Spotlight: Jane and Emi, Brio Training Company Members

Emi (age 9) and Jane (age 11) were in the Summer Performance Intensive (SPI) and they are also members of the Brio Training Company. I had the chance to sit down with them over the summer, a week before heading to San Diego to perform in the American Youth Circus Organization Festival.

Tell me about your history with circus:

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Emi:  I saw a circus show a long time ago and I was like “Oh, that looks really really cool!  I want to do that!” I started with contortion and now I’ve been doing circus for about five years. 

Jane: I’ve done dance for 6 years and I started circus when I moved here from Chicago.  I was taking classes at Circus Project for about a year and then I started Brio, the Youth Training Company.  I really wanted to do more circus and Brio was the next step up from classes.

Why did you choose to do SPI (Summer Performance Intensive)?

Emi: I had seen some shows from SPI last year and I felt like I wanted to make the commitment to really put all of my space and time into circus.  I just wanted to go as much as I can - this is 15 hours a week and it’s been really hard but I’ve been having a really great time. 


What’s a favorite performance you did with the Circus Project and why?

Jane: I hope it’s going to be the one in San Diego [for the American Youth Circus Festival].  I’m really excited about the festival and being away from my parents.  It’s a big festival with kids from all over. We’re all going to be taking classes there and it will be really fun!  

What is one of your favorite memories from SPI last summer?

Jane: Performing at the Galaxy Festival was really fun and really cool.  It was fun to have the audience be so close, to be able to interact with them and see them be like, “wow!”

Emi: Getting to know all of the people and learning how to work with people’s personalities, learning styles, and different teachers.  It’s been amazing working with so many different people and learning new things.

What’s your favorite circus trick?

Emi: An aerial (a cartwheel with no hands). I like the feeling of realizing that you’re in the air - you think you’re falling, but it’s just amazing to feel like nothing is touching the ground right now.  You’re just floating in space.

Jane: A double-360 on the fabric. It’s a big drop and that feeling is special, it’s really fun.  The trick is hard to get into, and then when you finish the prep, you’re like ‘oh my gosh, am I really about to do this?’ But the longer you wait the harder it is to do the drop - once you’re up there you just have to go!

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What are some of your circus goals?

Emi: To learn how to control my flexible back because it doesn’t control very easily.  It’s getting a lot better, though - I can hold a handstand now!

Jane: To be really good at handstand walking and to have a good wheeldown on the silks. 

How would you describe the Circus Project?

Emi:  The Circus Project is a place where you learn how to train your body to twist, bend and do a lot of different things with it in whole new ways that you would never think about!

Jane: It’s a super cool, super fun place to have fun in the air and do flips!

What do you do in your free time aside from circus?

Emi: Most of the time I’m here!  If I have any free time this year, I’m going to try to do more dance. I do a lot of stretching at home. And in my free time I hang out with other people from circus.

Jane: I act and I do musical theater. But I basically do circus most days, so that’s a hard one.  Hm… I go to school.

What is your favorite subject in school?

Jane: It’s either math or science. 

Emi: Homeroom and social studies.  

What’s a fun fact about you that people may not know?

Emi: I’m Jewish.  And my favorite roller coaster is the one at Oaks Park where you go upside down four times.  

Jane: I love movies, especially adventure movies like Lord of the Rings and the Hunger Games. I like Harry Potter, but the books are better.

The Voice Project begins creation process for year-end performance

Students in the Voice Project, the Circus Project’s performance group focused on issues of social justice, are beginning to work on creation and choreography for their year-end show.

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The six students began training together in early Spring. The first half of the program was focused on connecting as a group, developing circus skills, and exploring a social justice curriculum. They attended workshops on the elements of storytelling with Elina Lim, Theatre of the Oppressed methodology with Jeannie LaFrance, and the history of liberation and resistance movements with the Uprise Collective, to name a few.

They are also training hard to develop their circus skills -- participants are engaged in multiple private lessons a week and have uncovered specialties such as aerial fabric, tightwire, tumbling, aerial hoop and Chinese pole. Some students are also taking public Circus Project group classes.

Many of the participants have become more involved with the Circus Project and taken leadership and administrative positions in the organization. For example, Vyx works at the front desk and Fyre assists as a summer camps intern.

Pathways Manager Rhen Miles sees a lot of progress in the students already. “I’m exuberantly proud of them,” she says. “The participants have grown so much. They are stronger and more flexible, and they really support each other as a group.”

As they reach the mid-point of the year-long program, rehearsals will shift focus towards devising the year-end show. Participant Jasmine Taylor is looking forward to act creation. She says, “that’s the meat of performance that I really love - making something with a message.”

Enrollment prioritized people with marginalized identities, and the group includes youth of color, queer and trans identities and people who have experienced homelessness. The creation process will be driven by the participants themselves and they will have the opportunity to pull from their lived experience to create a show that is meaningful to them. First, the group will narrow on a theme and continue to work on ensemble choreography. They will fuse together circus skills, social justice concepts, and team-building work.

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The group performed original pieces recently as opening numbers for the Brio and Elements Training Companies’ graduating shows. One ensemble piece used physical theatre and dance choreography to tell the story of a group of people being controlled by a single oppressor. Fyre, a Voice Project participant of Lakota descent, taught indiginous dance elements to the group that were incorporated into the performance. The group may continue to develop this piece for their year-end show.

“I like building communities and in this group we learn about ourselves and each other,” says Chase Milo Reid. “I find this is important. It’s about how we learn and progress and have conversations about our shared powers and vulnerabilities.”

Tina Marie Santiago says, “I feel stronger.”

Mark your calendars for the Voice Project’s year-end show on November 23 & 24

Spotlight: Cory Allen, Professional Member

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Cory Allen is a professional circus artist who specializes in aerial hoop and trapeze. He trains at the Circus Project when he is between projects, and we had the chance to sit down with him the other day and pick his brain.

Tell me about your circus history.

I saw Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai when I was very young, and I was immediately inspired to do circus. I started training circus seriously in 2009 through the Circus Project’s Training Company. I’ve been teaching and performing freelance for years now, and at the moment I’m training at the Circus Project to keep my skills up while I’m getting ready for my next contract with AIDA Cruises.

Tell me about a memorable performance:

Well, one comes to mind for being a terrible performance! It was a long time ago, and it was one of the first handbalancing performances that I did. The stage was really wobbly, and it was outside and super hot - it felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong, not to mention that I wasn’t very experienced at performing handbalancing yet! On top of that, my costume was hilarious - I was a neon green lizard. But actually, Farrah Moan did my makeup, who was on RuPaul’s drag race, so at least that was cool.

Why do you do circus?

It’s my creative outlet, it’s my way to express myself. I’m a very creative person, but I’m better at expressing myself through circus than I am through words.

What’s your favorite warm-up exercise?

[Laughing] There’s one silly exercise that I have to do before warming up for anything, whether it’s handstands or aerial or dance. I rock back and forth on my back, then lean back on my shoulders and bring my knees to my face so they are kind of on the floor. I just did it today downstairs!

Why do you train at the Circus Project?

The Circus Project has always been my circus home! The environment here is very relaxing. There are a lot of other studios that have a very competitive vibe, and Circus Project doesn’t have that - it’s very supportive.

 
 

Do you have other hobbies?

So many! I paint, draw, sing… I actually sang on my last contract, can you believe it? I build things, like, all the time. I love building furniture and other random projects. I’m always looking at something and thinking, “this could be better if I just changed this teenie little thing…” even if it’s completely unnecessary!

What advice would you give to other circus artists or students?

Hm…I would have to say, don’t take criticism to heart. There’s always going to be someone that tells you you’re not good enough - just keep doing what you know you need to be doing. I was told over and over that I can’t be a male hoop artist and get a contract - and look at me now!

What’s a fun fact about you that people may not know?

I love raisins, but I don’t like raising in anything.

Follow Cory on Instagram (@coryallencircus) and YouTube.

The Voice Project Launches

After weeks of recruitment and months of preparation, the Voice Project launched last month. Empowering marginalized populations to find their voice through the circus arts has always been central to our mission, and we are looking forward to this new application.  We will share updates with you throughout the year as the participants get to know each other, develop their circus skills, explore issues of social justice and create a show. Mark your calendars for the weekend of November 21-24 for the premiere!

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The Voice Project at-a-glance

  • 11-month program

  • 9 students

  • 2 group classes per week, plus 1 private lesson

  • $10,000 in seed funding received from Cirque du Soleil’s global citizenship branch, Cirque du Monde

  • 3+ guest workshops planned, including topics such as community engagement, Theatre of the Oppressed, and using art as activism.  

Who is involved?

Most of the Voice Project participants have been previously involved with the Circus Project through private lessons via our Pathways program or workshops with local non-profit partners.  

What is YPAR?

The Voice Project will employ a Youth-led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) methodology, which breaks down the lines between educators and students and invites youth to be the experts in their own lived experience. To learn more about the methodology, read about the YPAR basics.

What will the topic of their show be?

We don’t know!  The participants will drive the creative process themselves, drawing inspiration from their own lives.

How can I get involved?

We hope you will join us to celebrate the participants at their year-end show in late November!  We are looking for supporters to join our champion circle to support this program. Contact kirsten@thecircusproject.org to see how you could be involved.

We are also seeking donations such as healthy lunches and snacks, reusable water bottles and bicycle helmets to facilitate the participant’s circus training.  See www.thecircusproject.org/voiceproject for more information on our needs.

 
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Letters to a Circus Artist

To Circus Project Students, Staff, and most notably, to Myself:

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Earlier this month I was asked to write a Circus Project Manifesto; an artistic theory which would guide curriculum development and inform the creation of performances. I failed.

Not for lack of having a clearly defined aesthetic. I’m hardly shy when it comes to articulating my artistic vision. I failed because by attempting to impose my personal aesthetic on the organization, I was inhibiting its ability to create innovative Artists.

There are a number of ingredients which must coalesce to turn a performance into a compelling piece of Art. In response to the call for definitive guidelines, I have compiled these elements in a new document entitled, Circus Project Performance Criteria.

But while the process of learning a back handspring can be broken down into concrete, methodical steps; the development of the Artist is less linear. Art requires the ability to circumvent the norm and pioneer new paths. Attempting to define it is like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole; at best useless, at worst reductive. The Artist’s journey is by nature, the exception to the rule.

Thus, I offer the following principles as aspirational, not prescriptive. They are an expression of my own, evolving values and a glimpse into the vision that formed the Circus Project.

Take what is useful to you and leave the rest. But if you take anything, take the initiative to draft your own artistic manifesto: the code by which you train, create, perform, live.

We teach what we need to learn. Sometimes the lessons are realized. More often they’re not. But with practice comes mastery. And for those with the privilege of pursuing the path of Artistry, the show is the dress rehearsal for life.

In service and love,
Jenn Cohen
Circus Project Founder & Artistic Director


  • Art is the confluence of self and other, thought and feeling, spirit and flesh. With its ability to stimulate rather than dictate; to ignite and unite body, heart, and mind; and to engage performer and audience in a fluid dialogue – Art holds the key to our personal and collective evolution.

  • The Artist is the channel through which the Creative Source flows. Shape your vessel as a sculptor molds a pot; with attention, love, and patience. Apprentice yourself to your craft; the medium through which your message is transcribed. Become a disciple of Art.

  • Each of us has the capacity to become an Artist. Talent is overvalued. If relied upon exclusively, it will in fact, impede growth. Inevitably, we each encounter obstacles we must surmount. Those who have honed the ability to cultivate patience and persevere in the face of failure have a greater capacity for ingenuity and longevity. The hare may prevail in the acquisition of skill, but it is the tortoise who exemplifies Artistry.

  • Your training is your vehicle. The relentless persistence despite pain, frustration, and fatigue your fuel. The development of skills and technique takes time. You must learn the words before you can speak the language. Strive for perfection while acknowledging its impossibility.

  • Do not neglect your feelings in pursuit of the form. Learn the methods of your brush and palette, but do not forget the painter. The ability to access and express your innermost experiences with honesty and compassion distinguishes the artist from the athlete. The ability to communicate those experiences with authenticity and skill distinguishes the amateur from the professional.

  • Performance is a conversation, not a monologue. Reception proceeds expression. Learn to listen before you speak. Humble yourself to the Creative Spirits that manifest through your dreams, your relationships, your audience. Art is an invitation to the dance, not an exhibition.

  • The creative journey has many paths. Imbue the shell of choreography with feeling or ride the current of emotion into movement. The locus of initiation is irrelevant so long as the journey culminates in the marriage of form and feeling.

  • Intention is the elixir that brings movement to life. Every gesture, every expression, every utterance must serve a purpose; the organizing principle from which the story springs. The story need not be linear, nor must it be shared explicitly. Audiences don’t need to understand. They need to feel moved.

  • Strive for congruency; the alignment of all parts of yourself around a conscious intention. Grow your awareness to illuminate subtle discrepancies. Track the incomplete movement, the contrary toe, the hint of resistance like a hunter stalks their prey. But do not hunt to kill. The unconscious is the guardian of innovation. When approached with curiosity, so-called mistakes often hold the key to our greatest discoveries.

  • Welcome doubt as a trusted advisor, but do not surrender your authority. The ability to question yourself and redirect when indicated is essential to your growth. Properly supervised, doubt provides pause for reflection, elicits discernment, and assists us to see beyond our limited perspectives. Untempered, doubt can paralyze the creative process and incapacitate its maker. Assume ownership of your internal script. Invite doubt to the stage, but do not let it steal the show.

  • Bring all of yourself to the work, then get out of the way. Neither abandon nor indulge your momentary moods. Infuse your practice with their energy. Performance is a living art, animated by the mood of the performer, the energy of the audience, and the spirit of the times. The choreography may be set, but a good performer is ever present and responsive to the energies in and around them. Learn to be at once empty and full.

  • Embrace vulnerability. Resist the urge to arm yourself with the shield of ego, the Artist’s Achilles heel. When you confuse yourself with the Creative Source, you lose access to its infinite wisdom. Challenge yourself to stand firmly in your vulnerability. As the precious stone endures the chisel to reveal its beauty, so too is the Artist shaped by their experiences.

  • Art is the offering. You are the gift. Your pain and your triumphs are yours and they are not yours. Though expressed individually, they belong to the whole of humanity. The Artist’s task is to make the personal universal, and the universal personal. Like the polished stone, your power lies in your ability to be luminously transparent.

  • Live artfully. Art transmutes suffering into beauty, distills meaning from chaos, and forges community from isolation. To live artfully is a fulltime job, a never-ending work-in-progress. It requires an ongoing commitment to embrace vulnerability, communicate honestly, persist in the face of failure, give generously of yourself, and author your story with intention, resilience, and grace.

Letters to a Circus Artist
Jenn Cohen,
Founder & Artistic Director

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