Below is the complete schedule the Circus Now Series at the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival.

Our goals are connection, education, and inspiration, and so we’re excited to offer a diverse series including practical workshops, presentations, roundtable discussions, and community-building events, reflecting a variety of voices from throughout the community.

Individual workshops cost $15 to enter, except where indicated. A $50 CN@CCCF Pass will get you entry to all the sessions.

CLICK HERE to purchase a pass and HERE for individual tickets.

Because we’re expecting high turn-out and anticipate that some of the sessions will fill-up, we’ve asked that you register for four sessions when purchasing your tickets. Entry to other sessions will be available as a first-come, first-serve basis at the festival.

In addition to the Circus Now Series, the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival will also be offering an array of Master Classes throughout the week. For more information and to register for classes, CLICK HERE.

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Erica Rubinstein, Circus Now’s Event Director, at Hasta Chicago!




WORKSHOP / Introduction to VAST: Circus Coaching Software /Beverly Sobelman
Tuesday, 5:00 – 6:00 pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

Ready to formalize your circus curriculum? Tired of using spreadsheets and note cards? The Versatile Arts Skills Tracker (VAST) is a framework with which studios and instructors can define a structured curriculum and then track their students’ progress against that curriculum. Developed initially for aerial training, the VAST model can be applied to any physical discipline. It allows users to associate photos and videos with each skill as well as assigning levels and priorities and defining sequences and progressions. This workshop is primarily a demonstration of the VAST model and interface but will include plenty of time for Q&A. We are still soliciting feedback on the system, so come check it out and let us know what we can do to make it something your school would want to adopt!

Beverly Sobelman has been obsessed with the aerial arts since her first class in 2003. She has trained with many top-notch aerialists around the US and Australia, including Elsie and Serenity Smith, Eric Newton, Terry Crane, Helene Turcotte, Helene Embling, Laura Stokes, and Cohdi Harrell. She has also gone through teacher training at NECCA (the New England Center for Circus Arts) and is part of a newly-formed group of aerial instructors working toward improving the quality and consistency of aerial training nationwide. In her previous life, she spent 18 years as a software developer, and has recently begun developing a set of software tools for use in the circus industry.

WORKSHOP / Thematic Writing for Circus / Suzanne Santos
Tuesday, 6:30 – 7:50 pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

This workshop will address various approaches and strategies for incorporating themes in circus acts and full-length performances. We will examine and discuss choosing a theme dependent on company needs and strengths and the desired audience draw. Artistically, we will explore how to follow through with that theme while keeping the integrity of the performance. Be prepared for an excellent brainstorming and collaboration session with peers while gaining structural tools to integrate into your next project confidently.

Suzanne Santos is “The Amazing Juan!” at various US circuses and cabarets, including El Circo Cheapo Cabaret. As a clown she has performed with Circus Finelli, Clowns Without Borders, the Pickle Family Circus School Tour, and at the New York Clown Festival. She has directed clowning and circus arts performances at Prescott Circus Theatre, San Francisco Arts Education Project, Circus Smirkus, SF Circus Center, and the Dell Arte Youth Academy. She is currently the clown and character instructor with Aloft’s full time training program in Chicago. Suzanne is a company member of 108 Productions, performing Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi” internationally for the last 8 years (Zephyr Theatre, LA; Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh; Voice Factory, SF; Smock Alley, Dublin; Rattlestick Theatre, Off Broadway) &


PANEL / Circus Intersections: Emerging Circus Thought in the Academy
Wednesday, 12:00 – 3:00 pm / Alvina Krause Studio, Annie May Swift Hall, Northwestern University
Panelists: Roy Gomez Cruz (Doctoral Candidate, Northwestern University) / Louis Patrick Leroux (Professor, Concordia University) / Carlos Cruz Casas (Professor, UNC Charlotte) / Peter Nielsen (Founder & President, Circus Conservatory of America) / Scott Combs (Professor, St. Johns University)

This panel interrogates the history of the circus, its labor practices and circus aesthetic embodiments, as an effort to articulate the phenomena of the circus into academic thinking. Since the 1980s, the contemporary circus movement has labored to bring new social, cultural and economic relevance to the circus. This movement has captured the attention of cosmopolitan elite audiences worldwide, long out of reach for the decaying industry of the child-oriented, animal based, three ring circus. This panel examines performance and training practices in the circus that illuminate how the contemporary circus has gained global visibility and transnational mobility.

WORKSHOP / Lighting 101 for Circus Performers / Jesse Alford
Wednesday, 3:00 – 4:15pm / Athenaeum Theater, Main Stage

Expand your knowledge of theatrical lighting to improve your relationship between you, the performer, and a lighting designer. How can you accurately describe what you want or need, or even design your own lighting? How might lighting be used for the street performer versus in a large auditorium? We will look at different styles of lighting circus, and talk about what works and what doesn’t. Don’t get left in the dark!

Jesse Alford is based in Louisville, Kentucky where he works as a freelance lighting designer and circus coach. A graduate of Washington State University, he is the Resident Lighting Designer for Theatre [502], and his work can also be seen with Stage One Family Theatre, Walden Theatre, and many other groups around Louisville. After growing up and then teaching with the Great All American Youth Circus in Redlands CA, he has performed with Circus Bella, The Zoppé Family Circus, and other groups around the country. He currently teaches with My Nose Turns Red Youth Circus, and serves as the Vice President of the American Youth Circus Organization.

WORKSHOP / Character Creation for Circus Performers / Carlos Alexis Cruz
Wednesday 3:30 – 4:50 pm /Athenaeum Theater, West Studio Dance Room

We live in an era of cross-trained performers, in which all disciplines are coming to play in a new trend of performance. In this workshop, artists will get a chance to approach the concept of creating a character from the “outside-in.” Using the study of gestures as a starting point, and how gestural meaning can vary with changes in style, tempo, and intention, we will create personages suited for any circus discipline or show. This training is rooted in the philosophy of a physical approach to theatre. Traditional Balinese masks will serve as vocabulary and tools.

Carlos Alexis Cruz is a Assistant Professor of Voice and Movement at UNC-Charlotte. He holds an MFA from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre where he studied a range of movement techniques, including commedia dell’arte, Laban, Alexandre, Lecoq-based theatre dynamics, and the Linklater voice method. For his thesis project, Cruz developed a study on the convergence of circus and theater, during which he trained under the tutelage of Master Coach Lu Yi at the San Francisco Circus Center, specializing in the disciplines of aerial straps and acrobatic rope. He was a full-time company member of the Do Jump! Dance Theatre and Imago Theatre, for which he toured nationally and internationally. Currently, he serves as the artistic director Pelú Theatre, dedicated to finding physically engaging ways of telling socially- relevant urban stories, particularly through a Latino lens, through creative uses of commedia, circus, melodrama, and clowning.

PANEL / Together We Stand: Circus for Social Good (cancelled due to weather)
Wednesday, 5:00 – 6:30pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3
Panelists: Duncan Wall (National Director, Circus Now/ENC) / Maribeth Joy (Executive Director, CircEsteem) / Amy Cohen (Executive Director, American Youth Circus Organization) / Jenn Cohen (Founder & Artistic Director, The Circus Project) / Jill Maglio (Creator, Holistic Circus Therapy) / Jacosa Kato

As a unique blend of physical and artistic practice, circus artists and educators have taken to using the skills, previously reserved for professionals, for social good, through team-building, self-esteem work, and youth development. Join us for a discussion of how these “social circus” methods work. What are the differences between them? What academic work is being doing to support their validity?

COMMUNITY / Daily Schmoozefest 
6:00 – 7:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club

A time to meet and reunite with circus friends and colleagues from across the county. Each Schmoozefest will begin with a short icebreaker activity at 6:00 pm, to help facilitate new connections.


PANEL / Fail Better: Recent Developments in Contemporary Clowning
Thursday, 3:30 – 4:45pm / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club
Panelists: Matt Roben (Co-Producer, CCCF) / John Towsen (Author, Clowns: A Panoramic History) / Adrian Danzig (Artistic Director, 500 Clown) / Molly Plunk (Neo-Futurists) / Eric Prather

Always fearless, countercultural by definition, clowns have spread from ring to all sorts of contexts: theaters, hospitals, schools, the streets. In this workshop we’ll explore what it means to be a clown in the current theatrical and social landscape, and how clowning has assumed a new prominence as a complete and unique form of theater and social intervention.

WORKSHOP / Creation to Presentation: Building Circus Work / Natalie Hebert
Thursday, 5:00 – 7:00pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

This workshop will address the professional realities involved in presenting circus work professionally, both as an individual and as part of a company. We’ll explore cultural and budgeting realities of circus arts presenting (national and worldwide), and the logistical realities of touring people and material. Who are the main “champions” of circus? What networks and agents can you tap into to increase your chance of presenting your work? How can you integrate presenters, calendars, and priorities into your planning? A comprehensive exploration from an expert in the field.

Natalie Hebert is a consultant and coach for Contemporary Circus Arts, as well as the Director of International Development for Flip Fabrique and a Production Support Consultant for ReCircle. Her career in the performing arts has spanned more than 20 years. After beginning as a trapeze artist and a choreographer, she spent four years as the the circus arts programming agent for Montreal’s TOHU, followed by stints as tour director for the internationally-renowned Circa (Australia) and James Thiérée’s La Compagnie du Hanneton (France). Today she teaches international development and production, and is helping several emerging contemporary circus companies bring their work to the world audiences. She is excited to collaborate with the inaugural Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival, and to share her knowledge with emerging and professional artists.

COMMUNITY / Daily Schmoozefest 
6:00 – 7:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club

A time to meet and reunite with circus friends and colleagues from across the county. Each Schmoozefest will begin with a short icebreaker activity at 6:00 pm, to help facilitate new connections.


WORKSHOP / Anatomy Basics for Circus Performers / Emily Scherb
Friday, 10:00 – 11:20am / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

In this course participants will learn about basic muscular and joint structures, as well as a detailed presentation of the human spine, torso, and pelvis useful for circus artists, instructors, and performers. We will also discuss the importance of muscular stability for proper motion and how the core, the spine, and the extremities are interrelated for most movement patterns, while addressing how knowledge of anatomy and proper joint motion can help prevent injury and improve function.

Emily Scherb is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and owner of Pure Motion Physical Therapy in Seattle, WA. She has also been involved with circus for over 20 years as a student, performer, instructor, and now physical therapist. Emily works to educate circus performers on how their bodies work and how to use them most effectively to achieve their goals.

PANEL / Chicago Circus: a Case Study in Developing Circus Thought and Practice
Friday, 11:30 – 12:50 pm / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club
Panelists: Roy Gomez Cruz (Northwestern University) / Shayna Swanson (CCCF / Aloft Circus Arts) / Lucy Little (University of Chicago / CircEsteem) / Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (Co-Founder & Artistic Director, Actor’s Gymnasium) / Jeff Jenkins (Midnight Circus)

This panel examines the state of the Chicago circus, through the lens of direct practice and practitioner experience. In both artistic and practical terms, Chicago has emerged as a national hub for contemporary circus work and collaboration. Dozens of organizations around the city are incorporating the circus for artistic and social expression and expansion. The festival is poised to draw a national audience. Major theaters and universities are increasingly incorporating circus into their seasons and curricula. In this session, we’ll examine how this emerging art and its practitioners are integrating into the larger performing arts landscape, already internationally renowned. Attention will be paid to the economic and social challenges facing organizations and artists, especially those interested in questioning the boundaries of the form, and a possible role for the academy to play in the art’s local artistic and structural development.

LUNCH / 12:50 – 1:30

PANEL / Making the Jump: On Transitioning from an Amateur to Professional
Friday, 1:30 – 2:50 / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club
Panelists: Duncan Wall (National Director, Circus Now / ENC)  / Chuck Johnson (Founder & Program Director, SANCA) / Peter Nielsen (Founder & President, Circus Conservatory of America) / Shana Kennedy (Director, Philadelphia School of Circus Arts) / Shayna Swanson (Co-Producer, CCCF / Aloft Circus Arts) / Megan Gendell (Instrutor, NECCA) / Nancy Smith (Artistic Director, Frequent Flyers Productions)

Around America circus education is undergoing a transformation, as schools emerge to provide new opportunities and resources for professional and pre-professional circus training. In this workshop, we’ll meet some of organizations involved in developing this exciting new infrastructure, and discuss collectively the benefits and challenges of developing circus infrastructure without government support in a landscape as big and diverse as the United States. We’ll also investigate non-traditional avenues to professional integration, such access to training spaces and private training.

COMMUNITY / US Circus Town Hall: an Open Space session (free)
Friday, 3:00 – 4:20 pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

Have a subject you want discuss with the American circus community? Bring it to the town hall! Through the loosely structured “open space” format, we’ll form groups of participants motivated to discuss random topics related to the American circus community. Topics can vary widely. Education, insurance, skill-sharing, technology, grant-writing — anything is fair game.

PANEL / Cirque de Demain: the Flourishing Circus Art and Industry in Quebec
Friday, 4:30 – 5:50pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3
Panelists: Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia University) / Charles Batson (Associate Professor, Union College) / Nathalie Hebert (Contemporary Circus Arts/Director for International Development, Flip Fabrique) / Matt Roben (Co-Produer, CCCF) / Andréane Leclerc (Performer, Cherepaka) / Sylvie Krauss Baumann (Director of International Development, Cirque Eloize)

As contemporary circus has emerged as a popular and artistically sophisticated form of performance over the last thirty years, Quebec has emerged as an international hub for work of both creative and commercial excellence. Three Quebec circus companies (Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Eloize, and 7 doigts de la main) are among the most well-known and widely-touring in the world. The Ecole Nationale de Cirque de Montreal, now over 30 years old, has become a world leader in circus education and research, with students and instructors from over 20 countries. Quebec-based academics have embraced the circus as a subject of inquiry, through the Montreal Working Group on Circus. In this panel, we will examine the history and current state of Quebecois circus. How did the circus arts come to play such an important role in the Quebec cultural consciousness? What are the current trends affecting the art? How is the art spreading beyond the traditional sites of power, to small companies and smaller schools based outside of Montreal? The discussion will take into particular account the geographical proximity of Quebec to America and the discrepancy between the development of the circus in the two regions.

COMMUNITY / Daily Schmoozefest 
6:00 – 7:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club

A time to meet and reunite with circus friends and colleagues from across the county. Each Schmoozefest will begin with a short icebreaker activity at 6:00 pm, to help facilitate new connections.


WORKSHOP / Techniques for Circus Audition Preparation
Saturday, 10:00 – 11:20 / Athenaeum Theater, West Studio Dance Room

This fun and informative workshop will supply motivated artists with strategies to help them perform their best at auditions for circus schools and professional companies. To begin, we’ll analyze the various components of circus auditions: dance and acrobatic assessment, physical strength tests, and theatrical games. We’ll also practice the audition process in a supportive and constructive environment, and consider techniques to deal with nervousness and unplanned mishaps. How can you utilize techniques and strategies that highlight your strengths, your own unique combination of technique, artistry, and stage presence? Come find out!

Krin Maren Haglund, a multidisciplinary circus artist, performs alone and with many of today’s most exciting circus and cabaret troupes. Krin’s newest project, “The Rendez-Vous Galant,” is her first solo-show, which premiered in June 2013 at the Irish Aerial Dance Festival and the St-Ambroise Montréal Fringe Festival. According to the CBC, “This is a delightful show, it feels like a silent movie.” Krin is an original cast member of Cirque Éloize “Rain,” directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca, which performed to sold-out crowds around the world. Krin won acclaim as “Rain’s deft comedienne,” and is the first woman to perform the Cyr wheel (single wheel) and one half of the first Cyr wheel duo. With the hot cabaret, “La Clique” (now La Soiree) her aerial tissue routine was praised as “dynamic, expressive and original… lampooning the ridiculous stereotypes that define femininity.” With the 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers) “La Vie,” Krin sang and performed trapeze on five continents as the eccentric flight attendant. She has also performed with Cirque du Soleil, Riksteatret National Theater of Norway, Amanda Palmer and toured with the Dresden Dolls as a performer and MC. She coached roue Cyr for the hit off-Broadway show “Traces” by the 7 Fingers.

COMMUNITY / Circus Now Information / Collective Brainstorming Session (free)
Saturday, 11:30 – 12:50pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

What are your dreams for circus arts in America? What are our needs as a community and how can we organize collectively to make those dreams a reality? Come meet the people involved in organizing Circus Now, the new national community organization, and help brainstorm plans for the future. Bring your ideas for big-picture projects and issues facing our community, today and tomorrow.

LUNCH / 12:50 – 1:30

PANEL / Meet the Pros: Circus Professionals on Surviving in the Circus Industry
Saturday, 1:30 – 2:50pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3
Panelists: Erica Rubinstein (Events Director, Circus Now / SANCA) / Krin Haglund (Performer & Director, Le Rendez-Vous / The Radiant) / Terry Crane (Artistic Director, Acrobatic Conundrum) / Andréane Leclerc (Performer, Cherepaka) / Amanda Crockett (Performer) / Rachel Walker (Performer) / Joe Pinzon (Performer)

There’s no certain route to making a successful living as a circus professional in the United States, but models and pathways exist. Come find out what those pathways are, and discuss the strategies and tips for survival with a group of working professionals. After briefly exploring the stories of the panelists and the state of the professional market in circus today, we’ll quickly expand the discussion to audience questions.

PANEL / Squaring the Circle: Circus Narratives, Dramaturgy, & Direction
Saturday 3:00 – 4:20pm / Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3
Panelists: Duncan Wall (National Director, Circus Now / ENC) / Louis Patrick Leroux (Concordia University) / Lauren Feldman (Playwright) / Laura Stokes (Co-Artistic Director, Ricochet) / Nancy Smith (Artistic Director, Frequent Flyers Productions) / Diane Stern (Touring Manager, Circa Contemporary Circus)

As contemporary circus emerges as a solidified genre, artists and directors are continually experimenting new and different approaches to narrative and dramatic structure. In “Squaring the Circle,” we’ll discuss these recent innovations with some of North America’s most progressive directors and scholars and look for possible trends in terms of international and US circus content.

COMMUNITY / Daily Schmoozefest 
6:00 – 7:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday / Athenaeum Theater, Curtain Call Club

A time to meet and reunite with circus friends and colleagues from across the county. Each Schmoozefest will begin with a short icebreaker activity at 6:00 pm, to help facilitate new connections.


PANEL / Breaking Out: New Circus Genres
Sunday 10:30 – 11:50/ Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3
Panelists: Roy Gomez Cruz (Northwestern University) / Scott Combs (Professor, St. Johns University) / Rachel Bowman (Director & Performer, Womack & Bowman) / Rhiannon Fisk (Assistant Artistic Director, Circus Juventas) / Ilona Jantti (Performer, Muualla/Elsewhere)

The circus has always been a hybrid form, a theatrical space of inclusion and diversity, but rarely in history has the form been as diverse as today. In search of inspiration and education, contemporary circus artists have spent the last forty years infusing and melding their skills with influences from other forms: theater, dance, puppetry, sculpture, technology. We’ll be discussing these experiments in form with some artists and educators at the center of them in America. What permutations have been especially successful? What elements resist combination? How can we distinguish the circus from these other forms, and what remains of it when the hybridization is complete?

WORKSHOP / Going Global: Perspectives of an American Tour Manager Working Abroad / Diane Stern

Sunday 2:00 – 3:20/ Athenaeum Theater, Studio 3

Join us for conversation led by Diane Stern, an American circus producer and current Tour Manager/Director for the Australian company Circa. We’ll be discussing the role of tour directing for a major international company, as well as the potential challenges of working as an American internationally. We’ll also discuss what lessons the American circus community can potentially glean from abroad about creation, touring, and management.

Diane Stern is the Tour Manager/Director for Circa Contemporary Circus in Brisbane Australia. She began her career producing with the founding of a small theatre company in Seattle WA. Since then she has worked as the Assistant Production Manager for Intiman and Seattle Repertory Theatres and Producer for Circa Contemporary Circus where she produced the company’s first ever 7-person ensemble creation, Wunderkammer. After getting a taste of life on the road, she transitioned into the role of Tour Manager/Director and is delighted to be part of the team taking Circa to the world.