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More planned for Portland circus college than what's under the big top

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More planned for Portland circus college than what's under the big top

YARMOUTH — Founders of a first-of-its-kind circus college in the United States say the school will be about more than just performing.

Hillary Webb, vice president of institutional research for the Circus Conservatory of America, said the college planned for Thompson's Point in Portland will be unlike a traditional circus program.

"There are schools out there that focus primarily on training the performer, somebody who's going to go off and start a troupe and join Cirque du Soleil," Webb said last week while visiting a weekly circus camp at North Yarmouth Academy. "And that's great, that's certainly something that will be a part of our program as well. But we're really interested in redefining what it is to be a circus artist." 

CCA, which will be the first accredited circus college in the U.S., will have its first incoming class in September 2016. The aim is to have 35 or so students in the first class, and eventually 120 to 130 in the four-year program.

Webb said the college will be aimed at those who don't only want to perform, but want to go on and teach or pursue higher degrees in different types of therapy.

"We're setting the stage where people can start with circus arts and create the profession they want to have that's uniquely theirs, and isn't just defined by one thing," she said.

Students at the college, with a proposed 42,000-square-foot training center, will be working towards a Bachelor of Fine Arts in circus studies.

As for admissions, Webb said they're not yet in a position to say exactly how the process will go. And CCA President Peter Nielson said he wasn't prepared to release tuition costs.

"I will say it will not be very far off from the average tuition of state universities in New England," Nielson said. "That's a benchmark we don't want to be too far off from."

He added that the college will base some of its requirements on what the Maine College of Art requires of its students.

"About 25 percent of the credits they will take will be in general education, which means they do need all the foundation skills." he said. "So the same foundation skills that Maine College of Art visual art students are required to get, our students will be required as well."

Nielson noted that while this would be the first circus college in America, there are many others worldwide.

"The reception in the international community to what we're doing has been a thousand times more than I ever expected," he said. "We now have contacts literally all over the world who are cheering us on and rooting for us."

Nielson said Portland's proximity to Montreal, which he said is the circus capitol of the world, was a deciding factor in choosing the college's location.

Nielson also runs the Circus of the Atlantic, the recreational circus program based this summer at NYA.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.