Clara Scudder-Davis ’13
When she graduated from Lakeside in 2013, Clara Scudder-Davis thought she had the next big steps of her life planned out: in 2017, she would leave Oberlin College with a degree in public health and international politics. Now, in 2019, she is set to graduate from Quebec Circus School with a degree in the circus arts.
As an avid dancer and performer, Scudder-Davis participated in several drama productions during her time at Lakeside. As well, passionate about the outdoors, she also took a senior-year elective called Quest, where students participate in a three-week-long rafting trip. Inspired by that experience, she flirted with the idea of taking a gap year to explore her interest in outdoor education; in the end, however, she decided to go straight to Ohio’s Oberlin College.
Oberlin has a program called “Winter Term,” where students can spend a month taking a specialized class, working in an internship, or exploring an interest. After seeing a group of women practicing aerial silks and trapeze in Oberlin’s gym, Scudder-Davis decided to use her Winter Term to become certified in aerial silks, enrolling in Seattle’s School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA). “I started that program,” she said, “and was introduced to this whole world I didn’t know existed.” In order to fully explore circus at SANCA, she decided to take a gap year after all. After twelve months as a circus student, she chose to leave Oberlin and apply to circus colleges.
Several colleges around the world offer circus training, but Scudder-Davis chose to audition for two circus schools in Canada. She received admission to a four-year degree program at the Quebec Circus School. There, Scudder-Davis joined a cohort of 80 circus students (with 16 students in her year).
At the Quebec Circus School, Scudder-Davis found the language barrier difficult; she had never spoken French before moving to Quebec. But the key difference she noted between her current school and Lakeside was in values: “It’s been very interesting to leave that academic community and enter a community where people value education in a different way; they value self-expression and creativity more highly than being able to write a paper,” she said. “I’m judged on my physical capabilities rather than my intellectual capabilities.”
Life as a freelance circus artist does involve instability, but as Scudder-Davis said, “It is possible to be a circus artist and have financial security and a good, productive, engaged life.” One can do so by working with a professional company, such as Cirque du Soleil, as well as creating and performing pieces of their own. To find greater stability within her career, Scudder-Davis is also simultaneously finishing up her bachelor’s degree in public health; she hopes to use circus as a way to reduce trauma.
Circus is ideal for those who are passionate about storytelling and love working with others. The art form is also diverse: artists can join small, large, for-profit, or non-profit companies (like Clowns Without Borders, which performs at refugee camps). Even musicians can find a place in the circus. And, as Scudder-Davis said, circus is magical: “Circus has a capability to take people out of their daily lives and connect them with something bigger.”
Scudder-Davis’ positive mindset has helped her adjust her expectations after leaving Lakeside: “It’s beneficial to keep a sense of play in your life,” Scudder-Davis said. “Life is challenging, and you’re going to face challenging things. If you can laugh about them and find the adventure in taking risks, there’s a lot to be learned.”
Although it’s been a circuitous journey, Scudder-Davis wouldn’t change anything about her path to circus school: “I feel really passionate about what I’m doing, and I feel like it’s very worthwhile. I believe that circus is really beneficial for the world.”