The Palestinian Circus School
“By turning you upside down, we teach you to stand on your own two feet. By dropping objects we teach you to catch them. By having you walk all over someone, we teach you to take care of them. By having you clown around, we teach you to take yourself seriously.”
-Bob Sugarman, circus writer
The Palestinian Circus School (PCS) began with a first circus workshop for young Palestinian adults. Determined to develop a permanent circus education structure in Palestine, the first students and the founders (Shadi Zmorrod – Palestinian theatre actor and former artistic director of the Jerusalem Circus and Jessika Devlieghere – Belgian social worker) wanted to use circus to respond to the many challenges children and youth face in Palestine. PCS has expanded to meet the growing requests and now runs circus clubs in several Palestinian cities.
Young Palestinians living under the Israeli occupation have witnessed homes being demolished, experienced personal humiliation, physical abuse and arbitrary detention at the hands of Israeli soldiers. They carry the grief of losing loved ones. Moreover, they face the harsh reality of mounting responsibility in a tough economy with growing unemployment rates.
The PCS team has witnessed the positive effects of the circus workshops on the well-being of the children and youth. We are encouraged to see them become more self-confident, engage in respectful relationships with each other and develop more trust, team spirit, and a higher concentration. Most importantly, they get a new taste for life. PCS also wants to be a model for promoting diversity and cooperation. The school enrolls students from different socio-economic backgrounds and has been very successful in creating spaces where all these young people work together as one big circus family. Where they come from or what party or religion they belong to doesn’t matter. What is important is their common passion for circus arts and the joint motivation to offer something positive for their society.
Since August 2006, more than 500 boys and girls from different cities: Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron, Al Fara’ refugee camp and Jerusalem have been introduced to circus skills in one of PCS's weekly circus clubs. In 2014, the school counts almost 200 students divided between the different locations, levels and in the student production group a very enthusiast team of young trainers who all started as young students at the school. PCS runs a social circus workshop, with average 40 girls age 16-20 in a social rehabilitation center in Jenin City for girls with different social problems and is about to launch a new training program for youth with mental and physical disabilities. All of the weekly classes are part of a long term circus initiation with a minimum of 1 year.
More than 50,000 people in the West Bank have had the opportunity to enjoy circus performances performed by Palestinians for Palestinians, including those in refugee camps and remote villages who have little opportunity to see live performances. Most performances take place in theaters and open spaces such as football fields or community playgrounds, schools or children and women’s centers to allow large numbers of people to enjoy the magic of circus. The PCS also traveled abroad with its shows “Circus Behind the Wall”, Kol Saber!’ and ‘B-Orders’ offering the international community a very different picture of the Palestinians than the one portrayed in mainstream media.
At the same time the school invests a lot of energy in the capacity building of its trainers by sending them abroad for intensive workshops and by receiving foreign circus artists and trainers to teach in the weekly circus clubs.
The future plans
Moving forward, the PCS works hard to become a professional circus school offering social, recreational and semi-professional circus programs for the Palestinian society.
To become a professional school, PCS needs loads of training, but they also need a safe and well equipped training location. In 2011, the school moved to a rehabilitated historic building in the old town of Birzeit, just outside of Ramallah, and in 2014, a real professional circus tent was set up at the court yard of the current location.
You can support the Palestinian Circus School!
MECA is excited to be working with the Palestinian Circus School to help find committed volunteers and supporters. You can make a secure tax-deductible donation now that will be used mainly to continue offering the circus programs to the Palestinian population or top allow the team and students to create and offer shows for the Palestinain and international community.
Volunteer with the Palestinian Circus School:
- Are you a circus artist or trainer? You can join PCS in Palestine and lead a workshop for their trainers and students!
- Are you fluent in several languages? Help PCS translate! They need for English-Arabic and Spanish-English or Spanish-Arabic translations.
- Do you want to set up a fundraising event for the Palestinian Circus School? Let the PCS team know!