From Circus School to Circus Stage: 2023 Graduates

Circus News

From Circus School to Circus Stage: 2023 Graduates Reveal How They Learn to Take Flight as New Artists

Every year around the world, another slew of circus performers emerge from their cocoons as full-fledged artists and enter the performing arts world as they embark on their new careers. They’ve spent the last few years earning their wings and learning to fly (sometimes literally!) from one of many circus schools, with programs built to nurture burgeoning artists and give them a solid launching pad from which to take off soaring. But as with any professional education, not everything you need to know can be imparted in the classroom or studio; certain things are passed down on the job itself. 

Since marking their own school-to-career transitions with the end of the last academic year, these two new circus graduates from different continents have become a little older and a lot wiser. Leaving behind their studies at lÉcole Nationale de Cirque (ENC) in Montreal and the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne, respectively, British aerialist Zoe Schubert and Australian hand-balance acrobat Linda Corazza both enter the ring now as butterflies… and flying high gives them a bird’s-eye view of things on the ground below, a view of where they came from. Now they reflect on what their time as students taught them— and what else they’ve learned since graduation!  

Without further ado, let’s meet these artists!

Zoe Schubert is a British national with German and Ugandan heritage, and an enthusiastic circus artist whose journey has taken her from the world of acrobatic gymnastics to becoming an aerialist. Her circus journey has recently hit a new milestone, as she just graduated from Canada’s École Nationale de Cirque with a specialisation in aerial straps. She continues to hone her acrobatic skills through training as both a base and a flyer for banquine and hand-to-hand. 

Beyond performing, Zoe immerses herself in the world of fashion and finds joy in creating, sewing unique clothes and costumes that she can use in her performances. These creations tend to be bright, bold and colourful as they are her own form of self-expression and an extension of herself! She finds pleasure in being able to blend these two universes together and create signature work that is truly her own.

Linda Corazza tumbled into circus after being recommended by a mentor who pointed out she was “unusually strong” for someone who is opposed to exercise. Fast-forwarding to the current day, Linda is now a versatile and experienced acrobat, thriving and specialising in hand balancing, corde lisse, and group acrobatics. 

Although a recent graduate of Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA), Linda is already an accomplished performer, performing in no less than four shows at the National Institute of Circus with pieces including “Onism,” “Eclipse,” “Petrichor” and “Made to Measure.” She has toured with Stalker on their production of Mountain, and for 2023 was an artist in resident at Legs on the Wall’s “Leg Upper” program. A founding member of Absurd Circus, Linda also co-created and performed in Sunday Cup of Absurdi-Tea as part of the Premiere at Gasworks Program 2023. 

From a varied artistic, physical and academic background, all her experiences compounded when circus became the centre of her passion. The need to learn and train has not wavered and is fueled by a love of collaborating with other artists.

No article about recent circus graduates would be complete without mention of the wonderful schools they have emerged from. Here are the need-to-knows about each of these school programs, from their mission and qualifications to the specific ways they equip students for the careers ahead of them.

ENC (Canada)–

For more than 40 years, the ENC (NCS, or ENC in French) has been training and developing the new talents of the next generation of circus artists from Quebec and around the world. Renowned worldwide, the NCS is also dedicated to research and innovation in the field of circus arts, in addition to ensuring the conservation and enhancement of heritage, history and living memory of this art. 

ENC welcomes more than 150 students each year from across the country and around the world. With its huge studios adapted to all circus disciplines and its high-performance equipment, it offers a training and practice context that is absolutely unique in the world. Its teaching staff includes more than 80 qualified trainers, consultants and artists from the world of circus arts, performance, dance and acrobatic sports. In addition, the small size of the groups makes it possible to personalize the training and to respect the learning pace of each person.

At the time of its establishment, ENC was the first school of its kind in Canada or anywhere else in North America. It has since expanded from its initial focus on acrobatic theatre to incorporate a wide variety of circus disciplines, with co-founders Guy Caron and Pierre Leclerc developing a new program for people wishing to specialize in one or more disciplines and to pursue a career as circus artists.

NICA (Australia)-

The National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) is Australia’s Centre of Excellence in contemporary circus arts training, offering Australia’s only Bachelor of Circus Arts,as well as the Certificate IV of Circus Arts.NICA courses are accredited by Swinburne University of Technology and delivered in the award-winning purpose-built facility in Prahran, Melbourne. NICA attracts applicants from across the world and entry into their programs is highly competitive.Unlike the European and Northern Hemisphere schools, NICA’s intake runs from January through to December each year. 

NICA’s prime role is to enable learning that is robust, culturally attuned, and aligned with international best-practice. It is training that not only develops technical competence and creative vision, but also builds physical and mental wellbeing and resilience. This imperative course structure translates into highly employable, world-class graduates, who are contracted by Australian and international circus companies in over 45countries, including Circa, GOM, Cirque du Soleil, and The 7 Fingers. 

Collaboration and connection are a large focus at NICA, where staff actively foster new connections and relationships with elite international circus schools in Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK and Montreal, as well as locally in Australia. Through this fundamental approach, they are able to offer students industry immersions, internships, work placements and Work Integrated Learning programs. NICA actively refines the balance between artistic process and the demands of technical circus training, to ensure both the school and its graduates remain current and competitive within the international circus education ecosystem.

And now, let’s put both sides together! In this Q/A session, Zoe and Linda share with us the flight paths they have taken into their newly launched circus careers, from attending school to finding their way now as artists. Their answers are as packed with worthy lessons as any classical schoolbook.

CircusTalk (CT): What was your background before attending circus school? 

Zoe Schubert (ZS): Before embarking on my circus journey at school, my background originally stemmed from acrobatics gymnastics which I had been training and competing in since I was a child. The sense of teamwork and reliance on trust within this sport resonated deeply within me, and so over the years with lots of hard work, patience and dedication, I was able to compete nationally and internationally representing Great Britain. However,  around the age of 18, I realized that pursuing a career in sports acrobatics was not a viable option. Determined to find an alternative path, I stumbled across the circus world and it changed everything!

Linda Corazza (LC): I grew up doing theatre, and also had a love for music, learning the clarinet, piano, and guitar. I was attending after-school drama and music classes as much as I was allowed. When I discovered physical theatre, I got really into it and I thought that would be my thing. This led me to start delving into dance and recreational gymnastics. The highlight of my theatre career was working with the National Theatre of Scotland as part of an international performing company made up of young actors from around the world. We performed live physical theatre- meets- street art for the crowds of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I took a little step back from performing and dabbled in academia, and briefly, commercial property management. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I realized that circus is where I am meant to be.

CT: Was your goal in school to train as a specialist or a generalist? How was this reflected in your curriculum? 

ZS: In school, my primary goal was to be a specialist in aerial straps. This decision was not only influenced by my acceptance into the program with this discipline, but also because at this point in time circus was entirely new to me and I had yet to explore other disciplines. The “specialist” and “generalist” focus is clearly reflected in our curriculum given the substantial number of hours we have each week to train our discipline. Usually “specialists” will have more hours in our one discipline whereas “generalists” have a more balanced allocation of hours split equally between multiple. But overall, even for “specialists,” we are always given the opportunity to learn other specialties. In second year we take on a “minor” discipline of our choosing that we take class in each week but with reduced hours.

LC: I started my journey at NICA by completing the one-year Cert IV in Circus Arts. The Cert IV is designed as a preparatory course to learn foundational skills and technique, and prepare you for further study or the next stage in your career. I came to NICA with limited formal training in Circus, but with substantial experience in theatre, dance and gymnastics. I initially joined the Cert IV as a fun gap year with the intention of returning to my corporate job. But once I tried circus arts as a potential full-time profession, I had to see it through.I was delighted to be accepted into NICA’s three-year Bachelor of Circus Arts. Having completed the preparatory course, I knew the program well and my expectations for my training were pretty aligned with what was on offer at the school.

At NICA we get to choose two equally weighted specialties, as well as a group specialty. We also study a broad range of circus and relevant skills including tumbling, strength & flexibility, anatomy, ballet, contemporary dance, history of circus, production, music theory, and business studies.Having multiple specialties of an equal priority can lend itself to producing graduates who lean towards the generalist side… but not always! It depends on the individual, and their training history, and how they take control of their learning. I hear it’s common for NICA graduates to come through their studies as high-level generalists and specialize further in their professional career.As for me, I began the course knowing I wanted to specialize in hand-to-hand, and then chose rope as my other specialty as it was my favourite of the aerial skills, and it’s often encouraged to have both a ground and an air skill. My hand- to- hand partner chose to discontinue his circus studies and career around the time when the pandemic hit, and I began to specialize in hand balancing, which I have absolutely fallen in love with. Ultimately I feel like a general specialist.. ish. I love all my specialties and hope to continue training & performing to the highest level.

CT: How has your circus education prepared you for a professional career in the field? 

ZS: My circus education has been an incredibly enriching experience and prepared me in numerous ways. Throughout my time at school, I have had the opportunity to not only create and present my own numbers but also collaborate with many diverse directors stemming from circus, dance, and theatre. One of the greatest advantages of school is that we are lucky to have a whole range of classes offered to us. The aim for this is so that when we enter the professional world we have an adaptable and well-rounded skill set to open us up to whatever opportunities may lie ahead. 

LC: NICA prepared me to be training–fit, show-fit, how to be both, and how to be neither. It’s a different headspace and bodyspace when you’re training to improve skills and artistry, and when you’re actively building or performing in a show. Going into both these zones, and switching between them, takes practice to find the rituals and routines that work for you. I learned how to bring supplementary knowledge like physical preparation, nutrition, and personal admin and time management skills into my daily life as an artist. I know exactly what my body and mind can do, and how to get into that zone.

CT: What other skills (non-discipline related) did your circus education provide or deepen? 

ZS: In terms of what other skills the circus school helped provide or deepen… French for sure! It was definitely challenging at first coming to school speaking not a word of French, but gradually (after more than a few French classes and the school’s commitment to fostering our language skills) I adjusted, and I’m grateful for that. Given how international circus is, having French as a third language has been extremely useful in communicating and making connections with other artists around the world. 

LC: I think anyone would learn a ton about themselves and the world from a good old circus education. The most important thing I learned was actually discovering what I as an individual need in order to learn efficiently. You can’t gain this from a book or a lecture on study skills, and no one else can tell you the answer. There’s nothing quite like raw determination to learn something so specific and physical to force you to figure it out. I’ll take this skill with me for the rest of my life with the confidence that I have the ability to learn pretty much anything, with the right processes and education. 

I also gained a really deep connection to the local circus community and its network. Through my studies, I’ve been introduced to countless industry professionals who are happy to share their wisdom with me. I have a continuing relationship with my trainers who alwaysmake themselves available to support me even though I am no longer a student. I was able to be employed as a community circus trainer to pass on my skills and passion for circus. I gained a formal education on the rich history of circus, and the origins of the disciplines I spend all my time honing, which allows me to create complex and informed art.

CT: Since graduating, what has been your biggest on-the-job revelation so far? 

ZS: Since graduating, I would say my biggest on-the-job revelation and something that never ceases to amaze me is how much of a team effort is required to bring a show to life and how cohesively everyone works together in order to make it happen. While audiences may only see the performers and artists on stage, what lies behind is an amazing team of specialists who work just as hard to contribute their expertise and make it happen. This aspect of circus I think resonates with me the most and reminds me of how I am so fortunate to be a part of one of the best communities!

LC: You can be told anecdotally what the wider circus industry is like, but you won’t truly know or understand until you get out there. I was told it helped to have some skills in a broad range of areas within the sector and I’ve definitely found that to be true. Less than six months after graduating, myself and four fellow graduates self-produced our circus showA Sunday Cup of Absurdi-tea, premiering at Melbourne’s Gasworks Theatre in June 2023. Producing is hard & self-producing is hard. Self-producing and self-directing in an ensemble is absurd! But that’s what we signed up for. I am still learning how much more there is to learn.

CT: What is something you’ve learned that you only could have learned in a professional space? 

ZS: Something I have learned from being in a professional space is the importance of effective and clear communication; not just for a cohesive working environment, but as one of the vital parts in ensuring everyone’s safety. Having worked closely with the same people at school for the last three years, we grew to know each other’s capabilities and needs almost instinctively, creating a trusting working dynamic. However, post-school, we often find ourselves working with entirely new individuals we have just met and not always people from the circus world. I’ve come to realize the importance of establishing a safe working environment so that everyone can express and communicate their needs.

LC: Throughout the course [at NICA], we create and perform in multiple professional- quality shows. We got to experience full show creation processes, from the artistic and production development stages, through to a full season of performing to crowds up until closing night. I got invaluable first hand experience working and collaborating with directors, choreographers, riggers, lighting designers, and more in a safe environment, before joining the wider circus industry. During show seasons I learned through experience how to manage my own mind and body through the development process, and the highs and lows of performing to a live audience, which is another skill constantly being refined, and is an important part of the professional I am today. 

I also learned a lot about how to vouch for my own safety. The production team at NICA takes us through best practice and teaches us best practice, particularly for high-risk skills like aerials. It’s easy to forget the risk we take on a regular basis, and it’s important that we feel confident to minimise these as best we can.

Congrats to Zoe, Linda, and all the awesome circus graduates of 2023! As you take off, we hope you will reach for the stars and get there. Set yourselves up for success by starting a profile with us! Become a part of the fastest-growing talent database for the performing artsand be seen by companies and talent seekers on CircusTalk.

Special thanks to NICA's James Brown and ENC's Isabelle Bibeau for their help with this article.
Photos courtesy of the artists.
Carolyn Klein
Content Writer -United States
Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.
Em Holt
Burlesque Dancer, Acrobat, Community Manager -UNITED STATES
Em Holt (they/she/he) is a genderfluid mover, burlesque dancer, drag performer and acrobat based in Florida, US. With a background in high level competitive gymnastics, circus arts and multidisciplinary dance, their diverse capabilities allow them to meet a variety of physical requirements and personas on stage.

These days, Em independently travels and tours the US as burlesque and circus bombshell, Karma Carnelian. Karma's performance style seamlessly blends classic and neo burlesque choreography with dynamic acrobatic chair and floor work. Karma has performed coast to coast, from the Hubba Hubba Revue in San Francisco, CA, to the House of Blues in Chicago, IL, to countless productions in their home state.

Em received their BA in Advertising in 2019 and MS in Integrated Marketing in 2021 from Florida State University, where they also performed teeterboard, flying, swinging and double trapeze in The FSU Flying High Circus from 2016-2020. Em first joined CircusTalk first as a journalism intern in 2020, and currently serves as the team's Community Manager, creating written and digital content for the site, and managing the companies' social media channels.
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Carolyn Klein

Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.