Trenton-Based Circus Spurs Social Change

Young performers are dedicated to creating a brighter future—one hop, aerial and flip at a time.

The Trenton Circus Company Performs in Asbury Park. Courtesy of Steve Sarafian

The Trenton Circus Squad (TCS) is dedicated to creating a brighter future—one hop, aerial and flip at a time. The young performers in the group bond and form friendships as they master skills including juggling, dance and acrobatics.

When a teenage Thomas Von Oehsen “ran away to the circus” years ago, social change wasn’t necessarily his primary goal. A graduate of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, he started TCS, then known as Clown Academy, in 2015. Over time, the organization evolved into a civic-service project—what Von Oehsen calls a social circus, using circus arts to ignite change. Today, the group has more than 60 young participants, including a paid road squad, a group of seven advanced students who travel New Jersey showcasing their skills for schools, camps and other groups.

The squad recruits students aged 5–18 from Princeton, Camden, Newark and Trenton, with an eye toward members from diverse backgrounds. “These kids are a family,” says Von Oehsen.

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The nonprofit depends on donations and grants, and participation is free. Meetings are held weekday afternoons year-round at the flagship club in Trenton. Coaches and volunteers facilitate the classes; some of the coaches are members of the original 2015 squad. “It’s nice to have a community outside of school with shared values,” says Helen Amon, 16, a squad member from Princeton.

For summer 2022, TCS plans to erect a massive tent in Asbury Park for road-squad performances.

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