Editor’s Fanfare Vol. I, No. 8.


Circus Schools and Entertainment

St. Paul’s Circus Juventas is  a youth circus that for most of the year provides instruction in the circus arts for hundreds of students.   And a  few times a year it stages a spectacular circus performance with its advanced students.  These performances have something in common with the annual recitals of dance schools in that they are showcases for their students to display how much they have developed in the art form over the past year.  Circus Juventas’ performances, however,  go far beyond any dance recital I have ever seen.  They are elaborately staged, the physical production often more professional looking than many smaller professional circuses and some theatre companies.   Obviouslt these performances have a dual purpose: they are both a showcase forthe students and their work as well as a slick entertainment designed to delight audiences just as any commercial theatrical event would want to do.   Sometimes these two priorities come into conflict with each other at Circus Juventas.

That used to be a problem for the Canadian school as well, but several years ago the school resolved to place their students’ interests in second place after those of the audience.  Its annual performance does not have the constraint of having to show each student off to his or her fullest ability.  A second performance before a select, invited audience takes care of that.  The fully staged productions which are directed by invited directors are presented before a general audience.

Ironically in deciding to go exclusively down the path of entertainment, the students have often been better served than if they were merely showcased.  This has been accomplished by engaging the audience to the fullest extent, rather than attendance being a matter of  supporting a friend or relative.

Vermont’s Circus Smirkus, not yet a full-fledged school, does not have this problem.  They are in the business of producing a pure entertainment.  It just happens that the talent used to accomplish this end is a lot younger than one finds in most circuses.  It will be interesting to see how the company deals with this problem once their school gets fully underway.

Judging by the elaborate and sophisticated production values exhibited in any Juventas show of the last ten years, engaging the audience has surely been given considerable consideration.  But there is also the inescapable fact that their shows tend to run over three hours in length, testing any audience’s endurance and staying power.   A considerable chunk of that time in this year’s production was spent rigging equipment or setting the stage.    I doubt any fully commercial production would consider the few minutes spent on the high wire and the seven man pyramid worth the several minutes the audience had to subsequently spend in the dark waiting for the apparatus to be struck. 

There are also tricks performed or attempted that are not really ready for public exposure, except in a showcase situation, for even when they are accomplished with the aid of lunges or spotters, they lack the polish and grace an audience has a right to expect if they have paid to be entertained .

Of course this isn’t necessarily the reason why a good portion of the audience puts down their money at a youth circus.  They do, in fact, come to encourage and support the efforts of their children and friends, a reason itself worthy of applause.  But it would be easier for an audience to do that if it were not uncomfortable, either physically or emotionally?

I have decided to keep this discussion out of my review, which considers the works I recently saw solely as entertainment.   In trying to decide which is the overriding priority at Juventas, I have concluded it is the showcasing of talent,but they sure know how to make it spectacular, and so I have decided to present my exceptions in the format of the Editor’s Fanfare rather than the review in The Passing Spectacle.