Monday, June 19, 2017

America's Community Circuses to Have Their Day in the Nation’s Capital

Thank you, Smithsonian for your upcoming Folklife Festival.  In particular, the impressive calendar of  circus shows to be given by various student-oriented troupes.

Finally, I have gotten my arms around a movement that has been in the works for many years, a movement I have only paid passing attention to  — a burgeoning number of smaller circuses based in local communities, often connected to a high school or college, that provide an outlet for the young wishing to experiment with circus arts

Most of these groups will be giving shows at the Festival, from June 29 through July 9.

Although most of them are student-oriented, not all fit this category.  Some include adults and some, the occasional guest professional act.  I would not be inclined to call them fringe, or experimental, or alternative, or even youth. All somewhat constricting. Here is my own new classification, which I am adding to the list of label categories on the sidebar:  Community Circus

How does that sound?  All-inclusive?  They are not commercial circuses.  They do not go out on annual extended tours.  They feature the talents of younger performers, most of whom, far as I know, will never go on to pursue professional circus, and may have never harbored such dreams in the first place.

I am thinking of how they operate like community theatre, although most community theatres sustain longer seasons, and present productions that come close to regional.  I have seen talents in community theatre that I could see playing the parts on Broadway.  But acting, I would argue, is far easier to master than the dexterity of fine jugging, acrobatics or aerial work.  

I am thinking of the Gainesville Community Circus, that, according to the Texas State Historical Association, “began as a project of the Gainesville Little Theatre in May 1930. Bingo!  Its name makes perfect sense.

Here are the shows appearing at the festival, all presenting performances, and some demonstrations a well

Sailor Circus
Wenatchee Youth Circus
Circus Bella (from my own neighborhood -- Go, Bella!)
Circus Juventas
Circus Smirkus
Happenstance Theater Theatrical Circus
Circus Harmony
Make A Circus
Bindlestiff Family Circus
Cirque des Voixx

UniverSoul Circus


What does not make sense is the inclusion of UniverSoul Circus on the bill.  This is  clearly a commercial circus, even with any funding it may raise on the side.   Big Apple Circus technically is – or was — a non-profit, as is Circus Vargas.  But who would argue for any of these three shows belong in the  “community” class?

Is there a future for community circus?  Why not?  They rely on local funding, and have strong support from the communities they serve.   I imagine that most of the performers serve on a volunteer basis, that audiences are naturally tolerant and forgiving, given the student factor in play.

But even they have been known to face hard times.   Word is out that Circus Flora, is reportedly hurting for money, its future in doubt.

This Smithsonian Festival marks a milestone for our community circuses.

Long may they prosper!

Photos, from the top

Circus Harmony
Wenatchee Youth Circus 
Circus Jeventas
Circus Smirkus
Bindlestiff Family Circus
Sailor Circus
   Circus Bella     

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