Union and Reunions: AYCO Festival Brings Circus and Good Company to Philadelphia - StageLync

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Union and Reunions: AYCO Festival Brings Circus and Good Company to Philadelphia

On April 23, the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (PSCA) started a new tradition, hosting the AYCO Regional Youth Circus Festival for the first time in the school’s twenty-year history. It is fitting that this circus festival should take place in Philadelphia, given that the city has been home to many circus “firsts” in America, including the country’s first-ever circus performance in April 1793.

Some 230-odd years later, 70 youth participants from across the Northeast coast gathered in the City of Brotherly Love to take part in the day-long AYCO festival and celebrate all things circus. Some of these youth regularly attend circus programs at New Jersey’s Trenton Circus Squad or Circus Place in Hillsborough; TSNY-DC; and Hampton, Virginia’s Transcendence Aerial Dance, while others do not (yet) have a regular circus studio. With 42 workshops in all, there was something for everyone and every interest, in disciplines ranging from ground skills like German wheel, unicycle, juggling, and partner acrobatics to aerial arts like Spanish web, lyra, trapeze, and fabric.

The festival was held in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy neighborhood at what is collectively known as the Circus Campus. Made up of an impressive former Catholic church and extensive grounds (spacious enough for a flying trapeze rig and then some!), the Circus Campus is home to more than just PSCA’s recreational programs. Circadium—the country’s only diploma-granting program for circus arts—also holds classes in the building, and while the two circus programs have much in common, they do not often have a chance to collaborate. AYCO provided a unique opportunity for PSCA staff and Circadium students to work side by side, teaching workshops and bringing the joy of learning new circus skills to youth in the region. 

In addition to giving participants the chance to learn new skills and perform for each other, the festival brought the greater circus community together and connected young circus artists with their peers, some for the first time. Not surprisingly, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to AYCO’s youth festivalsover the past few years, and as a result, this was the first in-person iteration of the event since 2020. This year’s festival was exemplary in many ways of our collective “new normal”: participants and instructors wore masks at all times in the building, and the check-in process also involved Covid testing provided on-site. Every single person involved in the event—coaches, students, chaperones, and administrators—was tested before starting the day, ensuring that everyone could enjoy the event safely. Meals and breaks happened outside to give everyone a chance to unmask for a time and take in the grounds of the campus, where entertainment was provided by on-site wirewalking and flying trapeze artists.

All in all, it was a truly memorable day, capped off with performances by a host of talented youngsters and a special showing ofRagTag: ACircus in Stitchesby the skillful professional circus artists of Cirque Us. PSCA was incredibly honored and proud to have had the opportunity to bring the regional circus community together and looks forward to making this an annual or semi-annual tradition.

Event images shared by Ali Rogers and Shana Kennedy. Photos taken by the students' parents.
Ali Rogers

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