Note: This is part two of a four-part series. Read part one at this link.
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This series will explore how circus communities are navigating a future fraught with unanswered questions, using collaboration and determination to draw their own road map through immense obstacles. Like every other U.S. city, Seattle saw its circus events, workshops and performances grind to a halt in March, as the pandemic forced almost all circus artists to put their usual social and professional activities on hold.
A performance at Arcadia aerial studio. Photo by Marcia Davis.
Despite the camaraderie and mutual support among many circus organizations in Seattle, the pandemic left some businesses in the dust.
Charly McCreary opened her studio Arcadia in 2018. She is the managing director of The Cabiri, an aerial and dance troupe she co-founded in 1999.
In designing a home for The Cabiri’s classes and shows, McCreary built Arcadia with a unique theatrical feel that nourished her community’s imagination.
Mirrors lined the studio’s walls for rehearsals. Curtains, lights and sound equipment “reminded us that these art forms exist out of storytelling and performance,” she said.
When the pandemic hit, McCreary spent most of her time applying for grants and government aid to weather the storm.
“I really appreciate the weight and heaviness of rallying yourself to apply for funding when your heart is just so crushed about what’s happened,” she said, describing the months-long void of physical classes and performances.
Through financial aid from groups like 4Culture (a cultural funding agency) as well as support from the state and federal government, McCreary was able to reopen Arcadia in July.
Unfortunately, Arcadia’s lease was up in December 2020, and McCreary’s landlord asked her to vacate the space by the year’s end, leaving her future prospects in limbo.
“For us as a volunteer-run non-profit, it’s really hard to look good on paper to a landlord,” McCreary said, noting that Arcadia’s annual revenue was half of what it had been in 2019.
“It’s a sad story, and not an uncommon one,” McCreary said. “A lot of facilities have closed in 2020 because of Covid and unsympathetic landlords.”
Charly mccreary performs on lyra at arcadia. Photo by bogdan darev.
While she lost her studio, McCreary said the strength of the Seattle circus community — which relied heavily on its interdependence to expand and build legitimacy in the late 90s and early 2000s — does give her hope.
“I continue to be in awe of the cultural and artistic community as a whole, in terms of its creativity and its adaptability,” she said. “Ultimately, that’s what will continue to get us through crises like Covid.”
McCreary’s background paved the way for her discovery of circus arts. Her childhood in northern California was spent performing in musical theater productions, but she took a break from theater during her college years in Seattle.
Upon graduating, she craved a creative outlet. During a trip to Burning Man, McCreary fell in love with fire dancing. Back in Seattle, theatrical circus groups like Circus Contraption, Unidentified Moving Objects, and Magmavox (a fire performance ensemble) inspired McCreary to build The Cabiri’s shows around mythology and storytelling.
In addition to producing shows inspired by the mythologies of extinct and endangered cultures, Arcadia also served as a hub for groups like the Bulgarian Cultural and Heritage Center, the Rahaa Persian Dance Group, and the Seattle Kokon Taiko drumming ensemble.
“Arcadia was never intended to be a school,” McCreary said. “The tagline is ‘A Sanctuary for Arts and Culture.’ That’s what it always was. And that’s what it absolutely will be if it rises again someday.”
Come back next week for Dispatch from Seattle, Part Three, in which we hear from Seattle burlesque performer Moscato Extatique, who is embracing the challenge of reaching audiences through digital media.