Eric Michaels is a composer, a musician, and an avid student of the circus, with a deep passion for collaboration and the intersection of multiple art forms. The son of a classical violinist, he picked up a cello at age 8 and never looked back, later adding piano, guitar, and his current love, bass, to his repertoire. Eric studied Composition at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and took advantage of Oberlin's diverse opportunities to have his creations performed both in the Conservatory's recital halls and by the several rock bands he played in. It was at Oberlin that he first discovered the world of circus and began exploring its unique intersections with his other arts; he composed for, recorded soundtracks for, and performed in multiple shows produced by the Oberlin Circus.

In January, 2009, Eric began studying aerials at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts; he continued his study of aerials at Simply Circus in Boston (narrowing his focus to his current passion for corde lisse) after moving to Providence, Rhode Island that September to work as a performer with the circus startup Circus Theatrics. Returning to Philadelphia in March, 2010, Eric rejoined PSCA as both an aerials student and as an assistant instructor for the school’s summer camp, kids’ classes, and various introductory workshops. He is currently training as an aerials instructor and always seeking out performance opportunities.

Eric is excited to return to the crossroads of circus and music as part of The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) for the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts production of "The Green Fairy Cabaret" (along with fellow "Adaumbelle's Quest" participant Kendra Greaves) from April 14-17, weaving original music into the emotional narratives of its acts. Eric hopes in the future to continue to find such opportunities for collaboration. For much more on Eric be sure to visit

1. Who or what inspired you to become a composer? While I've been a musician for almost my entire life, it wasn't until I started paying attention to film scores as a teenager that I considered crossing the line from performer to composer. Film scores exposed me to the emotional and narrative potential of music in ways that, for whatever reason, I hadn't considered before, and I said to myself, "I want to do that.  I want to use music to tell stories. I want to make people feel." Plenty of other things have inspired me since then, but it was the work of film score composers like Jerry Goldsmith and (in his earlier works) Danny Elfman that first opened that door to composing.

2. Who is the one person in your field that you haven't worked with that you would like to?  If we're talking composers, I'd love to meet Bear McCreary (the composer for the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica television series) and pick his brain - he's got such a great ear for combining instruments and sounds in ways most people would never even conceive of. If we're talking musicians in general, the guys from Rush - of all the artists who inspire me, they seem like the ones that would be the most fun to just hang out with.

3. What excites you most about participating in PIFA? How do you decide what to compose for a festival like PIFA as opposed to a regular show? Honestly, my interests and experiences are so all over the place that I'm not sure there's such a thing as a "regular" show for me. But PIFA is very exciting to me because it has created this great atmosphere of being part of an artistic and cultural experience that's so much bigger than each individual creation. I also love that it places such an emphasis on cross-disciplinary works and collaborations, which is exactly the kind of art that turns me on anyway.

4. What attracted you to composing for the circus over traditional music? Do you have any interest in composing music for theatre, film, or television? I'm interested in all of those compositional situations, to be honest, because, as I say, I get so fired up over the intersections between art forms. As much as I love and enjoy "pure" composition of works that stand on their own, there's also a certain magic when music and another medium combine to reach an audience in a way that neither one would have done alone.

Circus, though, is a particularly fertile field for music. Partly this is because circus is so stylistically open to diverse sounds and influences, but much of it is the simple fact that, by and large, during the acts of a circus no one is talking. The story is told purely through movement and music. The fact that the music has to carry so much of the weight in conveying that narrative makes composing for the circus uniquely challenging, and thus uniquely rewarding.

5. Favorite place to practice/rehearse/compose on your own? I've got my little home studio set up very nicely these days - all of my instruments within easy reach, set up and ready to go, just waiting for me to pick them up and use them to go exploring.

6. Favorite way to spend your day off? Doing all the things I wish I had more time for on other days.  Sleeping in. Going for a really good, long run outside in the sun. Cooking myself a really delicious dinner.


7. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Oh, there's someone, but she probably wouldn't like me to talk about it.

This interview is brought to you with the support of PIFA (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts). If you liked the interview above and want to help ensure that PIFA becomes an annual event please Like their Facebook Page and Follow them on Twitter!

Mary Kelly Rayel

Alex Brightman