BRATTLEBORO—Given the uncertain future that New England Center for Circus Arts faced last year, its Circus Spectacular looked like an annual event that might not happen.
Between moving into its new state-of-the art facility at 10 Town Crier Drive in Brattleboro, and surviving the attempted ouster of its founders, Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, 2017 proved a monumental year for the circus arts nonprofit.
“NECCA is in a good place right now,” says Forchion, with a sigh of relief. “We will always have the burden of raising money, which all nonprofits must do. But we no longer are facing a crisis and can look toward the future with optimism and enthusiasm. A full accounting was taken and no wrong was done at NECCA.”
Although Forchion is still unsure what precipitated her and her twin sister’s near dismissal last year, what she does know is that “it involved a lack of communication and miscommunication.”
“It was curious that while they attempted to get rid of us, they had no one to replace us,” she says.
Forchion and Smith ultimately were reinstated, as NECCA was reorganized with a new board of directors and interim Executive Director Jeff Lewis.
“Jeff was a consultant all through the crisis,” Forchion adds. “He facilitated conversations that got us back on our feet, which he did with amazing grace. The only thing he didn’t do was get on the flying trapeze, at least not yet.”
Forchion has no desire to look back and point fingers.
“Demonizing anyone would not get us anywhere,” she says. “The fact is my task now is not to get distracted but to look towards the future for NECCA. That includes to increase programing at the school, strategic planning, and fundraising.
“We are no longer a local organization, but have a role on the national and international stage. So as with other not-for-profits, like ballet or opera organizations, we need public support to keep us operating.”
On with the show
Now that the internal crises have passed, NECCA can focus on its signature fundraising event, which takes place this weekend. On March 3, at 7:30 p.m., and March 4, at 1 p.m., at the Latchis Theatre in Brattleboro, Circus Spectacular will feature professional performers from around the world who donate their talents to raise money for Circus in the Neighborhood, NECCA’s scholarship and outreach programming.
The annual Circus Spectacular has always played an integral role in NECCA’s fundraising.
“As it has always been the case, all the money raised from our Circus Spectacular goes to outreach programming and scholarships,” Forchion says. “Even in the past years when we were energetically raising money for our new building, none of it came from this event.”
Forchion believes that as NECCA continues to grow as a not-for-profit, and more and more people become interested in what NECCA has to offer, its scholarship program will be increasingly vital.
Also, Forchion contends that NECCA’s outreach programming has “the power to change lives” through custom experiences ranging from after-school programs to specialized instruction for at risk youth, workshops for people with disabilities to performances in area group homes and rehabilitation centers as well as need-based scholarships.
“However, Circus Spectacular is not merely a fundraiser,” Forchion insists. “It is also a way to bring some fun to Brattleboro in dreary March, for here we have an opportunity to offer inspiring circus artists from all over the world to entertain us.”
The 2018 celebrity host for Circus Spectacular is Ringmaster Keith Nelson, a multi-skilled star and co-founder of the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, a national traveling theater-based circus.
“Keith juggles and eats fire, swallows swords, clowns, and runs an American circus company,” Forchion says. “He has performed on Broadway and on stages and festivals around the world.”
These include Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York, Glastonbury Festival in the UK, AEMI International Clown Festival in China, and the SuperGiant Carnival in Thailand, as well as on The Today Show and Late Night with David Letterman.
“Nelson will add wit and wackiness to the Circus Spectacular, sharing his talents as the connective entertainment between other star-studded acts,” Forchion says.
These include the last-minute addition to the program of cigar box juggler Eric Bates, whom Forchion is especially excited to have performing in the show.
“Eric grew up in Vermont and has been juggling for as long as he can remember,” says Forchion. “After getting hooked on circus at Circus Smirkus he went on to the National Circus School of Montreal to make it his career. There he began working with Alex and Tristan to become the Barcode Circus Company.
“He won a Silver medal and Audience choice award for Russian bar and a Bronze medal for cigar box juggling at Cirque de Demain. He has also performed in Sequence 8 and Queen of the Night with the 7 Fingers of the Hand. In the rare moments he’s not upside down or throwing something — or someone! — in the air, Eric enjoys playing board games, taking motorcycle adventures, and baking apple pies.”
Night of stars
Other highlights of this year’s show include Joel Herzfeld, who has most recently performed with acclaimed Canadian company Les 7 Doigts De La Main on the national U.S. tour of the award-winning Broadway show, Pippin. He will perform a hand-balancing act in which he remains upside down and his feet have a conversation, as well as an upbeat rock ’n’ roll Cyr wheel act.
Joining these artists at Circus Spectacular will be the duo RAVEN, consisting of Kyla Ernst-Alper and Sylvana Tapi. The two are dancers turned aerialists who have performed together in London, Mumbai, and the Bahamas, as well as in the U.S. Making their home in New York City, Ernst-Alper and Tapia can regularly be seen at hip New York clubs such as The Slipper Room, The House of YES, and The Box.
Sam Ferlo has been performing for 16 years, including five summers with the youth touring troupe Circus Smirkus, Midnight Circus, CirqueUs, Gerry Cottle’s Circus, and most recently with 7 Fingers on Pippin on Broadway.
A second-generation circus performer, Ferlo was taught by his parents, both of whom worked with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Ferlo will bring dexterity and daring in an aerial straps act.
Returning to NECCA’s annual Circus Spectacular is an audience favorite, the Montreal-based mime Mario Diamond, who has taught Olympic skaters how to emote with their bodies and graced the stages of top circuses and TV shows the world over. Diamond silently brings laughter with his interactive antics.
Two special add-on events are also planned for this year’s Circus Spectacular.
“The men at Frog Meadow Bed & Breakfast and AIDS Project of Southern Vermont are inviting the local LGBTQ community to join us all at Sunday’s show to celebrate diversity and socially reconnect during mid-winter,” says Forchion.
For more information about “Gay Day at the Circus” visit www.frogmeadow.com/event/necca-circus-spectacular.
Also, for this first time this year, Circus Spectacular includes a Basket Raffle Fundraiser.
“To do all we can to help remove financial barriers to participation in NECCA programming, a team of NECCA supporters has launched this project,” Forchion says. “Winners will receive one of the gift baskets full of items like NECCA gift certificates, a drone, circus show tickets, lift tickets for skiing, and more!”
Drawing will be at the final Circus Spectacular show on Sunday, March 4, but you do not need to be present to win. Tickets are available online at www.necenterforcircusarts.org/shop/raffle_tickets.
A favorite venue
As in the past years, Circus Spectacular will take place at the Latchis Theater in downtown Brattleboro.
“We love the Latchis,” exclaims Forchion. “We want to continue to support this great venue, and also, quite frankly, we need the space.”
Although NECCA’s new facility on Town Crier Drive was built with in-house performance in mind, public shows there remains a work-in-progress.
“We have had a few small performances already at NECCA, as we continue to work out the kinks,” Forchion says. “In the future, we hope to install bleachers and work towards a moveable theater in the round. Last year, we had some student performances and our annual Flying Nut in-house, but those were smaller shows.
“For this fundraiser we need the bigger space of the Latchis. In fact, even when we finally do have our theatrical needs worked out for NECCA, we want our theater here to remain relatively small for students. A learning performer needs more shows to develop his or her craft. So, it would be better to have 10 shows for 99 people, and one show for a thousand.”