Emily Price is a senior studying Creative Writing with minors in Theatre and German at Arizona State University. This summer she went on PAA’s Circus Arts (Theater) in Costa Rica program where she had the time of her life learning Spanish…and…
Share your dance, theatre, or circus expertise by volunteering with a circus arts group that helps empower a community in San Isidro in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone. Specializing in areas such as acrobatics, mime, dance, juggling, and balancing, this group works with at-risk teenagers and foreign volunteers, mostly from Europe. As you contribute your own skills, you will give the group a great resource and a new energy. You will also develop your craft under their expert guidance and gain an exceptional understanding of Costa Rican performing arts and culture. Volunteer placement requires at least ten hours a week for a minimum of one week.
“As an Arts Educator, the Circus Arts program in Costa Rica provided me with a great professional development opportunity. I was given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to infuse my art with teaching and learning experiences in a beautiful new setting, at once exciting and challenging. My understanding of arts Education has been broadened by my amazing experiences in Costa Rica, and will undoubtedly inform my future arts projects and teaching practice in many ways.”
Performing Arts Points of Interest
Teatro Eugene O'Neill
The Teatro Eugene O’Neill is a product of the Costa Rican Cultural Center of North America whose mission is to increase opportunities for Costa Ricans to learn English. The theatre offers a diverse spread of performing arts performances and events including the Promising Artists of the 21st Century event.
The Little Theatre Group
The Little Theatre Group is the longest running, English-speaking amateur theatre group in Central and South America. They frequently perform at the Teatro Laurence Olivier or are requested for private dinner theatre performances. The group uses their headquarters in Escazu for small performances, play readings, movie nights, workshops, and open mic events.
Mirador Ram Luna
Many restaurants have dance and musical performances most nights of the week in San José. Your first stop should be the restaurant Mirador Ram Luna where you can experience traditional Costa Rican dishes while overlooking the city. Some performances even include an interactive masquerade with the performers!
Step Up Dance Studio
The dance style the cumbia which originated in Colombia is popular in Costa Rica now with a special twist. San José has many dance studios including Step Up Dance Studio in the Guayabos neighborhood of San José.
National Theatre of Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica, or El Teatro Nacional, is located in the heart of San José and houses plays, music, and dance performances year-round. The National Theatre opened in October of 1897 and is a historical site for the country of Costa Rica. National and international artists alike perform at the theatre throughout the year. MimoNólogo, a pantomime influenced performance, won the National Prize of Culture of Best Performance of the year in 2015. Evening and afternoon, or “mediodía,” performances are available.
National Theatre of Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica, or El Teatro Nacional, is located in the heart of San José and houses plays, music, and dance performances year-round. The National Theatre opened in October of 1897 and is a historical site for the country of Costa Rica. National and international artists alike perform at the theatre year-round. Performances include works of Shakespeare to Chilean playwrights. Evening and afternoon, or “mediodía,” performances are available.
PAA Home Base
Your home base during your time in San Isidro will be the headquarters of Circo Fantazztico. This colorful building is full of hula hoops, aerial silks, and other odds and ends that the circus group uses for their outreach programming and weekend trainings. Most outings, meetings, and other gatherings will begin here.
About the Location
Experience the diverse culture of one of Central America’s most interesting and thrilling destinations. Costa Rica’s arts scene infuses every aspect of the country, from the influence of Afro-Caribbean rhythms to pre-Columbian dances to traditionally Spanish music. Theater, opera, ballet, and classical music are flourishing in the cultural center of San José, home to the National Theater, National Dance Workshop, and National Symphony Orchestra. On the country’s Caribbean coast, music and dance are an integral part of everyday life, with calypso and reggae, a maypole dance called the cuadrille, and an annual music festival. Outside of the realm of performing arts, this breathtaking destination leaves no shortage of activities to satisfy your appetite for delicious food, thrilling adventure, or unique activities. Enjoy the views that make up the Southern Zone, with its banana trees and mist-filled mountains, and reside near some of Costa Rica’s most beautiful national parks. You will be hours away from cloud forests, beaches, and rainforests in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world.
Complete your experience of Costa Rican culture and the Spanish language by living with a host family. We work with dozens of families in San Jose and San Isidro, all of whom are carefully vetted based on interviews, background checks, family income level, safety of the area where they live, and previous experience hosting international visitors. Most of our homestay families have been hosting volunteers for more than ten years. During your stay, you will be provided with three meals a day and laundry service. Many of our participants form close bonds with their host families and keep in touch for many years beyond the program!
Most of our volunteers have their own private room during the program unless you are traveling with a friend or family member and request to stay in the same room. In the case of shared rooms, your roommate will be another participant of the same sex around the same age. During the spring and fall seasons, we have a small handful of participants on our volunteer programs in San Jose who join several dozen other volunteers and Spanish language students with our local partner organization. In San Isidro, it is common for there to be only one volunteer at a time, although you will be joining a group of European volunteers who are often there for a year or more at a time. During the summers, we sometimes have ten or more PAA volunteers on the program at one time in San Jose, joining over a hundred other volunteers and Spanish language students pursuing similar projects. During this time, we may have a small handful of PAA volunteers in San Isidro working with the circus and the European volunteers who help run it.
A Day in the Life
The Participant Experience
The moment you step off the plane, the “pura vida” lifestyle of Costa Rica will wash over you. The pace of life will immediately slow down, and worrying about the little things will cease. You will find more time to forge meaningful relationships with the people you meet, and will place more importance on the communal nature of meals. Our onsite staff will be there to greet you at the airport and help you adjust to this way of life that is often quite different for those of us accustomed to a constant hustle bustle. The modern streets and urban lifestyle of San Jose in your first week will give way to a slower, small-town feel in the agricultural town of San Isidro. Along with a change of scenery will come a change in economic status, and you will begin to notice signs of poverty, and the impetus for the important work you will be doing to address social issues through the arts. You may come to Costa Rica hoping to change the lives of those you encounter, but you will quickly find that it is you who are changing, and we hope you will use that transformation to improve your own community when you return home.
You will book a flight to arrive in San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) on a Sunday and will be greeted at the airport by a driver who holds a sign with your name and the PAA logo on it. The driver will take you to your homestay in San Jose, where you will spend the remainder of the day meeting your homestay family for the first week, unpacking, settling in, and exploring the neighborhood you will call home.
On Monday, someone from your homestay family will take you to our headquarters at a renowned language school where you will take a quick oral Spanish placement exam to determine your level. You will then have your first Spanish class with a small group of others at your level who have arrived on the same day. After your class, you will eat lunch, then attend an orientation about Costa Rica cultural norms and customs, the city of San Jose, health and safety, and basic instructions like where to find the nearest coffee shop and ATM.
Following your orientation, you will have the option to begin a volunteer project for your first week in San Jose, or wait until you travel to San Isidro that upcoming weekend (you will indicate this preference on an enrollment form once you have been accepted). If you choose to volunteer in San Jose, one of our volunteer coordinators will accompany you on your first day to introduce you to your supervisor and make sure you know how to travel between your homestay, our headquarters at the language school, and your placement. You will make a plan for your volunteer hours, and discuss the nature of your volunteering and specific needs of the placement for that week.
A Typical Day
After your first few days, the typical day will include: waking up and having breakfast with your host family, going to the language school for Spanish classes (first week only unless you choose to continue for an extra $175/wk), volunteering at your placement, and enjoying free Latin dance and Costa Rican cooking classes at our headquarters. In the evening you are free to do what you please: see the sights, bond with your host family, hang out with other volunteers, explore San Jose, etc. Many volunteers travel on the weekends to enjoy the many rainforests, tropical beaches, and laid back towns Costa Rica has to offer.
The Saturday after your arrival (unless you choose to remain in San Jose for extra week(s) to continue your Spanish courses), our staff will help you book a bus to San Isidro, which is a 4-5 hour ride. When you arrive, your homestay host will greet you at the bus station and take you to the home where you will be staying during your time working with the circus. That evening, you will enjoy a nice meal with your host family at a restaurant overlooking one of the largest mountains in the area and a beautiful valley.
The following day you will meet the circus group and begin learning about their current activities and the various ways you can be involved with their outreach efforts. This is a great time to express your goals for the program, and any desire you have to train with the core group when possible. For your remaining time, you will travel with the group to schools, orphanages, and community programs throughout the week to bring the arts to young people in marginalized communities and situations. When available, you will also train in the circus arts using the circus’s training facilities, which include Aerial Silks, Trapeze bar, Balls and pins for juggling, Pole for acrobats (6 meters high), Rings, Diabolos (Chinese tops), and Mattresses.
Create a difference in the lives of at-risk teens by helping them work on specific performance skills and build self-confidence. Located in the Southern zone of Costa Rica, this project was created for youth in low-income areas to help them reach their full potential. New awareness and spaces for artistic expression are being created in Costa Rica for children in vulnerable conditions, which present great opportunities for volunteering. You will work with approximately 20 teenagers teaching skills such as acrobatics, juggling, dance, and mime with local and other foreign volunteers. Every hour that these teens spend learning circus arts is an hour they are involved in a positive, structured activity that empowers them and builds their self-esteem.
Founder and Executive Director
Reynolds graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008 with a degree in Theater and African and African American Studies. For an honors thesis Reynolds filmed, edited, and produced a full-length documentary in Kenya with Haba na Haba, a group using performance for education and social change in the slums of Nairobi. This project earned him the Forum on Education Abroad Undergraduate Research Award. A year later, Reynolds organized a trip to bring Haba na Haba to the United States for a tour of St. Louis and Washington University. Immediately after graduation, Reynolds worked in Rwanda as a filmmaker for Millennium Congregations, an interfaith organization connecting communities of faith in the United States with development projects in Rwanda’s Bugesera District. Reynolds then served two years with Teach for America, teaching in the South Bronx and receiving a Masters Degree in Education from Hunter College. He completed a second graduate degree in African Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington, and his Masters thesis focused on the impact of donors on the creative process of Theatre for Development (TfD) groups in Kenya.
Reynolds has traveled extensively in Africa, spending time in Ghana, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He also studied acting, voice, and movement at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Reynolds is a two-time Rhodes Scholarship finalist, the inaugural recipient of the Dred and Harriet Scott Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the winner of two research fellowships. He was also a Dialogue Fellow for the Xenia Institute, has twice served as the co-director for the Roosevelt Institution’s International Diplomacy Center (Washington University branch), and was president of the Graduate Students of African Studies (GSAS) at Indiana University.
Reynolds lives in Northampton, MA with his wife Julia who is a professional costume designer and his daughter Lily who is a cute baby. In his free time Reynolds likes to play his guitar, go hiking, act in local productions, hit the karaoke bars, sing with his dog Captain (the best doggy singer in the universe), and play various yard games such as KanJam, cornhole, “cups”, and Kubb.
Costa Rica Site Director
Cristina supports all participants on all of our Costa Rica programs. She oversees a team that coordinates airport pickup, arranges housing by vetting homestay families and building relationships, leads cultural excursions, delivers top-notch Spanish-language instruction, and manages the 24-hour onsite emergency phone.
Cristina Soto, director of CRLA, (Costa Rican Language Academy) co-founded this language school, which combines Spanish instruction with Latin Dance classes and other cultural activities in order to provide students with a complete cultural immersion.
Since 1986 she has been fulfilling her passion by working with more than 25,000 students from all over the world. She has also worked for many years as a volunteer in homes for abandoned children and other social projects. This work touched her own life when she adopted two children from a local home.
Cristina believes in the importance of volunteering, not only as a way to improve the lives of others who are less fortunate, but as a valuable and rewarding experience for the volunteer. During the past 15 years CRLA has also incorporated a volunteering program to provide support to more than 40 social and ecological projects throughout Costa Rica.
While studying Social Sciences in the University of Costa Rica Cristina received training in classical ballet and modern dance. Although her career is now focused on education and volunteer programs, she is still passionate about the arts and sponsors various artists in dance, music and plastic arts.
Costa Rica Program Director, San Isidro circus
Roland is the founder of the circus in San Isidro where our participants volunteer. He coordinates their welcome to the town of San Isidro, manages the schedule of the circus, sets up performances and special events, and maintains relationships with community centers and other sites where the circus conducts outreach activities.
Roland Spendlingwimmer, born in Austria 1946, has been living in Costa Rica since 1980. He is one of the founders of the European Cooperative for refugees “Longo Mai” in Costa Rica, and is a proud member of the Asociation VIDA NUEVA. Since 1996, he has been working with underprivileged children in San Isidro de El General, where he started PAA’s partner project CIRCO FANTAZZTICO in 2001.
“I went to Costa Rica with the intention of teaching, and I came home having learned so much. By teaching Theatre to local youth, I was able to expand and share my love of the arts, all while experiencing a new, exciting culture. My experience with PAA is something that I will carry with me in both my personal and professional life for years to come.”
“I had one of the most amazing experiences in Costa Rica! It can take you 2 to 3 weeks to get used to it, but after that you just wish you could stay longer and longer! I would recommend this program to anyone really, even those who think they are not skilled enough to teach. The volunteers make you feel very welcomed and part of a team straight away, you feel fully supported and active everyday. It was an honor for me to be in schools, foster carers and local centers teaching children and teenagers circus techniques, but the best of it is what they teach you and offer you. They are lovely, caring, and I made beautiful connections with these kids.”
“I had a wonderful experience in Costa Rica. The people I met had an incredible impact, as did the culture. After being there I feel like I’ve matured and learned about myself. It made me really want to travel and experience different cultures. I loved experiencing how the arts can be used to make a difference. Overall it was truly a life changing experience.”
From the blog
A few weeks ago one of PAA’s dance volunteers from Canada, Tiana Prince, returned from our Circus Arts program in Costa Rica. She says: “As an Arts Educator, the Circus Arts program in Costa Rica provided me with a great…
Here at Performing Arts Abroad (PAA) we are so proud and excited to send individuals and groups on unique and fulfilling international performing arts programs around the world. Whether on trips for study abroad, internships, volunteering, or career workshops, PAA…
How it Works
The information on this page provides details for a sample group program. Note that every group is different, and we will work with you to cater the experience to your group. To connect with us and begin organizing a program for your group, please follow the “Get Started’ button below and submit an initial questionnaire. We will then contact you to set up a discovery call where we can go into more detail about your group’s needs and what we can offer.