For the past three years, the lives of a group of circus students in Brattleboro have been woven together. After this weekend’s graduation show, those lives will split apart as they embark on careers around the world.
The New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) will present “Intertwine,” an original new work in which nine stories of growth and discovery are told through acrobatics and circus arts, this Saturday, May 13, at the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College.
“There will be nine performers all getting a chance to share their story within the context of the show’s narrative,” said Serenity Smith Forchion, NECCA co-founder with her twin sister, Elsie Smith. The siblings, who performed together in Cirque du Soleil, started the school in 2007 and immediately launched ProTrack, a full-time, three-year training school for aspiring circus professionals (one of the longest-running in the U.S.).
Students choose majors and minors in more than a dozen apparatuses including traditional ones like trapeze, trampoline, aerial fabric and rope, and some more obscure ones like the Tippy Lyra, the German Wheel and the Static Cloud Swing.
“Intertwine” is this year’s touring show—it will go to three states (New York, Vermont and New Hampshire) for four performances—and serve as a final thesis. The first touring show was in 2019—and then the pandemic hit.
“This is the first year we can fully embrace what we planned for the tour,” said Forchion.
In ProTrack, students learn tour-specific skills including how to rig in a theater, coordinate travel logistics, manage props and costumes, communicate with producers, and cohabitate with each other during the three weeks of productions.
ProTrack students spend much of their third and final year at NECCA preparing: creating their own acts, assembling photos and videos of their work, building resumés and websites. NECCA helps them pursue auditions and also hosts them for other companies.
While NECCA has offered hundreds of recreational classes to the local community over the past 16 years, it has also turned out hundreds of professional artists who perform and coach in shows and training studios around the world.
The final thesis show includes personal works created throughout the three-year program, during which students work with coaches and with a director and choreographer.
For “Intertwine,” students worked with Mark Lonergan, Canadian-born founding artistic director of Parallel Exit, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based original physical theater company. His resume includes productions for The Big Apple Circus, Opera North, Disney Cruise Lines, and Theatreworks/USA. He was also the Creative Director for the Circus Smirkus Big Top Tour for five seasons and is one of the founders of the American Circus Alliance, of which Smith and Forchion are members.
Each year, ProTrack students work with a new director—while NECCA has maintained a long relationship with Lonergan, this year marks the first time he has directed ProTrack students.
“We wanted students to be able to work with a recognized and experienced director,” said Forchion. “As far as their future careers, Mark can introduce them to people and hire them.”
“Intertwine,” so named because all of its stories are connected to one another, focuses on what’s happening both on and behind the stage.
“The lead character is the rigger of the show and wants to be a performer,” said Forchion, adding that the performance features comedic and heartfelt moments about personal experiences.
“It’s a family friendly circus show for all ages,” she added, “and it’s non-verbal so anyone can enjoy it. It’s truly accessible in that way.”
The New England Center for Circus Arts will present “Intertwine” Saturday, May 13, for two shows at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State Collee. Tickets are $5 for the general public, free for Keene State students and available at https://www.keene.edu/arts/redfern/events/.