sure… I just found it, and then it stuck.” After high school he attended the San Francisco Circus Center, where he trained for two years with an eye to a professional career in circus. All his training paid off when he joined Le Reve – The Dream, a show in Las Vegas produced by Franco Dragone. Beejay stayed with the show for seven years. After his run with Le Reve – The Dream, he auditioned for Cirque Du Soleil, and has been with the company for two years.

One of the burning questions I had for Beejay was about the audition process for Cirque du Soleil, and what advice he could give to younger artists who want to join one of the most prestigious circuses in the world. He was quick to answer: “Of course you have to train, but really what’s important is that you be on their minds. When the casting crew has an opening, it needs to be you that they think of first.” I was curious about how to “get on the minds” of casting directors, but Beejay said the answer was simple: Be kind. Reach out. And make an effort to KEEP AUDITIONING. Beejay mentioned, “Some of the best people I know in Cirque had to audition 10 or 12 times before they got in.” He reassuringly noted, “Not making it the first time shouldn’t scare you.”

One thing I began to realize about Beejay as we talked more was his emphasis on trying things more than once and trying everything you can, even if it scares you. In fact, when I asked Beejay what he would change about his pathway to professional circus, his one comment was, “I wish I had tried more of what scared me.” He pointed to one of his friends in Cirque du Soleil who always tries to go to dance classes, even though he isn’t a dancer. “He goes every week,” said Beejay, “which I couldn’t do because it would scare me, even though I know I should try more things.” He pointed out that the more you can do, the more likely you are to be accepted into a show. For instance, Beejay is a juggler, but in the show One he mostly does character acting, and wouldn’t have gotten the role if he didn’t feel comfortable with that skill.

The final question I asked Beejay was about the possibilities for circus artists after performing. He sat back in his chair for a moment before listing the various other options he could think of, such as going to school or learning more about things that interest you. “Or,” he said, “be part of another department, like rigging, in Cirque.” As we finished our eggs and got ready to leave, Beejay left me with a final thought that applied both to circus and to the rest of life: “You can’t know too much.”

– Zoe

Carlo Pellegrini, Circus Coach

While growing up as a circus kid, many look to their coaches not only for advancing their skills and getting advice about their acts, but also learning about life. Carlo Pellegrini is one of my circus coaches, and he has many bits of advice as a coach, a businessman, and as a professional clown and ringmaster.

Carlo was first exposed to circus when he was six years old and had a recurring dream that he was a juggler in the 12th century, entertaining people as they traveled down a road. When he was about nine, he would stay up past his bedtime peering through a crack in his door to watch The Ed Sullivan Show and memorize the acrobat and juggling routines. He would practice these routines extensively in his backyard. Carlo failed a lot, but kept at it every week.

The first piece of advice from Carlo is to keep practicing. If you want to get really good, one hour per week will not be enough. Ten hours a week is a good start. Even though you fail, you must keep practicing.

Later in his life, Carlo was in college striving to be the accounting major that his father wanted him to be, but as Carlo dabbled in acting and philosophy classes he learned 1) that he was terrible at math, and 2) that he really wanted to be a dancer and join a circus.

At his Catholic college, Carlo met a Jesuit priest, Nick Weber, who had his own one-man circus show, The Royal Lichtenstein ¼-Ring Sidewalk Circus. Later, after rejecting the advice of his father to major in accounting, his father said he should at least pursue a legitimate theater career. That’s when Carlo “ran away to join the circus.” He joined the first national touring company of The Royal Lichtenstein Circus. At this point, he regrets he didn’t give his father’s advice more credence, but life is funny: he did have to learn how to use accounting as a producer and executive director of circuses. Proving the point that in the circus you have to learn to do everything!

Carlo’s second piece of advice is to follow your dream, and make it into something with which you can support yourself. Even though he didn’t finish college, he balances his “follow your dream” advice with this advice: complete your college degree. Of course, circus arts learning improves a student’s ability to succeed academically, so completing a degree should easy.

Years later, after having moved on to performing with the Nikolais Dance Company and working in TV commercials, Carlo met a man on a New York City subway who was carrying a trapeze over his shoulder. Carlo asked this circus-stranger where he was working and received an invite to come to Battery Park City to check out the Big Apple Circus. Carlo sought a job there, and was offered the position of Ringmaster. Later, the owner asked him to perform as a clown. During his season with the Big Apple Circus, Carlo was always working on perfecting his skills. Between shows, he knew he had access to world-class performers, and he asked them to teach him more acrobatics as well as the trapeze.

Carlo’s third piece of advice is to learn everything you can. Part of that general advice is that Carlo believes an aspiring circus performer should master a ground skill and an aerial skill, and that an aspiring circus coach should be able to teach the basics of every circus skill.

Carlo realized he couldn’t support his family on the then seasonal business of the Big Apple Circus, and so he took a job in advertising. Circus was never far from his day-to-day work however, and he taught all his clients how to juggle. Ultimately, he developed a motivational speaking program based on juggling called ‘The Juggling MATRIX’!

While working as a motivational speaker, Carlo led his church’s youth programs. As a result of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, many families in his hometown of Nyack, New York, had been personally affected by losses of loved ones. During counseling sessions with his teen youth group, they asked Carlo to help them put together a fundraising circus show for their community. The teens named it after their church, and called themselves THE AMAZING GRACE CIRCUS!

Carlo and his AGC co-founder Janet Hayes agreed to help them put together a show. After the show, the kids wanted to continue to work and perform together and the AGC! Teen Troupe was born. Today AGC! runs circus arts programs in schools with their signature family fun night fundraisers and community events. Over the past 15 years they have performed for and trained over 70,000 children and teens.

Carlo has always worked with students with a wide range of abilities and personalities. He studies constantly, reading books and attending educational seminars on human behavior and child development. Fundamental to his work is understanding how people learn to learn. Carlo says that he can study a kid for a few minutes and determine his/her learning style. He has learned what approach works with different learning styles. Carlo classifies learners into the following categories: action-oriented learners, analytically-oriented learners, adaptive-oriented learners, and intuitive/creatively‐oriented learners.

Click here to see The AGC Pedagogical Model!

I asked Carlo what he hopes for in the students he teaches. He responded that he hopes his circus students 1) are hungry to learn; 2) are open to learning a full breadth of skills; 3) are willing to put in the time to learn; 4) have a sense of humor, understanding that the basis of circus is improv and Vaudeville; and 5) look at their coaches as a source of extensive experience for students to tap and a resource for contacts and networking.

I also asked Carlo his favorite part of being a coach. He responded that he loves “seeing students get the look of understanding in their eyes.” He loves to see that “look of understanding translated to their bodies in a trick, routine or piece.” He is fulfilled knowing he has “gotten through and now they have a bridge of communication.” His goal is student independence, but for them to always have “an island of security to come back to – to the circus.”

Click here to see Carlo’s Circus Philosophy!

Carlo has been a great coach to me. In addition to teaching me skills and providing me performing opportunities through AGC!, he offers constant encouragement. He helps me balance my passion for circus with a rigorous high school academic schedule. He has provided me leadership opportunities helping to choreograph for the junior troupe and guiding new Teen Troupe members through their first performance. Carlo and AGC! have provided me many opportunities to give back to our community through performing at events like the YMCA Family Fair and volunteering at the AGC! summer camp. Like Carlo, I love to see the excited look in a child’s eyes when he/she accomplishes a new skill!

– Allie

 

INTERVIEW: Brian Foley, Clown Extraordinaire

In character

What do you love about being a clown?
The joy it brings me and others, the freedom it offers me and inspires in others.What is your clown name?  How did you choose it?
I have performed as various characters–some named Otto or Bouk, but mostly, I believe clown is about telling the truth. So, I’m Brian.

Do you take on a different persona when you clown? 
My characters like Otto are based on other people, but when I’m really clowning purely, I’m just being honest about my strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and sense of humor. So I exaggerate things about me, but it’s all me.
Where did you get your circus education? 
I had a wonderful clown teacher in college named Stephen Ringold. He taught me much about pure clown and how difficult it is to find in oneself. Then I worked with many teachers like Dick Monday and Tiffany Riley, Barry Lubin, Larry Pisoni, and many, many others. My peers and colleagues also taught me much as I was fortunate enough to work beside them on many jobs.
How do you come up with your routine?
Honest answer–I find a toy and I play with it. Then when I have some ideas, I find a piece of music and add that in. Then I perform it in front of an audience for a while, and make lots of mistakes. I come back home and think about the mistakes and why it’s not working. I then look for the most truthful answer. The key to unlocking the routine is usually in there. I also ask myself the questions I would ask my student–what is my character’s relationship to the audience?, etc.
What do you do when people are afraid of clowns?
When it is children, usually they’re not afraid of me. But I would give them space or let them decide that they like me. When it’s adults, I educate them. Clown is a verb. I can clown in any article of clothing or without makeup. If you’re scared of makeup, you’re not scared of clowns. You’re scared of makeup. That’s different.
How can someone go from being interested in clowning to being where you are?
Well, my path began in the theatre. I had a good solid foundation in dance, music, acting, and more. I can control my body, am comfortable onstage, and had some skills to begin with.  Then I made a point to seek out good teachers, and study with them. I practiced very hard, auditioned for theme parks and cruise ships and other performance jobs where I could improve my circus skills, and then I began developing my own material–both solo and with a partner. After proving myself as a performer with potential to my teachers (who were also well-connected in the markets I wanted to break into) they began recommending me for work. And because I worked hard to do a good job, I rose up the ranks.
– Cailey

Out of character