Saturday, April 26, 2014

Portland circus schools

There are a number of great circus studios here in Portland, I've tried to visit as many of them as possible!

The first place I went was Night Flight.  Night Flight is owned by Gemma Adams and Stephanie Lopes, and they teach adult recreational aerial classes, as well as putting on performances.  Oyuna and I dropped in for one of their Open Gym times, and really appreciated their bright, beautiful studio.  I had great conversations with them about business management and circus communities; they came to see Totem, and took me out to lunch one day.

Gemma and Stephanie manage all aspects of Night Flight's administration themselves.  As a result they're fairly exhausted, and are not looking to grow the school any larger than it currently is.  They have a strong reputation in Portland and they have as many students as they can handle.  If anything, they are seeking ways to carve out more time for their own training and creation.

After that, I met Jen Livengood of Aerial Without Limits (AWOL).  AWOL is housed in one of the most unusual and interesting spaces I've seen among circus schools.  It's a truly industrial facility, sharing a building with warehouse-type businesses and lots of power-tools noise.  Jen says it's a difficult space to work in, particular because of the problems heating it.  It's also the first space I've been in where, as you enter, you're in the backstage of a proper theater set-up!  Looking out at the audience.  AWOL prides themselves on the pursuit of artistic work, both with their students and their professional company members.  They put on regular shows, and always teach with an eye towards performance.

Jen, too, finds the business-management side of things exhausting.  AWOL is a non-profit, which presents a different set of opportunities and challenges.

Next I visited Pendulum Aerial Arts.  Pendulum is the longest-running circus arts studio in the Portland area.  Suzanne Kenney is the organization's Artistic Director.  She has been operating Pendulum in the beautiful gymnasium of the French International School here, for 15 years.  In exchange for the space during the evenings and weekends, she provides artist-in-residence programs for the school's students.

When I visited on a Saturday, I was able to observe some of Pendulum's "pre-professional" students training, and then to watch some of the company's rehearsal.  One of the ways in which Pendulum is unique is the professional performance company.  They are currently rehearsing a show called "High Art", which will be presented in May.

Today I visited The Circus Project.  TCP has been around for 7 years, founded by Artistic Director Jenn Cohen.  Jenn is currently on a 6-month sabbatical, and they've taken the opportunity to re-organize the administrative team a bit.  Currently Jacki Ward is Programs Manager and Interim Artistic Director, and Reyna Schlichter is Executive Director.

TCP is truly a social-circus nonprofit.  While they do run a handful of recreational adult programs, and they do have a "pre-professional" Training Company of intensive teen / adults students, their primary mission is to connect disadvantaged youth with circus arts.  They work in a small gym in a community center, which they rent by the hour - Jacki told me that finding a new space is on their agenda for the coming years.  (AWOL has the same goal).  The Circus Project also does a good amount of work off-site.

The studios here all seem to have a healthy respect for one another and to communicate more often than some other cities I've visited.  I will chalk this up to the general character of Portland - friendly, generous, and accepting.

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