“The Cirkus Theatre Project” Available Online: Cirque du Soleil Inspired Documentary Showcases Student Performances

Mike Lawson • • February 9, 2015

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) has made its special half-hour documentary entitled “The Cirkus Theatre Project: Creativity and Collaboration at UNCSA” available for online viewing.  The program highlights the original artistic accomplishments of student teams at the school, who spent the 2013-2014 academic year writing, developing and creating short productions, utilizing the generative process pioneered by Cirque du Soleil, an institutional partner of the UNC School of the Arts.

The Cirkus Theatre Project documentary, a UNCSA School of Filmmaking production, originally aired on University of North Carolina Television (UNC-TV) on Jan. 23, 2015. UNC-TV is a partner in this project as the presenter of the documentary and shorts. The documentary and shorts are available for free viewing at http://video.unctv.org/video/2365408460/.

“The challenge to the teams, each composed of students from different artistic disciplines, is to create powerful, original narratives without words or any recognizable language,” UNC School of the Arts Chancellor Lindsay Bierman explained. “To do so they must collaborate intensively across mediums, communicate effectively through visceral movement or expression, and hone their creativity like never before. The process demands a focus, ingenuity, and rigor that will help these emerging artists stand out in a highly competitive job market.”

Gene Lubas, creative consultant with Cirque du Soleil and a guest panelist for The Cirkus Theatre Project, said, “This project is ingenious because it brings together people who initially are not speaking the same creative language but as the project progresses, they learn to collaborate and by the end communicate easily. I believe the students who participated in The Cirkus Theatre Project have gained invaluable experience that will help them be more successful in their professional careers.”

Bierman added: “The Cirkus Theatre Project provides extraordinary learning experiences for our students, deepens the school’s relationship with Cirque du Soleil, and most importantly, creates a valuable pipeline to jobs with Cirque du Soleil and other prestigious companies in North Carolina and across the country.”

Bierman and other campus leaders point to The Cirkus Theatre Project as a prototype for how the UNC School of the Arts helps create career paths for its graduates and is on the national forefront of an industry-oriented movement to better prepare students for jobs.

John Coyne, Cirkus Theatre Project director, said, “It helps fill an arts industry void for qualified professionals for organizations like Cirque du Soleil that seek employees with the skills developed in The Cirkus Theatre Project.” A significant number of UNCSA alumni, particularly from the UNCSA’s School of Design and Production, are currently employed by Cirque du Soleil.

Coyne, a Design and Production faculty member, continued: “The Cirkus Theatre Project is a unique project not just for UNCSA but for any school or university. We set up gateways for The Cirkus Theatre Project that were modeled after the process used by Cirque du Soleil. When they’re developing a new piece, Cirque du Soleil artists start at the beginning, take the piece to various points, which are equivalent of our gateways, and gather feedback at those junctures.”

The Cirkus Theatre Project and video production are made possible through the generous ongoing support of The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts and The A.J. Fletcher Foundation. 

“The Kenan Institute for the Arts supports the Cirkus Theatre Program, because it’s an innovative approach to enhancing the conservatory education,” said Corey Madden, executive director of The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts.”


The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts is a creative think-and-do tank affiliated with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts committed to promoting creative leadership and innovation in the arts through partnerships, programs, and initiatives.  For more information, visit uncsa.edu/kenan.


The mission of A.J. Fletcher Foundation is to support nonprofit organizations that enrich the lives and well-being of people in North Carolina. To achieve this, Fletcher Foundation partners with nonprofit organizations to recognize and solve social and civic problems, providing necessary resources to advance big, bold ideas. To learn more, visit ajf.org.


Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is America’s first state-supported arts school, a unique stand-alone public university of arts conservatories. With a high school component, UNCSA is a degree-granting institution that trains young people of talent in music, dance, drama, filmmaking, and design and production. Established by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, the School of the Arts opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system when it was formed in 1972. For more information, visit uncsa.edu.

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