Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Circus pilgrimage-ing around Los Angeles

My first circus school in L.A., and the one I spent the most time at, was Kinetic Theory.  I first went in late October, to see the production of Hauntings, their pre-professional students' rendering of the Dracula story.  I was dazzled by the quality of the show, and the potential of such diverse skills in their students.  There was a clear emphasis on theatre and performance skills, beyond just the technique.  I was drawn to come back, and over the next few months I spent time talking with Director Stephanie Abrams, visiting with coaches, observing classes and even bringing Greg and the kids for a talk about Life with Cirque.  

Kinetic Theory is an LLC.  It is housed in an industrial park, but has a great-sized space including a main floor, an adjacent theater, and several smaller spaces for classes, changing rooms, lobby, etc.  Their ceiling height is not impressive - it is less than PSCA's, I'd guess around 18' at the peak?  … but apparently they have the highest ceilings among any of the Los Angeles circus training facilities.  

For something different, I took a trip to the Inglewood Park Cemetery to see the graves of Lillian Leitzel and Alfredo Codona.  I have known the basic story of Leitzel and Codona since I was a teenager, when I first began reading circus history.  But I only learned their full biographies recently, in the newly-published Queen of the Air, and in that book I learned about their gravesites and memorial statue, so close to where we are currently living.  Long Beach, in fact, was Alfredo Codona's home, and the place of his violent death.

Inglewood Park Cemetery is an extraordinary peaceful place.   There are no sidewalks - appropriate for L.A., I suppose - so you have to walk in the roads, or in the grassy gravesite areas.  The place is so green and spacious and quiet... It has an air of privilege, an oasis from the grunge and hustle of of the city just outside the gates.
Leitzel & Codona's statue perches on a hill, flanked by trees. The graves are encircled with loving messages from siblings and friends. Leitzel's aerial rings are carved into the front, with one broken rope.

I was moved to observe their place of eternal rest. Talents, passions, and lives so fiery and beautiful, they drew the attention of the world.  They died in the late 1930s, and I imagine most people who come to this cemetery don't even know who they were.  But they are not forgotten by everyone.  

My second visit to a circus school in the area was to Aerial Fitness Orange County, where I had a great meeting with owner Doug Schulein.  Doug is a gym owner with a flying-trapeze background, and his goal is to integrate aerial training into a gym environment for private-lesson students and small groups.  It's a great example of how the studios in this area have each found their own niche, and Doug is working hard to build his.  A few months after I met Doug, he moved Aerial Fitness Orange County into a new and larger space.  (when I saw him, it was just a few pieces of apparatus in the corner of a standard fitness gym).  

The Ruby Karen Project was my third school visit.  Ruby launched an ambitious event last fall called the Aerial Arts America, with an "Aerial Arts Festival" which I attended in November.  While this was less of a "festival" and more of a "student recital", it was pretty glitzy.  Aerial Arts America also says they offer teacher certifications, though I have not seen that program in action.  In addition to the performance, I also went to see Ruby and her partner, Luca Cecchini, at their studio space in Costa Mesa.  As with all of the studios I visited in the LA area, we talked about the immense challenges of finding space with good ceiling height, and safe rigging practices, etc.    

I visited a fourth circus studio in January, Le Studio in Culver City (a couple of blocks away from Kinetic Theory).  Le Studio has a unique marketing position - owner Nathalie Gauthier says that she is not a circus school, but a boutique-style training program for youth.  She then chaperones her youth company, Le Petit Cirque, to professional gigs all over the world.  She takes great pride in drawing top-notch coaches, extraordinarily-driven kids (who train between 8 and 30 hours per week), and big-name performing artists to her space.  As she explains, she has a background as an entertainment agent, and working in the industry is her specialization.  

I finally made it to Cirque School LA on our last weekend in town.  Cirque School, run by Rex Camphuis and Aloysia Gavre, is on Hollywood Blvd.  Its location is quite remarkable - down a small alley between other shops, on an area of the Blvd. with plenty of street parking - and it has a very cozy feel.  The coziness, though welcoming, does have a disadvantage - the ceiling heights are low and the space is crowded.  They are currently seeking a larger space.  

Rex says that they have two main assets as a school - one is their philosophy, which is "learn like the pros" and "Cirque School for Anybody with Any Body"  … second is that they've built a very strong and supportive community of recreational and professional circus artists.  It has a good energy - everyone there seems to be non-competitive and having fun.  Rex and Alyosia have many contacts within the circus community, so they often serve as a venue for visiting workshop instructors, for auditions, and for entertainment producers looking to put circus arts into other media.  

It was great talking with Rex.  Cirque School has been around for 5 years, and is an S-Corp, and considers NECCA a bit of a sister school - so PSCA has a lot in common with them.  

Add Muscle Beach and TSNY to the mix - there's a lot going on in Los Angeles!  


  1. This looks a really good post Shana! Don't have time to read it right now... gotta go to dance class! So exciting!


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