What's a groundbreaking ceremony without a flaming shovel?

A groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a new cohousing development featured an unusual amount of juggling an acrobatics. 

City and Madison Circus Space officials broke ground on the construction site for a development that will include artist studio space and a circus training facility next door. The event featured stilt walkers, jugglers, a drum band, aerialists, a German wheel and of course, a flaming shovel balanced atop a man's face. There were no clowns present.

Located at Winnebago Street and Sutherland Court, the building site was formerly the home of Winnebago Studios and Madison Circus Space and will soon be the site of mixed-income housing, all of which will be owner-occupied.  

Stephanie Richards, director of development for Madison Circus Space and an aerialist, who spoke before a well-entertained crowd, said the project represents the worlds first housing, artists studio and circus training facility. She said MCS is the largest community of circus performers in Wisconsin and declared that the construction of the modern training facility would help cater to a growing interest in circus performing arts.

She said in addition to housing a number of competitive teams including the largest competitive German Wheel team outside of Germany, everyone at the MCS passionate about what they do.

"Why circus? Becuase it is irresistible, it speaks to the senses and becomes the substance of dreams," Richards said. "It reminds us of our common bonds as people, circus comes from the human spirit rather than the intellect."

Though groundbreaking has commenced, Richards said they are only half way to their $1 million capital campaign to fund their new training facility, but believes they will raise the remaining funds relatively soon. 

Josh Casey, juggler, comedian and co-founder of Madison circus, space who emceed the event, said there would also be an effort to found an artists collective to jointly lease the nine studio spaces which will be included in the development.  

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Mayor Paul Soglin lauded the project as yet another example of his commitment to affordable housing, pointing out the 11 permanently affordable housing units out of 45. The groundbreaking commenced with two jugglers juggling around a bemused Soglin. Casey ended the groundbreaking ceremony by balancing a flaming shovel on his head to kick off performances by aerialists, jugglers and a German wheel acrobat. 

Richards, who's been aerialist for eight years, said Madison's circus community is unique because it operates as a sort of hybrid between more traditional traveling circuses and more modern acts such as Cirque du Soleil. She said the MCS accepts individuals from all skill levels to train and learn circus arts. 

For those considering running away to join the circus, Richards has good news.

"You don't have to run very far to join the circus," Richards said.

Correction: A previous version of this story said there were rental units in the development.

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