Circus artist David Smith is seen outside the new home of The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, formerly in Germantown, now next to the Upsal Train Station.

by Stacia Friedman

The Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (PSCA), formerly located in Germantown, is on the move. “After 17 years of operations, and an exhaustive property search, we are finally able to say we have realized a dream,” said PSCA executive director Shana Kennedy, 41, of Germantown. “Our new home is in the former St. Madeleine Sophie Church, next to the Upsal Train Station in West Mt. Airy.”

The 28,00-square-feet space with 40-foot ceilings, stained glass windows and an observance gallery will greatly expand PSCA’s training studio for beginning and advanced children and adults in aerials, juggling, unicycling, tightwire, tumbling, acrobatics and physical conditioning. There is a 5,000-square-foot sanctuary and a 5,000-square-foot gymnasium. Inside the school building, each floor features approximately 6,000 square feet of space per each of the three floors and a total of 10 classrooms.

St. Madeleine Sophie was a Catholic church, built in the 1930s, and it was part of a consolidation process; the diocese took three churches in this area and combined them into one. The white house next to the church dates back to 1850 when, Upsal Street ran directly through the center of the property. The rectory and Manor House was built in 1890. While some details will remain of the church, including authentic pews, stained glass, lighting and ceiling details, the church has reclaimed the religious artifacts and statues in the building for their archives.

Shana Kennedy proudly overlooks the new home for her school in a former church building in West Mt. Airy.

If you’re wondering who goes to circus school, the answer is anyone from toddlers to grandmothers. In this newspaper, we previously wrote about Alice Dustin (April 30, 2015), who took a flier on aerial arts at PSCA when she was in her 70s. Have kids at home who spend too much time on their cell phones or playing video games? Learning to juggle, do handstands, tumbling or ride a unicycle could improve their attention span, coordination and confidence. Maybe that’s why PSCA was awarded “Best of Philly Winner” for kid’s classes.

PSCA’s new location makes history with the launching of Circadium School of Contemporary Circus, the first state-licensed vocational circus school in the United States. “Circadium is a vocational school which offers a diploma in circus arts. We are licensed by the PA Board of Education in their Higher & Career Education Department,” said Kennedy who is also executive director of Circadium.

Philadelphia School of Circus Arts will offer over 100 classes open to the general public, from children to teens to adults, from intro to advanced levels. On the professional side of operations, the non-profit arts school Circadium School of Contemporary Circus will offer 35 to 40 hours of training and classes each week. Their instructors come from across the U.S. and around the world.
Shana and her husband, Greg, purchased St. Madeleine Sophie Church and the two-acre property surrounding the church for $1.2 million. Their purchase includes the sanctuary and gymnasium, school building, a non-occupied home and portico/gatehouse. The space will also be available for non-profit events, arts performances and weddings. (Hey, they say that marriage is a high wire act!)
Following the grand opening weekend on Sept. 15-17, which featured free workshops, performances and tours, all classes for both schools are now up and running.

“Our future plans include an artist-in-residence program and renovating the home on campus for dorms,” said Kennedy.

More information: 215-849-1991, www.phillycircus.com or www.circadium.com

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