Spotlight: Come Full Circus

Whether juggling, performing magic or suspending themselves from dangling ropes, Seattleites have th
Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey

Category: Arts + Events Articles


As metaphors go, having your life compared to a circus is not necessarily what you want—take for example the fact that Britney Spears has named her comeback album Circus. It would seem much better to have life be a cabaret (old chum) or, at the very least, a zoo. But just try telling that to the 150-plus performers who make up this year’s Moisture Festival, none of whose acts include a messy divorce, a failed custody battle, repeated trips to rehab or a suddenly shaved head. The spring Seattle festival, whose shows feature eight to 10 “comedy/variété” acts per performance, is not technically a circus; producer Sandy Palmer calls it an evolution of English and French music hall productions from the early 20th century. Acts include clowns, jugglers, musicians, puppet masters, magicians, acrobats, bubble artists, strong men (and women) and a few people who have raised the phrase “defying description” to an art form. “We are helping to define what comedy/variété means in the modern world,” says Palmer. “There’s a new show every time, because of the live performance aspect. The performers play off the audience. You can’t rewind.”

While the 6-year-old Moisture Festival draws performers from around the country, Seattle has become a hub for both highly skilled performers and novices in the circus arts—whether at the perennially sold-out Teatro ZinZanni, or Cabiri, a story-telling puppet-and-pyrotechnics group, or Pyrosutra, a fire performance dance collective, or in classes at a circus school.

As Jo Montgomery, executive director of the School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (SANCA), puts it: “Some people who don’t fit into regular group sports have found that this is a creative way for them to get exercise.” The 5-year-old circus arts school in Georgetown now boasts 600 students, spanning ages 2 to 60; classes range from not very physically demanding to hard core. Montgomery, whose interest in circus arts sprang from an adult class in gymnastics she took as a way to stay in shape, is also a nurse practitioner (every trampoline school should have one). She got the idea for a school after working with low-income kids in her nursing practice and realizing that circus arts could benefit them. “Circus is not competitive,” she says, “and it offers something for all kids—fitness, self-esteem, cooperation, trust.”

In addition to tightrope, juggling, acrobatics, trampoline and aerial work, which includes static trapeze (think Moulin Rouge), rope and hoop (both of which hang from the ceiling), the school is planning to initiate a flying trapeze program, which entails building a custom-made, 100-foot-long fabric (tent-like) building nearby. Where will they find flying trapeze teachers? “On the aerialist list serve, of course,” says Montgomery.