Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don Covington's Take on American Circus Schools' Productivity -- or Lack of

Recently, upon receiving an e-mail from Don with specific information about the careers of a number of performers who had studied at the Fern Street Circus center in San Diego, I asked Don, in essence, if he could explain to me why I see so few major circus acts trained at the various U.S. Schools. He generously replied in full. I find his paragraph two of particular relevance, especially to the scene today. I asked him for permission to post his complete reply, intact, for the benefit of my visitors. Thank you, Don.

By Don Covington:

There are several reasons that the US has not developed world class circus schools. Number one, it is an enormously expensive undertaking. Instruction at the highest levels involves one-on-one coaching over a period of years. Without major sponsorship or government subsidies, it is near impossible to build a program in this country that can train at the international level. The closest thing on this continent is the Canadian National Circus School in Montreal. European schools such as those in France are heavily subsidized by the government. China's circus training program is similar to the old Soviet circus training system where youngsters are selected at an early age, are educated and trained as circus artists and then guaranteed employment with a troupe.
During that entire period, the government supports them with housing, food and basic education.
Number two, America lacks the cultural motivation that influences top athletes to consider circus as a possible career. The vast majority of American circus schools survive by training for self esteem, fitness and social integration. They do not expect that their students will be motivated to work toward the standard required for world class performance.

Third, the American circus does not provide a competitive work environment for circus artists. Living conditions, travel requirements and salaries are not comparable to those provided in other locations. Therefore, if your goal is to perform at Cirque du Soleil, it makes sense to train at the Canadian circus school.

Circus training in general is in a state of transition at the moment. Cirque du Soleil, the largest circus on the planet, will tell you that it prefers to hire raw talent over a completed act. Soleil has its own training program designed to mold artists into exactly what they need for their productions. National circus schools continue to produce finished acts that are designed to showcase their skill at international festivals, but they are now also supplying artists directly to Cirque where they become part of "house troupes".

A final factor that must be taken into consideration is that trained circus artists can now choose to work in a wide variety of environments. Traditional circus is only one of the options that they have available to them. You will find some of the world's top performers working exclusively in theaters, on cruise ships and in festivals rather than with touring shows.

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