What happens when the trapezes stop swinging, popcorn stops popping, and acrobats, jugglers and clowns have no audience to delight and entertain?
One year ago, in the spring of 2020, a small group of American circus practitioners began convening virtually to connect about how the COVID-19 crisis was adversely affecting their livelihood. Over the next few months, this group grew, and the scope of the conversation expanded to include many issues including building a national coalition for the circus industry; recognition of circus as an art form; addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion within circus; response to the COVID-19 crisis; bridging the gap between circus students and the profession. These topics evolved into separate committees to envision potential services for the field such as regular advocacy activities and calls to action; an economic impact study for American circus; workshops and professional development; a group insurance plan; a North American touring network for circus; a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative; and a grant program for new circus productions.
Through this work, a big idea took hold and one year later it is a reality: the formation of a national service and advocacy organization by and for the people involved with the production and presentation of American circus.
The organization, called the American Circus Alliance, is an all-volunteer group representing a broad spectrum of circus genres. The group is in the process of filing for not-for-profit status, and has been hard at work during the pandemic putting the nuts and bolts of the organization together in preparation for a formal launch on April 22nd.
Mark Lonergan, co-chair of the ACA board and artistic director of Parallel Exit, explained that the April 22nd launch is a chance for those interested to add their perspective and help build a resilient national organization. “Membership will be open for enrollment on that day through our website – free for 2021. It’s also a day to have people virtually sign a letter we have written as part of the ‘Be An Arts Hero‘ campaign. That is a nationwide letter-writing project, organized in partnership withThe Dramatists Guild of America, imploring the incoming administration to prioritize commitment to the Arts.”
Board Secretary Ariele Ebacher, a wire walker seen on the Big Apple Circus and No Fit State Circus, shared that “. . . the group has already moved forward on mission activities including a nationwide economic impact survey of American circus during the COVID-19 crisis, advocating for circus to be included in the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, and a funding workshop specifically for circus companies presented by the National Endowment for the Arts.”
Starting from a few people and growing to an informal Circus Task Force working to create the ACA, the group grew to 65+ original members representing circus from many genres, styles and geographic regions. “Watching the evolution of the circus develop has been and continues to fascinate me,” shared founding board member Pedro Reis, an international circus artist and founder and president of the Circus Arts Conservatory. “There are many more than 300 circus schools and companies in the US. Additionally, circus has been meshed into theater, dance, fitness and much, much, more.”
“Every performing art form in America seems to have a representative organization,” explains board co-chair Serenity Smith Forchion – whose international performing career spans Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey to Cirque du Soleil to her own ensemble company Nimble Arts. “Except circus. This time of pause and shutdown highlighted the need for cooperative organization and collective action and we took the time to plant some seeds and we are now ready to launch broadly so others can add their voices.”
For more information about the ACA, or how to join or sign up for the mailing list, visit the website.
Feature photo provided courtesy of American Circus Alliance. Troupe Vertigo, photo credit: George Simian. Flynn Creek Circus, photo credit: Pavlinger