Local circus artists win top prizes in Las Vegas while aspiring hopefuls converge in Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA), is creating employment opportunities for aspiring aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, clowns, and more.

Each year, NECCA sponsors a graduate to attend Vegas International Variety Act (VIVA) Fest, an international circus gathering and competition based in Las Vegas.

This year, in addition to the sponsored student who receives financial support to attend, eight other aspiring circus professionals from NECCA were accepted into VIVA Fest to compete in the Emerging Pro category.

NECCA co-founders and on-staff coaches, Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, attended to support performers, and were invited to serve as judges in other categories and to host workshops with the competitors, who numbered in the hundreds from as far away as Japan.

The student competitors all placed in their categories, including Julian McTaggart, who grew up in Brattleboro and found circus through NECCA when he took a trampoline class at the custom-built Trapezium.

McTaggart won the overall VIVA Fest Emerging Pro award that is given to the top competitor from all apparatus categories. He also earned first place in the Emerging Aerial Straps A category.

Other awards received by NECCA students included: Kalista Russel, Emerging Aerial Hoop C, first place, and Circus Talk Award; Elly Craig, Emerging Cyr Wheel, second place; Eliza Gaston, Emerging Aerial Hoop B, second place; Caitlyn Wallace, Emerging Dance Trapeze, third place; Joelle Nye, Emerging Invented Apparatus, fourth place; Bailey Scherer, Emerging Dance Trapeze, fifth place; and Megan Gimnig, Emerging Dance Trapeze, seventh place.

Two competitors who have trained at NECCA in the past won awards: Jessica Waters, Emerging Aerial Silks A, 1st place, and Emerging Straps, second place; and Doug Stewart, Emerging Rope, second place.

“Working with my coach, Serenity, to make something I am really proud of is a gift that I will carry with me for a long time,” Craig said in a news release. “I grew and learned so much as a performer through this experience.”

Another opportunity for aspiring circus artists at NECCA is auditioning for top producers, like AIDA Cruise lines. On March 23, the company sent an audition team to audition NECCA students as well as invited auditionees from the region. Circus performers are part of the cruise line's onboard entertainment in North America, Europe, and the Middle East.

“It's important for myself and other staff who worked for Cirque du Soleil and other top producers to connect our students to their first career opportunity when they graduate,” said NECCA Executive Director Jenna Struble. “Our first priority is ensuring they have employment after graduation and hosting auditions like AIDA's is important to this goal.”

Within the same week, NECCA hosted 30 prospective students and their families from all over the country on March 22 and 23 here in Brattleboro. Auditionees met the NECCA Team and shared their skills and ambitions to build a career as a professional circus performer. Students were evaluated on their physical skills, creativity and artistic expression, professionalism, and their teamwork.

Elena Day, NECCA's ProTrack Director and formerly a lead character with Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, said that “having the opportunity to meet the next generation of circus artists at our live auditions is always an exciting time. Once accepted to NECCA's ProTrack Program, students have the opportunity to work with career coaches, whose depth of experience and connections in the field are profound.”

Day said that the opportunities of VIVA Fest and the cruise auditions demonstrate that “attending NECCA's ProTrack Program is a surefire way to launch your circus career.”

For more information about NECCA, visit or call 802-254-9780.

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