The Global Search for Education: Nathan Ward on Filming the Circus of Empowerment

C. M. Rubin
4 min readDec 3, 2023

This month, audiences can screen Come One, Come All — A Circus With a Purpose on the Planet Classroom Network. This film is curated for the Planet Classroom Network by KIDS FIRST! Film Festival.

Come One, Come All — A Circus With a Purpose is directed by Nathan Ward. This captivating short documentary-style film spotlights a Colorado mountain town’s social circus, the Salida Circus School. Here, a diverse community comes together to champion social justice and cultivate positivity. We meet its remarkable members, including a military veteran and a resilient 11-year-old amputee, as the film beautifully illustrates the transformative power of “running away to join the circus.”

The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Nathan Ward.

Nathan, what inspired you to create Come One, Come All — A Circus With a Purpose, and delve into the world of the Salida Circus School?

When I first heard of the Salida Circus, years ago, I thought, “What an incredible concept for kids! A circus program in a small town. How cool”. Later my son was in some of the circus programs and learned to ride unicycles. It was really empowering for him. Later, when I was brainstorming new film ideas, I thought of the circus. It had grown and included many fun acts by both kids and adults. More importantly, I saw and wanted to highlight the life changing aspects of the circus — how it empowered people and gave them a voice, how it gave them a place in a supportive community, how it challenged them to face their fears.

Can you share a memorable moment or story from your time filming the members of the circus that had a profound impact on you?

There were many moments during the time I was making the circus film when I was impressed by the power of the circus and what it did for some young people. Of course, for the film, I tried to seek out the most interesting stories. One that stays with me is of a young woman who had lost her leg to cancer as a little girl. Kids made fun of her and called her “Peg leg” and other horrible names. However, she loved circuses and when she joined Salida Circus, she found she was able to do nearly all the things the other kids could — tumbling, aerials, juggling and more. She even created part of a comedy routine with another woman in the circus who also has only one leg. In the circus she found that losing her leg didn’t affect who she was and she turned it into a thing of power for herself.

How do you believe this film contributes to raising awareness about the positive impact of social circuses and their role in fostering community and social justice?

The goal of the film was to draw more attention to the power of social circus. The power of the circus to change lives, by helping people realize they could do more than they believed before. But, first people have to learn about social circus and what it even is. Even for me, I’d always only thought of circuses with animals, lion tamers, elephants, pony rides. Then I had the opportunity to see a Cirque de Soleil show and it completely blew my mind. That was my first exposure to a social circus. A film can raise awareness because it’s one of the best ways to spread a message and tell a story. People like to watch films and videos, and it’s the most common way people learn new things right now. I knew if I could get a film about a social circus on TV, in film festivals and online channels, more people would learn about social circus and some of those people would seek out circuses, or start circuses in their towns, and start changing lives for the better.

As a Director, what message or emotion do you hope audiences will take away after watching your film, and how do you envision it making a difference in people’s lives?

I want a couple of things from the film. First, I wanted the people in the film to watch it and like it, knowing that their hard work had been recognized. I wanted them to be proud of the film and what they, as circus performers, had accomplished. This happened. Second, I want people who watch the film to get involved in the circus — to seek out circuses in their own towns, to join the circus and learn new skills, to perform. If there is no circus near them, I’d like to see them start their own circus. It’s completely possible and The Salida Circus can provide a framework to help them do it.

Thank you, Nathan

C.M. Rubin with Nathan Ward

Don’t miss Come One, Come All — A Circus With a Purpose, now streaming on the Planet Classroom Network. This film is curated by KIDS FIRST! Film Festival for the Planet Classroom Network.