Montreal·Video

'I'm not a misfit anymore': How marginalized youth are finding themselves through circus

As hundreds of people filed into Montreal's Tohu theatre to watch Cirkaskina, young performers huddled nervously backstage, speaking in excited whispers. Just a few weeks ago, many of these young people were homeless and living with addiction, but tonight they are circus artists.

Montreal organization Cirque Hors Piste co-creates Cirkaskina with 150 youth from across Canada

150 youth from across Canada come together to co-create Cirkaskina in Montreal. 3:04

As hundreds of people filed into Montreal's Tohu theatre on a winter evening, young performers huddled nervously backstage, speaking in excited whispers as they waited for the opening of Cirkaskina. 

Just a few weeks ago, many of the participants were living on the margins of society — some were homeless, others were living with addiction and mental health issues. But through circus, they've found hope. 

Cirkaskina is the first national social circus gathering in Canada. Put together by the Montreal-based organization Cirque Hors Piste, the event teams up social workers and circus artists with marginalized youth from across the country. They participate in a series of workshops, classes, and a public performance. 

But the ultimate goal of social circus is not to necessarily train professional artists. The concept is that the team-oriented culture of circus and its emphasis on embracing diversity can help young people learn life skills, and build trust. 

Cirkaskina is the culmination of 150 young people from 17 different communities across Canada working together to dream up their own performance. 

"We use circus as a tool to create a relationship with them and to give them a safe space where they can be themselves," said Karine Lavoie, the director of Cirque Hors Piste.

She said the tight-knit circus community is like a family, and it can provide struggling youth with the support and structure they need.

"I think it's just making sure that they can dream again. They can hope. They can become who they want to become," Lavoie said. 

Participants in Cirkaskina rehearse at Montreal's Tohu theatre. The idea of social circus is teach life skills and create a safe space where people can be themselves. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)
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