Circus Arts Conservatory Shows Resiliency with Digital Platform

Arts & Culture

SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY APR 3, 2020

A common refrain heard nowadays is, “you had to be there.” Spoken often when sharing photos from a vacation or a live event, the phrase implies that the scale of an image on a screen often fails to capture the grandeur of the experience as it was lived in person. But, with the closure of many area arts institutions, performance art houses in particular have had to think long and hard about how it continues to reach an audience that cannot “be there.” For the Circus Arts Conservatory, the short-term cancellation of their season during the coronavirus outbreak means they have had to pivot to digital content, and what this content might lack in the high-flying thrill of a live event, it will make up for with something surprisingly human.

“The circus has historically brought people together in times of crisis,” says COO Jennifer Mitchell, “whether it was the great depression or wars.” For Mitchell and the Circus Arts Conservatory, the transition to digital content represents an opportunity to fulfill the community engagement aims of the circus in new ways. “We were already looking for new ways to engage the next generation,” she says, “the kids that have grown up with an iPad or an iPhone in their hands.” And though the use of technology in performance arts might be a new frontier, Mitchell believes it will be vital for the survival of arts institutions everywhere. “I don’t think for anyone who is going to survive in the long run, it can just be a temporary thing,” she says.  

With both the present and future of their outreach in mind, the CAC launched its online content platform, CAC Connects. The platform primarily comprises a slate of videos that include exercise routines for both general fitness and circus-specific fitness, as well as content that seeks to use circus arts as a teaching tool for science. The fitness videos are hosted by some of the coaches within the conservatory, many of them still in tip-top shape for their own shows, and includes classes like Aerial Conditioning or Back Bending Basics. One recent video featured a core-specific workout conducted by Olga Coronas, a world-renowned aerialist that teaches at the conservatory. The educational programming, called Circus Science, explores topics such as Newton’s Laws of Motion and is geared more for children with its clown instructors, and the CAC hopes it can excite students who find themselves bored at home with their web-based schoolwork. 

Of course, recorded performances also have a place in the bank of videos the Conservatory will release, though Mitchell acknowledges that when it comes to the circus, you still do have to be there. “I don’t think everybody is going to watch the next great show with popcorn on the sofa,” says Mitchell, “but it all contributes to showing the resilience of this art form.” And here is where the CAC Connects content fulfills the humanistic mission of the circus. “There is a lot of panic and fear right now,” continues Mitchell, “and we hope that maybe we can help people at home feel resilient too.”

 

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