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There is, in Southeast Portland, an expert in the Circus Arts; as with other arts, this pandemic poses problems

COURTESY OF FRIDERIKE HEUER - Ruth Wikler, who is fortunate still to have her job in Montreal, is networking virtually online and by phone from her Woodstock home, attempting to determine the future of Circus Arts performances. Health and science experts are telling us that large gatherings, such as those for sports and some of the arts, must be canceled or at least severely limited until there is a COVID-19 vaccine that will sufficiently protect the public. That could be more than a year from now, and that means hardship and monetary loss for all kinds of artists and arts organizers, as it does for so many other sectors of our society and economy that are adversely affected by the current pandemic and physical distancing. Workshops, lessons, and classes can take place online or in a virtual setting, but performing arts in particular are more limited in their options.

The performances of plays, dance, and music have been canceled in Portland, as throughout the world. But there is one genre you may not have thought of that's affected just as much – the circus arts. And we have a circus artist in Inner Southeast Portland.

Ruth Juliet Wikler is a Woodstock resident who took a job in Montreal during the summer of 2019 as a performance programmer specialized in "contemporary circus". She has an extensive educational background and experience in theater – she was founder, curator, and producer of Boom Arts Theater in Portland from 2011-2019 – and also circus arts. In circus arts, she has a National Vocational Qualification degree from Circomedia Academy of Circus & Physical Theatre, Bristol, in the United Kingdom.

Wikler was hired by TOHU, a unique contemporary circus-presenting institution in Montréal that's the hub for contemporary circus in North America. TOHU is home to a distinctive 1,200-seat round presentation venue, and is the producer of North America's premier international summer circus festival – Montréal Complètement Cirque.

There will likely be no summer festival there this year, and now Wikler is back in Woodstock, where she is in weekly telephone conversations and virtual "Zoom" meetings with people from all over the world who build performances for circus troupes. They are networking, sometimes as many as fifty attendees on a conference call, to figure out how to plan for future performances.

"We are seeing massive layoffs of circus performances in Las Vegas and on cruise ships, and in performing arts organizations [all over the world]. They are canceling all their programming. This is creating massive unemployment for circus artists. Quebec circus troupes make 90% of their income from touring to different countries. Circus artists are losing their livelihoods, because they can't travel or perform."

She continues, "We are asking ourselves, 'Do we stay closed, or offer something online, or plan for smaller audiences, in performances in the months ahead?' We are making plans A, B, C, D, E and F! Can governments help the arts to 'make it to the other side'?"

Fortunately, there is good support from the Canadian government for the arts. "Canada, and especially Québec as a province, has strong governmental involvement in the arts, and the government values the arts highly. They are giving the message to artists and arts organizations: 'we are here for you'," Wikler tells THE BEE.

In the United States, the National Endowment for the Arts has provided $75 million to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on arts organizations, at that is helping some local Portland arts organizations. For example, the Circus Project in Northwest Portland has applied for an NEA grant, and in the meantime has received a Small Business Association PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan that will enable them to preserve jobs for 43 people, including 34 teaching artists, through the end of June. They are also able to offer online circus classes on "ZOOM" on a sliding scale. www.thecircusproject.org/online-classes-youth

In Canada the government has committed $500 million to help sustain the arts. Wikler remarks, "With this strong arts support, the Quebec government may eventually restore some of the lost income from canceled engagements to staff and performers."

But, for now, the networking and brainstorming continues for those in the circus arts, as it does for all of the other performing arts affected by this pandemic.

"We are just trying to stay ahead of the curve in planning," comments Wikler from her Woodstock home.


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