by Amber Parker
Last fall, I was hanging off the trapeze trying as mightily as I could to not let go. I was working towards a 50 second hang, a goal I had been pursuing all quarter. As I hung there, listening to my classmate tick off the seconds I’d been hanging, my eyes scanned the main gym for something to focus on. The clock? No. Kids playing on the tumble track? Nope, that’s not going to work either. Just as I was about to let go I saw a young woman in a handstand, one of her legs in a huge cast. I’d noticed her training in her cast all week and hadn’t thought much of it. But, in that moment on the trapeze, I was struck by the sight of her, by how amazing she was. I thought, “If she can come here every day and train in a cast, I can get through another 20 seconds. This is what it means to be a circus artist.” I kept my eyes locked on her and gripped tighter. Then, before I knew it, it had been 50 seconds.
This acrobat was Clara Scudder-Davis, a graduate of SANCA’s Professional Preparatory Program and current coach here at SANCA. You can find Clara at SANCA almost any time of the week in a handstand, juggling, stretching into impossible poses, or hanging off the trapeze, working away for hours to perfect her form and hone her skills. When I heard that Clara had been accepted to L’École de cirque de Québec (a prestigious circus school in Canada) and I had the opportunity to interview her for our blog to report on that news, I was excited to have a chance to learn more about this incredible member of our community.
Clara came to us in the fall of 2014 from Oberlin College in Ohio, where she interested in learning aerial fabric in Oberlin’s circus program. She didn’t have the prerequisite of 30 hours of training to join that program, so Clara turned to SANCA’s Professional Preparatory Program– “I realized that if I wanted to do circus, I was going to need to go some place where I could just learn a lot of information in a short amount of time. So I applied to the P3 program. It was so physically challenging…when I got to P3 it was eye opening.” Clara said that although she had a background in ballet and dance, learning circus skills was a whole other level of artist and physical expression. I sat down with Clara to explore both her experience in the P3 program and the exciting next steps she’s taking as a circus artist.
Amber: “What was the most challenging part of the P3 program?
Clara: “It was hard for me having not been so fit or strong or ever having thought of myself as being strong, to do something where I really needed to be strong. To go through the learning process of how to make that happen in my body was experimental and challenging and very painful. My body went through so much stress that first year, especially because I was training so much where I hadn’t been training before. But, it was totally worth it.”
Amber: “What kept you going during that time?”
Clara: “I was so challenging but also just so magical. Circus is so compelling for me as an art form because it combined every mode of expression that I’m drawn to. I grew up doing dance, I was a singer in middle school and high school, and I did acting and theatre as well. Also, just being super physical is something that really inspires me. Circus incorporates all of that. I’m drawn to other kinds of expression, like writing, but I feel most inspired when I’m being physical.”
Amber: “Oh, definitely. I feel the same. So, tell me about the next step in your career?”
Clara: “I’ll be going to the circus school in Quebec, it’s called L’École de cirque de Québec, or ECQ. I got into the prep year so I’ll re-audition for schools next year, which I’m excited for. It’s like circus school at Hogwarts, it’s awesome. It’s in this huge old church with stained glass windows. When I came to SANCA, it was so magical because I had never seen anyone do handstands or drops on fabric or tumble on a tumble track, I didn’t even know what a tumble track was. When I discovered that people could do one arm handstands my mind was blown. I couldn’t even believe that was possible. Stepping into the Quebec circus was like that first feeling I had when I came to SANCA, but even more so. When I walked in there was someone doing swinging trapeze and another on flying trapeze, and then there were people doing double backs on the trampoline. It’s a very lovely and supportive community, and very creative. I really appreciate that. And I’m very excited to learn french.”
Amber: “So, do you have a major at L’École de cirque de Québec?”
Clara: “Yes! In my program I have two disciplines, then there’s a three year program that I will audition for where I will have three disciplines. My first discipline is hand balancing and my second is contortion. I’m hoping that when I get there I will have the option to add classes and build my own program. I want to do some Chinese Pole or some group acrobatics or trampoline. Basically, I just want to do as much as I possibly can.”
Amber: “Wow, so that’s about 4 years of circus school. What do you see happening for you after you graduate?”
Clara: “Right now it feels like a whirlwind to me because I started so recently. I’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other and not allowing myself to be attached to anything. Any sort of opportunity is exciting at this point. But, at the same time, I would love to be able to travel and perform with circus companies like The 7 Fingers or smaller circus companies. I’d like to go Europe and travel and perform, and I’d love to have the opportunity to train in different places. If I could ever go to Mongolia or Russia or China, I would love to be able to train with other teachers and have the be part of the experience that informs my performance. There’s a lot of knowledge out there, and I’m very interested in technique and artistry. I haven’t combined those two things very much yet, so I’m excited to do that. I can see so many ways that circus will be part of my life no matter what happens. Back in September I broke my fibula and that was a big moment of deciding that no matter what happens, circus is something I want to continue doing. In whatever capacity I’m doing it, circus nourishes me and feeds me and is something I just adore. It’s a huge part of my life.”
I was so grateful to have the opportunity to sit down with Clara as she stands on the precipice of this next step in her life, both as a woman and as an circus artist. It was such a privilege to be with her in this moment of transition and I can’t wait to see how far she goes and what lessons she learns during that journey. Along with Clara, one of our current P3 students, Cameron Clarke, will be moving on to L’École de cirque de Québec. SANCA does many amazing things, but one of the biggest things we do here is nurture new artists as they move forward with their goals, whatever those goals may be. What a gift that is to have a whole community behind you, supporting every step you take. SANCA would like to wish both Clara and Cameron the best of luck in Quebec!
Please look for an upcoming piece about our very talented P3 cohort as they prepare for their show, The Other Side of the Unknown, which will be running June 3rd-5th.