For the last 20 years, Mary Kelly Rayel has been performing and instructing Circus skills and aerial acrobatics. Mary Kelly graduated from Ithaca College with a B.A. in Theater. Having been fascinated with Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Clown College as a youth, she decided to apply. She was one of 8 women and 31 men to be accepted that year for the class of 1990. This experience was life changing, starting a lifelong career with Circus arts. Mary Kelly toured for two years with Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus performing on the Flying Trapeze. With other aerial acrobatic acts, she has performed in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and all over the southern US.

Prior to touring with Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, Mary Kelly worked for Club Med for three years as a Circus instructor, eventually becoming the second female Chief of Circus. In addition to teaching Flying Trapeze to adults, she put on full circus shows with 200+ kids during peak times. The belief that regular people can learn and enjoy Circus skills was at the core of the program there, helping to shape the programs of today. 

In 1998, Mary Kelly moved back to her native Bucks Co., PA home where she began teaching gymnastics, from Preschool to coaching the Competitive Team. She continued to teach Flying Trapeze for various camps, events, and organizations. In 2008, Fly School Circus Arts worked with Cirque Du Jour to bring Flying Trapeze to Camp Quality, a nationally recognized Oncology camp, in Arkansas. In 2009 and 2010, Circus Arts Camp in Westchester, NY included Fly School Circus Arts in their intensive Aerial Week. Mary Kelly continues to teach and perform during the year both with Fly School Circus Arts and Philadelphia School of Circus Arts (PSCA).

From April 7-May 1, Mary Kelly's Fly School Circus Arts (in partnership with Philadelphia School of Circus Arts) will be participating in the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) in Fly City: A Circus Arts Movement, teaching flying trapeze four times a day at 9am, 11:30am, 4:30pm, and 7pm to kids ages 6 and up and adults who weigh under 250lbs. Now is the time to take to the sky with trained professionals in a safe, encouraging, and fun environment! For more information on this joint venture event, please visit the dedicated website

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I grew up in a show business family. My Dad was a TV Producer and my Mom was an actress. My whole young life was spent going to shows with my parents, auditions with my Mom. They took us to the Circus regularly, I always loved it! I was also an athlete my whole life so Circus work was the perfect mix of Theater and Athletics.

2. Who is the one person in your field that you haven't worked with that you would to? Bill Irwin. He's a genius. :)

3. What made you start Fly School Circus and how did you come up with the company's philosophy? I really love Circus Arts, especially Flying Trapeze, and how they truly empower people. Whether you spin a plate, juggle two scarves, or do a somersault to the net, everyone gets something out of their experience. We watch Circus performers of a high level and they amaze us with seemingly super human abilities. My philosophy is that even the smallest accomplishment, the tiniest step, is important and can make you feel like you've conquered the world!

4. What excites you most about PIFA? How do you decide what to perform for a festival like PIFA as opposed to a season show? I'm excited to bring Flying Trapeze to Philadelphia! I grew up in Bucks County and being able to bring what I do to my home area is fantastic! At the moment, we are offering classes in flying trapeze--but keep visiting Fly City and looking up! You might see some surprise performances during the month.

5. What's the best advice you've ever received? To not be afraid of failure. The world doesn't end, and you usually end up learning something really valuable.

6. Favorite way to spend your day off? Visiting with friends, eating good food, usually in my favorite place, my backyard!


7. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? That's a toughie. Don't know the answer to that.

8. What was it like to be part of Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus? What did that experience do you for you both professionally and personally? It's an experience like no other. It's a lot of hard work, but it's a great show to be on. If you want to be a performer, there you are doing it, every day, three shows a day sometimes. It was terrific to see the country while doing what I love. It connects you to a whole world of wonderful performers who you sometimes work with again and again. My Circus "Family" is a part of my life every day!

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!

Bob Stillman

Eric Michaels