Building the Muscles of Creation: Circadium Circus School Now Taking Applicants for 2023
How do you help a nation’s circus art to blossom? Guide up-and-coming American circus artists to become creative game-changers. With its three-year training program, the Circadium School of Contemporary Circus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is doing just that—and you can join its Class of 2026.
Set up under the high, arched ceilings of a former Catholic church in Philadelphia, the Circadium School of Contemporary Circus has made it a mission to make the great American circus even greater. The nation’s first and only government-recognized institution with a licensed Diploma of Circus Arts, Circadium strives to lead the field by creative example, to reinvigorate an art form by helping bright young artists reinvent themselves within its studios. Its program is a three-year track designed to be a launching pad for students, guiding them toward creative fulfillment and professional success, one exercise at a time. Applications for the 2023 school year are now open—and filling one out may be your first step on that journey.
To learn more about the Circadium program, we caught up with Executive Director Shana Kennedy, also a founder of its sister school the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (PSCA). She has trained as both an aerialist and a juggler at Circomedia in England, and performed for many years in both capacities. She began teaching aerial skills in her home and backyard in 2001. Five years later, in 2006, AirPlay was founded as a performance and teaching company—and in 2008, it evolved into the full-fledged PSCA facility. From 2010-2014, Shana accompanied her husband, Greg, on tour with Cirque du Soleil’s Totem, and brought back with her to the States a wealth of information and ideas from circus schools around the world. These ideas, and her connections with the European Federation of Professional Circus Schools (FEDEC), led to the opening of Circadium in 2017. She is deeply committed to the growth of circus artistry and education in the U.S., and to furthering the circus sector as a whole.
CircusTalk (CT): If you could tell a prospective student just one thing about Circadium, what would be that one thing be?
Shana Kennedy (SK): Circadium is the incubator, resource hub, and engine of contemporary circus in America. It is the only place in the U.S. where you can earn a Diploma of Circus Arts. It is also a true higher-education institution, committed to furthering the art form and investing in its graduates’ careers. If you want to use your circus skills to do more than just demonstrate tricks; if you want to learn how to tell stories through acrobatics, make meaningful work with aerials, juggle and balance in a way that resonates with an audience, and elevate circus as an art form—then Circadium is the place for you.
CT: Who is the ideal Circadium student?
SK: Circadium’s ideal incoming student is one who is willing to take artistic risks— deeply self-motivated, curious about the possibilities of contemporary circus, interested in collaborating with others, currently training circus arts at least four days a week, physically fit, and able to commit to a full-time, three-year program.
Our graduates have been working with a wide variety of companies over the last two years, from Circus Monti in Switzerland to the Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, right here in Philadelphia. They have also been performing for theme parks, Renaissance faires, theaters, outdoor festivals, traditional circuses, and film and television. Seeing them on stages around the world is incredibly exciting for all of us!
CT: Tell us a little bit about the program. When did it start and how has it grown over the years?
SK: I founded Circadium because, having run a recreational circus school [the PSCA] for many years, I was missing the type of artistic depth and experimentation that was becoming more and more prevalent in other parts of the world. I realized that the only way to enrich the work coming out of the United States was to build an educational program here that would foster it. We designed the school with these goals in mind: to simultaneously create a professional pathway for young artists, as well as push American contemporary circus in new directions.
Circadium opened the doors to its first class in 2017. It has been supported throughout its existence by the PSCA, and the two schools share a facility, equipment, and some staff. Circadium’s models and mentors have mainly been found through the FEDEC, which is a network of several dozen higher-education programs around the world.
From the beginning, we knew that it would be a three-year program, and that it would have a strong emphasis on physical theatre, and the integration of theatre, dance, and circus techniques. We use the Lecoq theatre methodology, which I was familiar with from my training at Circomedia. The program is built around a schedule of weekly presentations, where students have to perform in front of their peers and instructors, based on a prompt they’ve just had a few days to work on. We talk often about building the muscles of creation and performance, just as you build the muscles needed for your circus discipline.
We’re now in our sixth year. Having the pandemic hit in the middle of this journey has made for quite the rollercoaster. Our very first graduates finished the program in the spring of 2020, and so the launch of their careers took longer than anyone could have imagined. But the school is rebounding, our graduates (now from Classes 1, 2, and 3) are working, and our current students are thriving.
CT: What disciplines does Circadium support?
SK: We have strong in-house teachers for acrobatics, aerials, and juggling. However, students are welcome to choose majors that we don’t have current specialists for; we will match them with online and visiting instructors, working in partnership with our core faculty, in the second and third years of the program. We’ve had students major in Cyr wheel, hoop manipulation, duo unicycle, dance acrobatics, tightwire, and Chinese pole. It’s important to note that students don’t declare majors when they arrive at Circadium. The first year is a generalist year where they try out many different disciplines, and they declare a major at the end of Year 1.
CT: What is that you are most proud of about this particular program?
SK: I am proud of so many things about Circadium. I am proud of our hardworking faculty, who have maintained their professionalism and dedication to the students throughout the pandemic’s ups and downs. I am proud of our beautiful facility. But if I had to pick one thing, it would be our graduates. Seeing their maturity as artists, their work ethic, their versatility, and their passion for the art form— – it inspires me. These young people will be the next founders of companies and creators of contemporary circus shows, which is exactly what we need in the U.S.
CT: How can interested students get involved with Circadium?
SK: Circadium is accepting applications for the 2023 school year right now. We can currently only accept applicants from the U.S., but we plan to welcome international students starting in 2024.