by Jon Santiago
Yesterday I had a chat with Danielle Karliner, tour manager for the show Traces. As the troupe bounced around the rehearsal stage like prime-candidate-for-Ritalin kids, she told me how well suited the Sottile is for their performance ("Perfect!"), about the New York version of the show (Traces 5), and the Traces touring companies like the one currently in Charleston (Traces 3).
With all these versions of the show bouncing around, I asked her where the company found new talent. "Mostly Montreal [Traces' home base]," she said. "We draw from the circus schools."
Hold on. Circus schools? Plural? I thought she was pulling my leg. Or tweaking my red rubber nose. Nope.
Famously, Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil. But Montreal's National Circus School (École Nationale de Cirque), founded in 1981, preceded the formation of Cirque by about three years. Today, the Cirque company hires much of its new talent from among the grads of this institution of higher clowning.
The National Circus School, however, is not the only game in town. There's also L’École de Cirque de Verdun. And La TOHU, founded jointly by En Piste (the Canadian association of circus arts), the National Circus School, and Cirque du Soleil. Described as a "City of Circus Arts" resident within Montreal, La TOHU's mission centers around "the goal of promoting the creativity, expertise, talent and entrepreneurship of Quebec's circus sector."
Wow. Quebec has a "circus sector?"
From the look of things, this sector is not a bad bet for your career. The executive director of the National Circus School, Marc Lalonde, has been quoted as saying that in some years, "nearly 100 percent of our students find work within the first few months of graduating." Eat our three-ring dust, ITT Tech!
As in any industry, pay varies. Jugglers don't earn as much as acrobats, nor do clowns. But where an acrobat's physically demanding job might press them into retirement in their 40s, clowns and jugglers can have a very long career.
Of their 4,000-plus workforce, Cirque du Soleil alone employs more than 1,000 circus artists. And Cirque is only one potential employer among many. Europe has about 1,000 operating circuses. There are 30 or so in the States. Worldwide, who knows how many altogether? The size of the circus industry is thought to be wildly underestimated since few can agree on a broadly applicable definition for what constitutes a "circus." I guess it's one of those "I'll know it when I see it" things. Not much help to data-gatherers.
So there you have it. "Mom, Dad, I'm joining the circus," may be the most reassuring thing a parent who dreams of a solid future for their kids can hear. The parental units still need to wrap their heads around the fact that kiddo is probably headed for the Great White North and will probably come back speaking French and saying, "eh" at the end of sentences. (Concerned parents, repeat as needed: "Pas de problème, eh?")
As for why there's such a concentration of circus schools in Montreal, Karliner offered a Gallic sort of shrug. "They like circus."