Whether your goal is joining a world-class production company or getting accepted to a prestigious circus school, the San Diego Circus Center (SDCC) is there to help you achieve it. Under the umbrella of its Professional Academy, the SDCC makes space for each student to build solid skills and foundations as performers and work toward their dream jobs in thoughtful training programs. The Preparatory and ProTrack Programs are divided by age, experience, and skill level, while accommodating the busy schedules of young artists and adults. Students of these programs have gone on to be part of some of the biggest-name schools and companies in the circus world—and now is your chance to become a part of one of SDCC’s programs. Applications for 2023-2024 have now opened!
SDCC CEO and Founder Jean-Luc Martin recently filled us in on the details of the Prep and ProTrack Programs. A multi-talented performer who has appeared in the Pickle Family Circus, Cirque du Soleil, and Hollywood films, Jean-Luc now oversees the Center’s Professional Academy arm as both its program director and master teacher.
CircusTalk: If there was only one thing that you could say to a prospective student about the San Diego Circus Center, what would that one thing be?
Jean-Luc Martin: Community.
CT: Tell us a little bit about the Preparatory/PRO Track program. When did it start, and how has it grown over the years?
JLM: The Preparatory/PRO Track program originated in 2013 as a youth intensive for students ages 11-17. These students came to train in the afternoons and had a desire for higher circus education. Soon this track evolved into what we now call our PrePrepatory program.
In 2015, we started the Preparatory program: a nine-month intensive program aimed to help adult students (ages 17-24) and emerging artists reach their goals of either achieving higher circus education or entering the industry. This program opened up the opportunity not only for our local and long-time students to train for their goals, but for students from all over the world to come and do the same.
By 2017, the Preparatory program had gained a lot of traction, and students were getting placement in higher education schools and securing contracts internationally. Some of them even began securing placements in circus shows and bypassing higher education altogether. It was at this point that we developed our final intensive training path option: ProTrack.
For this program, which is held at the same time of the year as the Pre and Preparatory Programs, we accept six to eight ProTrack students, and the training is highly tailored to the artists’ specific goals. While the focus for PrePreparatory and Preparatory students is to find placement in higher education or stay for another year, our goal for ProTrack students is that they find the placement that they are looking for, and we help guide them to do so throughout the two years of the program.
Every individual that comes into the program is different, with their own individual goals, so we are heavily invested in getting each person where they want to go. At the same time, we— the coaches, administrators, and athletes at the Center—feel that the program group is a community, and we use that community code of ethics to always support one another through trials and tribulations. We inspire each other and strive to conjure up that energy with every group that comes through our programs.
CT: What disciplines does the program support?
JLM: At SDCC, we want to produce artists that are as well-rounded as possible, so we follow five pillars: Ground, Aerial, Rebound, Dance, and Clowning.
Within those pillars, we strive to deliver as many circus disciplines as possible, but it depends on who is accepted into the program in any given year. The main disciplines that we are known for are Teeterboard, Korean Plank, Handstands, Lyra, Dance Trapeze, Trapeze, Duo Trapeze, Silks, Russian Bar, Straps, Tumbling, Flexibility, Commedia dell’Arte, Chinese Pole, and Hand to Hand. Due to the space that the apparatuses require, we do not offer swinging or flying trapeze.
We also do Russian Swing, depending on the group that comes in, and this year we will start introducing Russian Cradle.
A couple of elements that are unique to our program include our Artist Pathway course, in which students get career and act creation feedback directly from Stacy Clark, and an Injury Prevention class, where students are able to take a proactive approach and educate themselves in how to support their minds and bodies through this high-intensity training time.
CT: Tell us about your faculty, teachers, and coaches. How do they contribute to your vision/mission?
JLM: At SDCC, we are a handful of administrators and a bigger handful of teachers, and we believe the magic of our program comes in from our teachers being invested in every single student and meeting them in the level they are at. The circus center itself encourages our teachers to broaden their education by supporting them with teacher training at facilities like l’Ecole Nationale de Cirque. We also try to have standardized teaching methods with other circus schools, whether that be through the technique or even simply the vocabulary we use.
I have been involved with circus most of my life and have had the opportunity to work under many mentors. I’m very grateful for that because, at where we [the SDCC] are in our history, I can reach out to many coaches, directors, and leaders in the industry that then influence my goals with the students.
We have a set number of teachers that are our foundation and we are fortunate because past students and friends of circus still come to work with our program throughout the year.
CT: What is that you are most proud of about this particular program?
JLM: The amount of placement that people find—with Cirque du Soleil, Ecole Nationale de Cirque, Codarts, Sea World, EM Cirque, and San Diego Zoo, just to name a few. We are fortunate to be connected to many casting directors and leaders in the industry, and thus are able to point our students in many different directions and give them the best possible chance of finding success on their individual journeys.