The Circus Academy
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Par Collaborateur PJ

Reviving Vaudeville

As you walk through the dark entranceway of The Circus Academy into the lit stage theatre, it's like stepping back in time. There are aerialists doing warm-up splits below a giant moon that hangs from the theatre rafters, reminiscent of Georges Méliès’s infamous turn-of-the-century film, A Trip to the Moon. You'd almost expect to hear someone playing an Eddie Cantor tune on an old piano while burlesque dancers in feather headdresses dangle long tortoise shell cigarette holders from their lips.

In 2005, The Circus Academy opened as an overflow rehearsal space for Zero Gravity Circus and quickly took on a life of its own. Jen Georgopoulos, co-owner of the academy and main aerialist for Zero Gravity, runs this unique “alternative community centre” that offers a full schedule of circus programs for children and adults to let out their inner clown, juggler, acrobat or aerialist.

The beautiful irony is that this modern manifestation of the classic circus arts is housed in an authentic Vaudeville Theatre from 1914. Once a movie theatre, and then a private storage space, Jen and her business partner Eli Chornenki have returned it to its former glory. "We've restored it back to what it once was, but we still get the odd 80-year-old man walk in and tell us stories about seeing movies there for 10 cents when he was a kid."

We are really trying to make ourselves an alternative community centre for the neighborhood. - Jen Georgopoulos, co-owner
The Circus Academy - Circus classes and clubs, Vaudeville theatre, event location

An Alternative Community Centre

In April 2007, Jen added a small coffee shop connected to the theatre. "We are really trying to make ourselves an alternative community centre for the neighbourhood," says Jen, "which is why we opened the Sideshow café for parents to hang out while their kids are in class." The academy balances an impressive roster of classes for all ages, from toddlers to adults, with everything from clowning to juggling, aerial acrobatics to Tai Chi, dance to music classes. In an impressive feat of community service, children enrolled in the after-school programs are picked up from seven different neighbourhood schools, walked to the Circus, and taken care of before class starts at 4 p.m. "Kids and parents love this as an alternative to the after-school care that’s in their schools. We get involved in every community event that we can.”

The Circus Academy in a way offers families old solutions to new problems. With children spending so much time in front of various types of screens, the old circus arts is a way of getting them into movement-based play. "Besides the strength, balance, coordination and flexibility that they gain, which they can take to any other sport they're going to pursue, there's a lot of confidence and self-esteem building," says Jen. "We do shows at the end of each camp session and at the end of the show, when the kids have their big 'Ta-Da!' moment in the spotlight, their parents are in tears when they see their kids glowing in front of an audience of 150 people. They are so proud."

The Circus Academy - Circus classes and clubs, Vaudeville theatre, event location

21st Century Cabaret

The academy is not just for kids. The theatre hosts a monthly 19+ show called The Lunacy Cabaret, which offers passionate performers an opportunity to do risqué shows too edgy for corporate events. It also sets the stage for adults to explore and revel in these expressive arts, to break out of their shells and experiment on the fringes with alternate personas that challenge, shock and amaze. The cabaret used to be a place where the standard norms and rules of society were left at the door; the massive surge of interest in the Cabaret is proof that even adults need space to play. The Circus Academy is a hotbed of artistic culture and community based on the movement and expressive arts of a long and curious tradition that is still going strong.

The Circus Academy - Circus classes and clubs, Vaudeville theatre, event location
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