You no longer need to run away to join the Circus Project. After most of a decade spent walking budgetary tightropes without a net, the nonprofit famed for its work with homeless youth finally put down roots by securing a 4,200-square-foot space large enough to accommodate a range of aerialist training courses for the organization’s rare brand of big-top entertainment.
“People have this image of the traditional Ringling Bros. mentality—freaks and oddities and scary clowns,” sighs Kirsten Collins, executive director of the Circus Project. “That’s not what we’re about.”
As a multimedia showcase for current students and touring alums, events like this weekend’s 10th anniversary show, Change(d) Together, promise breathtaking flourishes of athletic grace and soulful physicality cleaved from the hokier trappings of yesteryear’s three-ring spectacles—think lo-fi Cirque du Soleil or a modern dance stage at the X Games. Clowns, though involved, cede the spotlight to confessional narratives told via airborne choreography. The Circus Project has little taste for “Greatest Show on Earth” exploitation—and don’t even ask about elephants.
“Animals lost their luster,” sniffs veteran acrobat and coach KC Fong. “How they were treated was looked down upon. But also contemporary circuses moved toward a more abstract world of creation. Instead of finding an actual lion, we would use four or five people to evoke the creature.”
As much as the popular conception of circuses has changed over the past few years, the 2018 version of the Circus Project barely resembles the nonprofit’s earliest iterations. Designed by veteran circus performer and process-oriented psychologist Jenn Cohen, the project was intended to be a vehicle of social outreach…
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