Queens’ Circus Jewel
Along the southern edge of Long Island City resides an 8,000 square foot warehouse, where many aspiring and elite circus performers hone their craft. Co-Founded in 2010 by Suzi Winson, Circus Warehouse of NYC provides a space that supports new and experimental works, seeks to integrate circus arts into mixed-media forms, and produces the next generation of circus performers. Winson runs the professional program, turning out top-level performers for traditional and contemporary circuses, and for dance and theatre productions that incorporate circus art skills.
Winson opened the doors to the warehouse and gave us an inside look on the history and purpose of this unique and prospering facility, as well as her views on its current location.
Why did you create Circus Warehouse?
In 2010, there were no professional-track programs to train circus arts, we filled that niche. I wanted to make a space that was more like a trade school, similar to dance studios where I had trained; disciplined, multi-skill, with classical forms and an intent to develop the chops and character that it takes to be a pro. The Circus Warehouse curriculum is informed by dance. Most of the instructors have dance backgrounds as well as acrobatics. It gives meaning and weight to movement both in the air and on the ground. We have a resident dance company run by the spectacular Mayan ritual dancer Javier Dzul. We assembled an elite training faculty and from the start we have created hirable performers.
How did you find the space and why did you choose Long Island City?
I spent my early childhood in Forest Hills, and have always loved the multicultural, non-pretentious aspect of Queens. The space was already being used for aerial practice as it has almost 30 foot ceilings, but it didn’t have a solid plan to become a force in the industry. I created a business and superimposed it into the space, and took over the lease of the previous tenant. That episode has been my most gymnastic move to date. I had partners to make a program, and an art-pal to make a brand, but I financed it entirely myself. (remind me not to do that next time, too much pressure!) I love being in Queens. It’s never been “hip” in that way Brooklyn has become. It’s close enough to NYC for those with borough-phobia, but has that slight bit of inconvenience factor that makes it possible to hang on to the space, at least for now. A space such as ours would fetch 3-4 times the rent in NYC.
What do you think of the performing arts community in Queens?
The performing arts community is emerging, certainly above the levels of 10 years ago in scope and importance. We are not a venue, so we can’t contribute in that way, we can just make the acrobats.
How do you make Circus Warehouse sustainable?
It’s been a challenge. We will train anyone who wants to get serious about practice, not just those who want to go pro. That helps round out the classes and pay some bills. We are 9 years in and the lights are still on. It’s a continual hustle.
What kind of artist would benefit the most from a place like this?
Artists who are practice-based do very well here. If you know how to train when you don’t want to, push beyond your limits of endurance, deal with physical pain, commit 100% to the thing that is in front of you, you will do well on any path, whether you wish to produce art, run a business, or join the army. These are life-skills.
Can you give us an idea of some of the talent Circus Warehouse has produced over the years?
We have turned out talent for everything from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to Cirque du Soleil and everything else in between. We have alumni in Big Apple Circus, Marvel Universe Live, Disney on Ice, Broadway and touring shows, NY cabaret and burlesque, circus productions in resort hotels around the globe, the shows Cirque Musica, Hamid Circus, Pop Circus, Circus Circus, Cirque de la Mer, Momix Dance Co, many professional flying trapeze troupes, and all sorts of shows and venues that use well-rounded acrobats. Entertainment companies routinely come to us for casting.
Suzi Winson PHOTO BY Rachael Shane
What future plans do you have for the Circus Warehouse?
Surviving the neighborhood gentrification is the plan. We’d like to stay open! I’d love to have more local Long Island City residents be a part of our community.