As amusing as Claire Ness is, her commitment to the circus arts is no joke.
After spending nearly seven years training in the big smoke of Toronto and Montreal, the Whitehorse based multi-disciplinary entertainer has brought her infectious enthusiasm for the circus to Yukon.
Ness’ passion for the performing arts started early. As a wee tyke she was involved in dance, theatre and gymnastics. She spent a lot of her free time swinging from the treehouse trapeze lovingly built by her father.
Eventually deciding to pursue a career in the arts, Ness enrolled in a comedy writing and performance program at Toronto’s Humber College.
Her introduction to clowning, acrobatics and juggling came shortly afterward, when a break-dancer friend invited her to start training at a circus gym.
Despite her curiosity, Ness was hesitant.
“I remember thinking, oh man, a circus gym? I would never fit in there.”
When she finally plucked up the courage to try it out, she immediately felt at home. She hasn’t looked back since.
While Ness had to remain outside the territory to continue her circus studies at the National Circus School in Montreal, her mind was never far from the community in which she grew up.
While she admits that it was difficult to leave the big city and the chance to pursue a career with famous circus troupes such as Cirque de Soleil, Ness has a strong desire to give something back to her home community.
Enter the Yukon Circus Society.
“I felt like I needed something that was more than just me,” she explains.
“Something that would provide outreach opportunities… something that says hey, we can all do this.”
Ness started the society while still at school in Montreal. And while her clowning, singing, comedy and other related skills are in regular demand for various events throughout the Yukon, she needed the society in order to reach out to a wider audience.
“The circus is expensive,” Ness explained recently.
“Forming the [Yukon Circus] society, will allow me to have access to funding, for example, which will allow the society to offer workshops, classes, performances and appearances by guest instructors.”
Currently, Ness is the only member, but she hopes that in time others may become interested in joining.
“For now, [the society] is just there as a resource,” she said.
The immediate goal is to work to secure a space that the Society can utilize for the aforementioned events and activities. Ness hopes to work with the Heart of Riverdale Society to achieve her goal.
And despite her passion for one particular area of the circus – clowning – her plan is to have the society tackle all aspects of circus arts from the get-go.
“People need to try everything right from the beginning,” Ness insists. “It’s a really great way to discover things about yourself and have meaningful experiences.”
Hopefully those meaningful experiences can soon be shared with Whitehorse and the greater Yukon community.
Through solstice cabaret fundraisers, and potentially equinox fundraisers, as well, Ness and her supporters will continue to raise funds to make the dreams of the Yukon Circus Society a reality.
And in a place rich in culture, characters and curiosity, Ness is betting it won’t be long before there are even more people in town catching the circus bug.
Even if they just want to clown around.