Escuela Nacional de Circo de Puerto Rico (ENCPR) (The National Circus of Puerto Rico) is a non-profit entity that was founded in 2010 with the dream to build a circus culture that transforms communities, education and the Puerto Rican people. It was built on the belief in the magic of circus and its ability to give back to people by transporting them to worlds with no limits.
Since it’s beginning, Escuela Nacional de Circo de Puerto Rico has toured its shows, which their website calls “full of incessant play, joy, and laughter, and promoting circus art as an educational, economic and cultural alternative.” These shows included: Saltimbanquis, The Little Prince and Alice in Wonderland. The tours have reached 45 towns in Puerto Rico (including Puerto Rican towns in the US) and have been seen by 450,000 people.
We were able to sit down with founders of the circus school, Jafet Irizarry and Glorimar Sierra, for an interview earlier this year during a visit to Circus Harmony where they were guest teaching and performing at the time. Irizarry said that the school “now has 40 students in different programs” including social circus, circus therapy, a homeschool program and professional circus programs for those that want to pursue careers in circus. The school has a psychologist on staff, an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. They believe that circus can be a really fun way for children to experience therapy. There are about 10 students in each one of the programs listed above, as well as eight students in their professional program. The professional program at the National Circus of Puerto Rico school is a three-year program that ends with graduation acts. The school is all privately owned and funded.
The Devastation of Hurricane Maria
On September 19 – 21 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, causing 90 billion dollars in damages and taking the lives of almost three thousand people. Many of the ENCPR students lost their homes. When asked how it affected the National Circus of Puerto Rico, Glorimar responded, “Of course [we helped}… in July of 2018, Jessica Hentoff called and (asked if) we would like to do Peace through Pyramids in Puerto Rico.” Hentoff brought nine Circus Harmony students who combined with ten Puerto Rican Circus performers to create the Revolution for Harmony circus tour. In addition to bringing joy to communities, the troupe also brought food, and medical aid. Also, once the electricity came back on in their circus tent, they performed their free shows.
The people of Puerto Rico have dealt with, and continue to deal with, the damages caused by numerous hurricanes, political unrest and earthquakes. The founders of the school say that the people feel disappointed in the government because they have been let down by them when they needed them the most. “People are tired of the corruption.” ENCPR has heeded the call to do everything they could to provide medical and psychological aid to the community.
In addition to bringing joy to communities, the troupe also brought food, and medical aid.
CircoFest & COVID-19
Amidst this work, the circus school was also planning to help with the CiroFest in March of 2020. As with so many other festivals, COVID-19 caused the school and the community to reimagine how the festival could run. Though no live performances were given, this 7th edition of the festival was able to go entirely live. 160,000 people tuned in to watch the festival! Though they were sad to not be able to gather in person, the festival organizers are hopeful that they can host the live version next year with “plenty of hugs and laughter for everyone.”
Circus Harmony was also planning to continue working with ENCPR with the Revolution for Harmony Circus Tour, Part 3 when the devastation of COVID-19 hit. Glorimar said that this tour was going to bring Circus Harmony to Puerto Rico once again in order to aid the communities affected by the earthquakes of 2020. Everything has been put on hold in the midst of the pandemic. Glorimar says, “The school had to cancel everything, our participation in Circo Fest, the Peace Through Pyramids, the Social Circus Festival in Chicago (CircEsteem), our circus programs, we have to put down the tent.”
ENCPR is continuing – like so many schools – with online classes. They are teaching online classes in juggling, handstands, conditioning and flexibility. The school is also using this time to make improvements, plans for reopening and trying to acquire a second circus tent!
This Spanish translation of this article was provided by Lydia Nord. All photos provided courtesy of Escuela Nacional de Circo de Puerto Rico