What’s up APAP? The American Circus Alliance Hosts Conversations at the Largest Theatrical Booking Conference in the World - CircusTalk

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What’s up APAP? The American Circus Alliance Hosts Conversations at the Largest Theatrical Booking Conference in the World

The 2024 American Performing Arts Professionals conference in New York City asserted itself in a recent press release as the “World’s most influential gathering of performing arts professionals.” Between January 12-15, a block from Radio City Music Hall and down the street from Central Park, there were over 3000 attendees and 1000-Plus Performing Arts Showcases as performing arts companies vied to be noticed by bookers and agents. Participants from 29 countries immersed themselves in panel discussions, networking sessions, and an 300+ booth EXPO space that served as a marketplace and pop up meeting space.

For members of the circus industry looking to book in theaters, getting to know what APAP has to offer is an important step in successfully embracing its resources. 

Stuart Moulton, a flying trapeze coach at TSNY who participated in APAP as an actor for many years explained that “the annual APAP conference focuses mainly on the booking and presenting side of performing arts (lots of producers attend, looking for Artists and shows to be part of their theater’s upcoming season offerings), but circus hasn’t really been represented during the convention…until now! The American Circus Alliance saw this as an opportunity to hold a forum to create community—and pose some interesting questions.”

The American Circus Alliance is a not for profit advocacy organization with the mission “to establish a resilient network to unite, promote, and champion the art of American circus, its’ practitioners, and those who work to support it”. Formed in 2020, the ACA Board supported its Touring Committee in investing in an APAP year round membership in 2023, which in turn enabled ACA members to attend the APAP conference at a significantly reduced Artist Rate. Regular registration is$795 just for the conference, plus $100 – $300 for the annual membership, but ACA members could attend for $225. 

“APAP can feel very expensive for newer and independent companies,” shares Serenity Smith Forchion of Nimble Arts who is a founding member and current Board Chair of the ACA. “There has not been an easy financial pathway for self produced circuses to be involved in APAP. The ACA’s goal in establishing a relationship with APAP is to create a space for circus to be successfully welcomed into the performing arts presenters marketplace and effectively seen as entertainment to book by buyers at the annual conference.”

APAP|NYC 2024 included a wide breadth of seminars and the ACA was given time and a place to offer two events.  The first was a pre-conference Affinity Group for the circus aligned, at which non-members of APAP and people who were not registered for the conference were invited to gather and network at no charge.

Joel Jeske, a three time New York Drama Desk nominated actor, artist, writer, and clown was the guest host of the Circus Affinity Group gathering. The fast paced event had over 75 attendees moving between tables in an upbeat meet and greet with prepared questions that led to informative discussions.  

“We were all asked to join a table where we didn’t know anyone and a question was presented to the collective groups,” explained Moulton later in a newsletter he wrote for TSNY. “We had 10 minutes to discuss, then switch tables for the next question, and so on and so on…it was like Circus Speed Dating! Did we solve all of the challenges facing circus creators today? No, but the goal of creating community was met, and exceeded.”

Attendees included circus artists and circus company owners interested in meeting peers, performing arts presenters curious about circus, and one lighting designer who wanted to learn more about illuminating the circus stage.

The second event organized by the ACA was an in-conference Panel with the goal to help theaters and bookers learn how to bring circus into their roster. This was hosted by four APAP members who have regularly booked circus for their venues and generously offered to speak to their colleagues to promote the potentials that circus offers. 

The event was moderated by Mark Lonergan of Parallel Exit, who is also a founding board member of the ACA, and the panelists were Margaret Lawrence (Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech), Mary Rose Lloyd (New Victory Theater), Amy Vashaw (Center for Performing Arts at Penn State) and Ruth Juliet Wikler (Wikler Arts).

The event was well attended with over 75 pre-registered through the conference app. A variety of questions came up and some answers were especially thought provoking as circus professionals and entertainment bookers heard each other’s challenges and opportunities.

Wikler, a long time advocate of circus through her work at theInternational Market of Contemporary Circus in Canada, said “circus connects with audiences in ways that elude other art forms.” She went on to describe ways she has presented circus on stage and out of doors, inviting performing arts presenters to be creative about community connections in order to grow audiences. “Physicality appeals to athletes on campus, do outreach talks about leaderless teams embodying concepts of trust and kinship, invite local circus schools to perform preshows,” as ways that can successfully grow new audiences.

Vashaw reminded the attendees that circus is perfect for school matinees, and that “school matinees are solid gold for donors. The effect of screeching, delighted children is pure magic with your donor commitments.”

There were some hard questions that arose that signal a need for more investment in the ‘why’ circus should be booked more at theaters and performing arts centers. One presenter stated, “I can’t bring in circus because it can’t fulfill my outreach.” In a later conversation, Forchion reflected on this statement – “This demonstrates a lack of understanding that circus is one of the most versatile outreach opportunities. This is a public relations consideration that the ACA and our members can get behind changing. We know circus is perfect for outreach, but apparently theaters don’t, so maybe we need to do a clearer job in our one sheet materials in explaining our offerings.” Another performing arts manager said her “Executive Director is worried someone will get hurt onstage,“ signaling a need for circus companies to clarify safety protocols to offset this type of hesitation. Another theater representative said that production labor is expensive and it would benefit circuses to develop strategies for making their installations more affordable.

All weekend showcases at APAP are an opportunity for companies and performers to share their shows, inviting bookers and agents to attend.  With the APAP’s own statistics of 3000 attendees and 1000+ showcases, the fact that 30 or so folks attended two circus specific showcases – Jay Gilligan’s juggling Reflex and Janoah Baylin’s MeSSes – is a solid showing.  But with an expensive price tag attached to showcases, the group of ACA leaders in attendance discussed ways the ACA might step up to support in future years to garner more exposure for circus companies at APAP.  

Josh Aviner, Creative Producer of Hideaway Circus, offered that at future APAP conferences “implementing ACA produced showcases could further enhance visibility and opportunities, offering a strategic path for the American circus community to grow.”

Lonergan concluded that “the ACA’s official presence at APAP is one step in the journey to have the circus arts celebrated as a distinct and vital art form in the United States, and around the world. It was very encouraging to see so many artists and presenters in the same room, and to have conversations with performing arts professionals who are opening up to our sector.”

The ACA intends to create a year round Affinity Group for Circus for the APAP annual membership in order to act as a resource to performing arts presenters to encourage more American circus to be booked into theaters across the country. 

The ACA recognizes the significant work that APAP put into making circus more welcome this year, with entry points for artists and companies.  Additionally, CircusTalk was an APAP conference sponsor, elevating the overall profile of circus atAPAP|NYC 2024.

To join the American Circus Alliance for monthly member connections, free workshop, industry discount, and to add your voice to the Touring Committee or other member committee, visitwww.americancircusalliance.org.

 

Photos by Serenity Smith Forchion

 

Serenity Smith Forchion
Creative Director Nimble Arts / Founding Board Chair American Circus Alliance -UNITED STATES
Serenity Smith Forchion and her twin sister are award winning aerialists, founders of Nimble Arts & New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA). Serenity’s resume includes Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey, Pickle Family Circus, Special Award at Wuqiao Festival, Bronze Medal at Albacete Circus Festival, Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and American Circus Educators Award for Excellence in Education. Her current projects are Tree Dancing and updating the new www.nimbleartsorg website as she and Elsie prepare to open a new LakeSide Studio for circus retreats.
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Serenity Smith Forchion

Serenity Smith Forchion and her twin sister are award winning aerialists, founders of Nimble Arts & New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA). Serenity’s resume includes Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey, Pickle Family Circus, Special Award at Wuqiao Festival, Bronze Medal at Albacete Circus Festival, Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and American Circus Educators Award for Excellence in Education. Her current projects are Tree Dancing and updating the new www.nimbleartsorg website as she and Elsie prepare to open a new LakeSide Studio for circus retreats.