Germantown circus school founders have high hopes for new space

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This fall, the couple behind the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts will launch Circadium, a brand-new training program for students who want to go pro.

The intensive, three-year curriculum is set. The staff has been hired. But one, pretty important detail remains: Where all this will take place? The old factory space they currently rent in Germantown just isn’t big enough anymore.

“We now have enough going on that we need a larger facility,” said co-founder Shana Kennedy.

The location question has stumped her and her husband for more than a year now.

Money is one reason. The Kennedys have just $1 million to purchase, renovate and retrofit.

They also have pretty specific needs. Circadium will offer contemporary-style classes teaching an array of skills, including those of the aerial and acrobatic varieties. But it’ll be just one piece of the new location. The space will continue to offer recreational classes for adults and children. Kennedy needs office space too.

To fit all that, they want a space that’s at least 20,000 square feet. And, of course, it needs to have high ceilings, 30 to 40 feet high if possible.

“People will tell us they have buildings with high ceilings and they mean 12-foot ceilings. They don’t really know what high ceilings mean to an aerialist,” said Kennedy.

On more than one occasion, Kennedy and her husband have jumped in their car and tooled around the city in search of a potential space, then brought a list to their real estate broker to research.

They’ve seriously looked at more than a dozen buildings — vacant warehouses, schools and municipal buildings. Even churches. Kennedy would love to move into New Covenant Baptist Church on Wayne Avenue, a short drive from the current school.

“Churches so far are the best fit for us because of the ceiling height, but also because of the architecture. They’re really beautiful spaces. They have a lot of character to them. That’s important to us as artists,” Kennedy said. “We want to have a space that’s beautiful and exciting to walk into.”

Kennedy said a lot of potential properties simply aren’t on the market. Others aren’t listed, making it hard to track down any information on them. The couple has also run into landlords not interested in selling, though not because the Kennedys want to use it for a circus school.

“Circus people back in the ’90s and early 2000s were kind of seen as underclass gypsies, but there’s been a major shift in Philly and the whole country in recent years where circus is becoming more visible and people are seeing it as an exciting thing. So we no longer get people who are afraid of us,” said Kennedy.

Ideally, the Kennedys would keep the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts and Circadium, which will operate as a nonprofit, in Germantown. The couple lives in the neighborhood and first started teaching circus classes out of their house. But it’s not a deal-breaker to go elsewhere.

“If there’s some place that has a better fit for us, I’m sure we can be adaptable. Circus people are very adaptable,” said Kennedy.

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