“A Day in the Life” with Toronto-based Multidisciplinary Artist Emily Hughes

When people think of circus in Canada, Toronto is not the first city that comes to mind. With a fraction of the resources of Montreal, circus in Toronto exists because of the tireless work of a few intrepid artists, creating something beautiful out of very little. Many in the city would consider Emily Hughes on that list. Starting as a shy kid enlisted at the Harbourfront Circus Camp, Emily pursued her circus dream, specializing in aerial Silks, and performing around the world wherever the ceiling height allowed (sometimes foregoing a ceiling altogether and hanging from a giant helium balloon or tall ship rigging instead). But daring skills have never been the end goal for Emily. A degree in theatre from TMU, and a stint at The Clown Farm on Manitoulin Island have added fuel to Emily’s passion to bring immersive storytelling to everything she does. In 2009 Emily founded Hercinia Arts Collective, which became a long-standing hub of circus creativity- from their classes for all skill levels to their regular Art Parties providing a much-needed space for artists to develop new (and importantly, weird) work. Today Emily continues developing original multidisciplinary work, culminating in her recent full-length solo show “Goodbye Esther”. Combining art installation, clown, animation projection and breathtaking aerial dance, “Goodbye Esther” played to sold-out audiences in its run at The Playground in November 2023.

-Written by Evan DeRushie

Emily Hughes
At a vertical dance workshop with Diana Lopez Soto at Studio Flux in Toronto
Emily Hughes
Lomo image taken by me while leading the choreographic process for The Chaos Project Part I – featuring artists Isadora Bello, Laura Lawless, Erika Lui, Vanita Butrsingkorn, Taranee Ponjani & Athena Lamarre
With Nicole Malbeuf chatting mid-rehearsal for Construction Guys in Peterborough. Photo by: co-creator Vanita Butrsingkorn
Performing as a clown in Bloom with AP Events at Artists’ Play Dance & Circus. Photo by: Evan DeRushie
Filming and taking notes while watching dress rehearsal as director for The Enchanted Forest for Hercinia Arts in Flagstaff Park, featuring artists Edio Silvio, Kirsten Edwards, Vanita Butrsingkorn, Zita Nyarady, Valerie Cheng. Photo by: Dawn Dreams
Setting up in The Playground for Goodbye Esther. Photo by: Vanita Butrsingkorn
Emily Hughes
Backstage doing make-up for Goodbye Esther. Photo by Evan DeRushie
In performance for Goodbye Esther. Photo by: Lyon Smith


Which ’hood are you in?

East Bayfront. It’s a new, developing neighbourhood and a bit weird. I feel equally grateful to live so close to the water and downtown with easy access to so much of the city, and also out of place in a neighbourhood that’s dominated by luxury condos while I am in affordable artist housing. But it’s also interesting to live in a place with so many dichotomies and I love being able to walk to the St Lawrence Market.

I also spend a lot of time further east in Leslieville/Riverdale where the circus spaces I train at are.

What do you do?

I consider myself a multidisciplinary-circus-theatre artist, which means my practice is equal parts athletic training, creative dreaming and administration. I tend to spend my mornings training my circus technique (mostly aerial arts and handstands) and my afternoons rehearsing or dreaming up the next project, which includes grant writing and administrative planning. My creative process revolves around my training in Pochinko Clown and works from a sort of dream space which then manifests into images, drawings, writing and choreography. In addition to my personal projects I’m also the co-director of Hercinia Arts Collective, a contemporary circus company that mostly creates public spaces, so there’s always lots of dreaming and admin to do towards those larger projects as well.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished a run of my solo circus-theatre show Goodbye Esther, which was about 4 years in the making, and contemplating whether the show has touring potential. In the aftermath of that, I’m mostly dreaming of explorations of mushroom clowns – I have ideas about an immersive circus-theatre installation with these mushroom guys as the guides. It’s somewhat related to explorations I’ve been doing for the past few years around the handstand body as a tree. So we’ll see if that manifests and if maybe those ideas will blend in some way.

With my company, Hercinia, we are also in the midst of development of a larger offering, The Chaos Project, directed by Kirsten Edwards, which I’m helping to produce as well as acting as choreographic lead for one of the three sections.

Where can we find your work?

We’re in that downtime of winter right now where I’m waiting to see what 2024 will bring! My regular collaborations include performing with AP Events as a clown in their all-ages circus productions, and with Femmes du Feu Creations in their early years of circus-theatre shows. You can also find archives of some of my past work, including several film projects, on my website and check for updates on anything upcoming there on the calendar, or on my Instagram.


About Joel Levy 2550 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography