The Amazing American Circus Game Review

By Emily Fulton

The Amazing American Circus game is a video game about YOU inheriting your father’s Big Top circus. You then perform shows, compete in circus contests, capture bad guys, and do all the other interesting things you do in a virtual circus world. It’s awesome and fun and surprising and exciting. I think it definitely fills a void that has needed filling for a long time in the youth circus community. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I enjoyed reviewing it!

Would I recommend this game to another youth circus artist: Yes! 100%!

My overall rating: 9/10

My age rating: 13 and up (because of mild language and other thematic elements not appropriate for children)

It took me a while to really master this game, but it was super fun once I got the hang of it! I am guessing it took me so long to figure it out because I don’t really play video games, but it would probably be easier to learn for those of you that do. I love being able to complete challenges and perform shows. It is also really fun to have my artists perform tricks in their shows that I can perform in my real-life shows. I had way too much fun writing and “researching” for this review! I am sure I will be wasting lots of time playing the Amazing American Circus this fall!

Nitty-Gritty “Boring” Technical Info:

The Amazing American Circus was developed jointly by Klabater Sa and Juggler Games and was just released on September 16th. It is available on Steam, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. I played the Steam version, so that is what my review is based on, but I know the other versions are very similar if not identical. It normally costs $19.99 to purchase, but they are running a 10% off sale on the Steam version right now. The sale continues until September 23, allowing you to buy it for only $17.99. You can also purchase the more expensive Ringmaster’s Edition of the game, or the Circus Symphony or Ringmaster’s Essentials for additional fees to add more fun goodies to your gameplay!

My Favorite Bits:

Honestly, my favorite part of the game was not actually the performing. What I liked best was hiring new artists and preparing food for them, and especially catching bandits! I especially enjoyed when I could hire an aerial hoop artist, just like me! This game is about way more than just performing, it is also about all of the other hard work that goes into putting a show on the road, and I absolutely love that they have included those aspects. And no, I am sure it is not actually this easy, or fun, to run a circus, but it is definitely fun to pretend 🙂

It is obvious that its creators spent countless hours pouring over all of the little details in this game, and it definitely shows! There are so many fun places to explore and activities to complete. In the few hours I have spent playing the game so far, I know I still have many, many more places to explore, and I can’t wait to explore them!

My Not-So-Favorite Bits:

Obviously, this is just a game, so lots of stuff happens here that would never happen in real life. Like I am definitely not planning to travel 100s of miles to catch a runaway gangster, but I will happily do it in this virtual world. Also, I have never encountered an audience as rowdy as the ones I have entertained in this game, but this is not real life! I think having to work really hard to impress the audience just adds to the experience.

I think this is just a me thing, but I found it difficult to figure out how to play the cards. I think I have figured it out now, though, so far so good!

Also, language is definitely something you should be aware of before you buy this game, but it was personally not a big problem for me. There are also some other thematic elements that are definitely not appropriate for children, but I personally feel that most teens would be fine with them. If you are at all concerned about any of this, I would definitely suggest talking to a parent or other trusted adult before purchasing.

Below is a quick overview of how the game works (with pictures!)

First, you get to design your character. I chose to keep it simple and use a picture of myself for the avatar and my name as my character’s name, but you could also be way more creative and name your character whatever you want!

Then you are taken to your first performance location. There are all different interesting places you can visit here, like the Recruitment Wagon (where you can hire new performers) and the Training Wagon (where you can “train,” or level up your artists), the Cookhouse Wagon (where you buy and prepare food for your circus troupe) and many more fun wagons and tents. Depending on the city, you can even have conversations with visitors which often result in fun challenges that, if completed, earn you rewards. When you are ready to start your performance, head into the Big Top to get the show started.

Now you design your show poster. You get to pick three artists to perform in each show, one or two “Misfits” (depending on the location), and a Finale act.

Then you have to take care of the “business” side of things by arranging for the show’s promotions (parades, posters, and advertisements) and revenue expectations. After that is taken care of, you are ready to really get started!

You start out with a few audience members standing up with full green bars below them. The goal is to make each green bar go to zero, effectively forcing the audience member to sit down. You complete this by playing cards to “impress” the audience, cards to keep the artists focused while they are performing, and other cards to perform specific tasks.

When no audience members are left standing, you have completed a successful show! Then you get to collect the revenue earned from the show and add that to your overall balance that you can use to buy food, supplies, and other necessary items.

You can have dialogue with visitors, Uncle Jack, or other interesting people you meet!

This is the Cookhouse Wagon, where you buy and prepare food for your performers! You can make fancy dishes like Apple Bread or simpler meals like Red Bean Stew.

You can check the “journal” for quests for you to complete, tutorials about how to play the game, information about your audience members, and more!

You travel from city to city and complete fun quests along the way…

…And even capture bandits and gangsters!

You can learn more about the game and purchase on their website, here: https://www.theamazingamericancircus.com/

Enjoy playing!

AYCO Board Member Interview: Kristina Wicke

Interview by Revely Rothschild

Board member Kristina Wicke has long been a part of what she describes as “circus and circus-adjacent” communities. Involved with school plays and theater productions since elementary school, she later studied theater at the University of Dallas. At school, she felt a strong connection to the theater and performing arts community– “I found my people there, and I just kept finding them,” she recalls. Kristina also remembers that “performance was fun, being onstage was fun, but it wasn’t what made [her] tick, and that [she] was much happier supporting other people in pursuit of their performance.” 

Called to work behind the scenes, Kristina graduated with a degree in Drama and took a stage management internship at the Seattle Repertory Theater. There, she met the Flying Karamazov Brothers–a traveling troupe of “essentially jugglers, but vaudevillians at the same time.” They combined comedy, theatrics, and juggling to “upend traditional theater and add something interesting,” and Kristina, drawn to this innovative approach, took a position as the touring stage manager for the Karamazov Brothers! She recollects producing incredible shows– including a Carnegie Hall combination of juggling, vaudeville, and symphony orchestra– that she can only describe as “whoa, mind blown– incredible.” After touring for several years, Kristina continued to work in production in the Seattle theatre community and in New York. 

Though Kristina’s work covers a wide variety of performance art styles, she finds that she is drawn to her work because of several common themes that all performances share– collaboration, community, support, and accountability. She loves “finding the right combination of people and trying to fit them together in a way that makes the sum bigger than the parts of the whole” and recalls that “what I found when I stayed open to just finding my people, and when [those relationships] were reciprocal… that’s when there’s an opportunity for transformation in your life.” 

Across all of Kristina’s successes in the world of stage management, she has seen a prevailing theme that success is built on strong communities. Even now, as Kristina is getting her masters in Education, she finds an interconnectedness between stage management, teaching, and community. All of them, she explained, rely heavily on the idea that “community=support+accountability.” As she studies how to teach, she is simultaneously exploring “what it means to be accountable [to a boss], and at the same time looking at [the question of]  ‘what responsibilities do we have to take care of the people who are in our care?’” She believes that in both performance arts and education, it is incredibly important to value people for both how you can teach them, and for what you can learn from them in return. From the theater to the classroom, mutual respect, curiosity, and support drive Kristina to truly facilitate community–and the magic that comes with it.

AYCO Board Member Interview: Anne Boock Miller

Interview by Carleigh Saberton

Photo Credit: Jenna Guzman, Lowery Photography

How did you get into circus?

I got into circus as a modern dancer, vertical dance became an extension of the ground based performing I had been doing at the time.

Are you an active circus artist yourself?

I am the owner of a circus studio, and I also coach and perform. 

What are some of your favorite skills to do and what skills do you like to watch others do?

I love spinning, and working on keeping an even spin while on an apparatus. I enjoy watching anything where the performer looks like they are really enjoying themselves, and doing it for the joy of it.

If you could learn any new circus skill what would it be and why?

I have had several individuals work very hard on teaching me to juggle. I still struggle to juggle with 3 balls. I’m going to keep working on it!

What inspired you to get involved with AYCO?

I wanted to be more actively involved in the broader community, outside my local area.

What are your roles and responsibilities being a board member?

I don’t have a specific position that I hold on the board, currently. I am the board member who sits on the Health and Wellness and the Safety committees. 

What kinds of things do you like to do outside of circus? 

I enjoy spending time with my kids and my partner. We like to hike, watch anime, and visit new places together. 

Are there any circus artists or people in your life you find inspiring? 

Jesse Alford, the former president of the board, always serves as a great inspiration for me.

How to Keep Disciplined in the Circus

By Lyra Gross

There is a riddle that reminds me of how I achieve goals “How do you eat an elephant? . . . One bite at a time.” When I started training in the circus I would set big goals for myself and always feel so lost when I was trying to achieve them. Then I realized that maybe aiming only for the goal was not the best option. The trick was to stay disciplined and keep consistent

Now the big question is how do you stay consistent? Well, the first step is to have the right mentality. You have to keep in mind that you’re making progress when you’re training, even if you don’t have the skill yet. For example, when I was learning a new skill on straps at first I wanted to just go for it without any small steps in between. This caused me to dread training and sometimes skip a day of practice because I knew I would be unhappy with the outcome of my achievements. This caused me to actually get worse because I wasn’t training as often. Then my coach told me something that changed my perspective. He said, “Even if you only get 1% better every day that still means that by 100 days you will get the trick. You just gotta keep training,” After I heard that I managed to get the skill in 2 weeks when before I was trying to get it for months on end! This shows that if you acknowledge the little progressions you make instead of just thinking about getting the skill, it will overall help you stay consistent and get the skill faster.

The next step to staying consistent is not to demand too much of yourself every day. Set a small goal to achieve instead of aiming for something that may be too demanding. If it feels simple and achievable it will help motivate you to get out there and start. For example, instead of telling yourself you need to work a trick for a half hour each day, set an easy minimum goal of five minutes. Anyone can find five minutes out of their day and once you start, you will most often go longer anyway. This will help you maintain consistency and discipline when achieving your goals.

If you’ve learned everything from this . . . don’t try and eat an elephant all at once or you’ll get sick and give up. And adding a little humor never hurts:)

Ten Tips To Create an Awesome Act This Summer!

By Emily Fulton

Photo by Andrew Fulton

I get it, act creation can be hard. If you’ve ever struggled while creating an act, or you’re just looking for some fresh inspiration, read on! Over the many years I have spent creating acts as a youth circus performer, I have found a few ways to take that “ouch” out of act creation. Here is a list of ten of my favorite tips to make your act creation process seamless and your act look as natural as the breath that fills your lungs. Believe me, the extra work that you put in now as you create your act will pay off tenfold in the “oohs” and “ahhs” of your audience. Now let’s get started!

1. Find Where (and How) You Create Best

Some people thrive in busy studio environments, and others prefer calm, quiet spaces, but either way, find where you create best and work there. If you work best while listening to music, then listen away, my friend. If you fancy creating with a notebook and pencil, do that. If you feed off of the creative energy of your circus studio, try creating there. It doesn’t matter so much where you work, but it matters way more that you find a place where your creative juices flow freely.

Photo by Judith Boyd

I invented this trick while experimenting with my lyra, in my living room!

2. Choose the right music early on in the creation process

This is where I usually slip up– I wait until the last possible minute to choose my music. Like seriously, the day before the show, I will still be debating between two or three songs. Don’t make my mistake! Take time early on in the creation process to choose a song that fits your theme. It’s important that you like the music you pick, but equally important that it fits the mood and story of your act. I know this is going to be a huge surprise, but a high-paced act is not going to be a huge hit if slow jazz music is playing. Another thing you will want to consider is whether there are any lyrics in your music, and what the lyrics say. Lyrics can make or break your performance, so make sure any lyrics in the song fit into the story in your act. It’s also totally fine to completely stay away from lyrics and stick to instrumentals instead (that’s what I usually do), so you don’t have to worry about them fitting into your theme. Lastly, be sure to follow any guidelines (such as you may only use copyright-free music with clean language) put forth by your studio or venue when choosing music

3. Go Internet Spelunking

For me, this is the most fun! Head on over to your buddy Google or my friend Insta and see what inspiration they have for you. New tricks, fun sequences you’ve never thought to try, lighting ideas, story prompts you couldn’t imagine, costume inspiration; it’s all fair game for you to explore. I even watch dancers to see how they time their movements perfectly to the music, and gymnasts, in awe of their beautifully crafted, clean skills, with a whole lot of grace sprinkled in between. You, of course, want to be careful that you don’t copycat a whole act you saw online and call it your own, but you can definitely have some fun trying new sequences and experimenting with other inspiration you found online.

Photo by Judith Boyd

This is a trick that I learned from the internet that I added into my lyra act!

4. Use the Notecard Creation System

For me, this system is tried and true. It was taught to me many years ago by Jackie Davis, my first circus coach, and I choreographed my first solo act using it. I still use variations of this system all the time in my advanced performance troupe. It’s very simple, but very useful. Start off by writing each trick you think you would like to put in your act on a  COLORFUL  notecard. Be sure to put each type of trick on a different color notecard; so if I was making a contortion act I could put splits on blue, standing tricks on yellow, and back folds on green. Then lay all of your cards out on a table or on the floor in an order that you like. The order is completely up to you, but I find my acts look the best if I break up similar tricks, so I try to never have more than two tricks of the same “color” in a row. Next, try your act out in the order you have laid out. See how it goes, and then move the cards around to switch the order. Keep repeating this process (reorder cards, try running new trick order) over and over and over again until you have an act that you are happy with, and remember that you can always go back and rearrange the cards later.

5. Get Inspired with Prompts

I just LOVE to get my creative juices flowing by creating short pieces based on prompts. You can do this in a few different ways, so there are really endless possibilities to how you can utilize this strategy. To start, you need your prompts. You can either brainstorm them on your own or with friends, or you can use a premade list. I often use writing prompts (crazy, right?). You should be able to find about a thousand lists if you just ask your BFF Google, but I have this one you might like. Then I like to use this approach; pull a prompt randomly out of a hat, spend five minutes “drafting”, another five minutes to polish and add transitions, and then perform! I find this is the most fun if you do this exercise with a group of good-natured circus friends who won’t take your act too seriously. You can each make an act and perform it after the ten minutes is up. Remember, the goal of this exercise is simply to utilize the prompt, your creativity, and your circus skill set as best as you can with only ten minutes to prepare, but if you find a prompt that really inspires you, feel free to run with it and create a fully performable piece!

6. Ask for Constructive Criticism

This part is a bit difficult for all of us, am I right? No one enjoys being reminded of their flaws, but when you’re making a performance piece is just when you need that comment on form. I hate to admit it, but sometimes my acts are just missing something. My coach’s comment of “smile more,” “point your toes,” or “work on your transitions” is often just what I need to hear to take my act to that next level. Find someone (a coach, a circus friend, a parent) who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about what they honestly think about your act. I try to get multiple opinions from both “circus people” and “normal people” so I have a good read of how my act is on a technical level and how an audience member would perceive it. On top of the direct benefits (having an awesome act), accepting and seeking out constructive criticism shows that you are a mature, dedicated circus artist who is willing to do whatever it takes to make your performance the best that it can be. It shows that you know that you aren’t perfect but you are willing to do the work that it takes to improve.

7. Remember the transitions

Transitions may be my least favorite part of an act to consider, but I think they are definitely one of the most important pieces of the puzzle when you’re trying to create a truly mesmerizing act. Transitions can take an act from “just okay” (or even downright cringy) to dazzling with only a few minutes of work. I think the most important thing to think about with your transitions is that you need to do something. No, I don’t just mean tuck up onto the bar and go straight into your next trick. I mean add some pizzazz! Instead, you could try adding an improvised split on your way up. This will make your act WAY more interesting for your audience. You don’t always need to use big movements in your transitions either! A perfectly timed hair flick is often just as effective as a physical trick. Remember, most importantly, transitions are a time for you to connect with your audience. They’re the time for you to flash a beaming grin to the little girl in the front row, flow to the music you spent so much time choosing, or show off an extra skill. They are the piece of your act that tells your audience, “I spent time thinking about this, and my act is not just ordinary, it’s EXTRAORDINARY.”

Photo by Andrew Fulton

This is a trick that I invented and used as a transition at the end of my act!

8. Practice, Practice, Practice

I know you’ve been told this a gazillion times, but I’m going to tell you again; you need to practice your act…a lot. Make a point of practicing it at every opportunity you have to use your apparatus, even when you’re a little bit tired, and especially when you think your routine is as good as it will ever get. Play around with all of the different variables at play in your performance; music, costume, lighting. Be sure to practice without these things too, because you never know when there will be a tech problem during your performance. Believe me, your act can always be polished and buffed up by a few extra minutes of training. With enough practice, performing your act will feel like second nature, so you can perform with confidence and poise. Even professional performers are constantly practicing and looking for ways to improve their acts, so you’re in good company 🙂

9. Don’t be afraid to add new tricks into your act as your skills and confidence increase

As you spend more time with your apparatus, you will surely learn new tricks that you will want to incorporate into your act. How awesome! Your hard work and practice are paying off and you now have an opportunity to make your act better than ever before. You might be wondering, however, how you would go about adding these awesome tricks into your act. Personally, I like to add any new tricks straight into my sequences. For example, if I am trying to incorporate a new split on the bottom bar of my lyra, I would add that into my already made bottom bar sequence. You can also look for moments in your act that are lacking a certain skill set and add your trick in there. When I see a section of my act has three different splits in a row, I often try to break them up by putting a new strength trick in between. This not only adds in your new trick, but it also makes your act more interesting for the audience!

Photo by Andrew Fulton

This is one of the tricks that I am hoping to add into my lyra act soon!

10. Consider Your Ambiance

Lighting, sound, costume; these details create your ambiance. According to Oxford Languages, ambiance means “the character and atmosphere of a place,” so naturally, this is an essential concept for you to consider as a circus performer. The message that your appearance, props, and environment send to your audience is way more significant than you would imagine. Try to think about how your costume, sound effects, lighting, props, and other details can (and will) transport your audience into your character’s world. But remember, this is YOUTH circus! Don’t get too caught up in creating ambiance quite yet in your journey, but it is still a good idea to spend a few minutes considering the atmosphere that you would like to create for your audience.


I hope that finding the space where your creativity flows, choosing the right music at the right time, going internet spelunking, using notecards, getting inspo from prompts, seeking out constructive criticism, considering your transitions, practicing, adding new skills, and considering ambiance will take your act to the next level. If you only remember one thing from this article, I want you to remember to have fun. Yes, it can get stressful, especially when you are working with deadlines, but act creation should be an exciting process to develop a piece that you can truly be proud of. Give this process the time and respect that it deserves. You never know who your act will inspire.

Opening our Doors After the Pandemic

By Tessa Wallington

The circus community felt the effects of COVID19 just as many other industries did. As the world continues to move closer to beating COVID19, and restaurants and shops begin to open up to full capacity, circus schools have begun following suit. The tricky part about schools opening again, is that currently, each state is at a different part of the fight against COVID19.

Each school must follow different guidelines, and since we’ve never seen such a large issue be so different on a state by state basis, there’s not one concrete answer to reopening. Opening up for one circus community may look completely different from another.  Schools like Trapeze Las Vegas in Nevada (TLV) started with minimal socially distanced classes with mask wearing and increased sanitation and as State guidelines have switched so have TLV’s, the school is now able to offer classes to more people. Although Trapeze Las Vegas was lucky enough to never fully close their doors, and were able to switch class setup every step of the way, the safe opening up of the city has drastically changed the way TLV runs and operates on a day by day basis.

The pandemic has also given schools a reason to remember important sanitation. There doesn’t have to be a global pandemic for students and coaches to remember to wipe down their equipment after use. There may be some positives as we trek this uncharted territory together, and  luckily as we see light at the end of the tunnel, we will be seeing more lights on stages soon. 

The Aerial Angels of Trapeze Las Vegas performing in some of their first gigs since the pandemic safe, and masked up. 

Interview with AYCO Board Member Dan Roberts

By Stacy Gubar

Dan Roberts has been the Treasurer of the AYCO Executive Board since 2018. In that time he has worked closely with the Executive Director, Tara, to oversee and manage AYCO’s finances and keep this wonderful program running as it should. 

His journey towards this respectable position started in 2004 when he began working as a coach in CircEsteem in Chicago. He has since become the Executive Director of this existing program. Additionally, he founded a social circus in Indonesia called the Red Nose Foundation. 

Dan Roberts

He connected with AYCO after attending an AYCO-fest in 2005 as a chaperone. He greatly enjoyed the event and decided to contact the Executive Director of AYCO to see how he could get involved. Dan Robert’s extensive experience allowed him to eventually land the position of Treasurer. 

Despite this high achievement, Dan continues to dedicate his time and energy to his other commitments. Consequently, his decision to resign from his position at AYCO is very understandable since even the most dedicated individuals have only 24 hours in a day. 

Dan expects to still remain involved with AYCO due to his work in other social circus programs and as a member of AYCO. He hopes the program continues to gain support and momentum and he is excited to see what the future holds for AYCO. 

He states that it has been a pleasure to work with the other dedicated circus enthusiasts that make up the AYCO Executive Board. He adds that he is very honored to have been part of this organization. I feel I can speak for us all when I say that the members of AYCO have also been very honored and grateful to have such a wonderful and responsible Treasurer for the past three years. Dan Roberts will be very missed by members of the organization, but we thank him for the hard work he has put in while being an active member of the board and wish him the best of luck in his other endeavors.   

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part 3, by Stacy Gubar

I also had the honor of interviewing circus enthusiast, V. V is a student of the Voice Project in Portland which is a program that uses the Circus Project’s studio and focuses on youth who hold marginalized identities. 

What part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym do you identify with?

I identify with queer in general because I am both genderqueer and have a queer sexuality. I have taken no medical steps to transition, but by some definitions I may also be considered transgender.

How has that affected your circus endeavors? 

Yes, the company I am a part of, the Voice Project, is specifically for youth who hold marginalized identities. 

What are the pronouns you use?

I use they/them pronouns. 

Have you found your specific circus studio to be an accepting environment?

Yes, at the Voice Project we all accept each other as we are. Even in public classes at the Circus Project people are always encouraged to share their pronouns and names and everyone is respectful of each other’s wishes. 

Have you found the circus community as a whole to be an accepting environment? 

It’s hard to say because I did not have access to circus arts before the Voice Project.

Do you know any other circus enthusiasts who align themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community?

Yes, about half of the Voice Project identify as LGBTQIA+

Have you been able to relate to their experiences or do you find they vastly differ? 

Some experiences are similar, but some vary greatly depending on people’s identity. I have, unfortunately, heard from others that they have been in studios or groups far less accepting than my own. 

Have you participated in/do you know of LGBTQIA+ support groups within the circus community?

I don’t know of any groups specifically designed to support LGBTQIA+ individuals, but the Voice Project acts as a support group because everyone is encouraged to show up as they are and build safe relationships.  

Do you feel the geographical location of your circus studio affects how people at the studio view the LGBTQIA+ community? 

I think it could. Being in Portland can affect how the LGBTQIA community is viewed because there is a high queer population here. People can gain more exposure and education living in Portland compared to other places which creates a more welcoming environment. Even beyond the circus world, Portland is pretty inclusive as a whole in my personal experience. 

What is some advice or encouragement you would like to share with other LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiasts? 

Unapologetically be yourself no matter what and have courage to be your authentic self because everyone deserves that. Seek out inclusive environments and have the courage to create those spaces as well by authentically being yourself. I think that having a supportive environment has made a world of a difference in my life. My mental and physical health has really improved. 

Anything else you would like to share?

Having supportive, inclusive environments is crucial for people’s safety, wellbeing and health. I want to stress the importance of creating these environments. The Circus Project has a mission of being an inclusive environment, but the circus world as a whole could use a call to action to push for more inclusivity and acceptance. We must create and provide supportive environments. They truly can have a huge positive impact on the lives of those who need them. 

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part 2, by Stacy Gubar

I had the pleasure of interviewing Oriana from the Wise Fool New Mexico circus program in New Mexico about the experience of an LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiast. The following is an excerpt from that informative conversation. 

What part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym do you identify with

Queer works best for me because it is the most accurate way to describe my gender expansive, nonbinary, and genderfluid identity. 

What are the pronouns you use?

I use any and all pronouns, but I prefer my name. 

How has that affected your circus endeavors? 

I am part of an organization founded by people who identified as queer, so being queer  has not affected me in circus much because I have been very well received. 

Have you found your specific circus studio to be an accepting environment?

Wise Fool New Mexico was founded by queer individuals, and has been very accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community since its founding days, so I have felt accepted as well. Wise Fools is often the model for other circus groups including AYCO and ACE when it comes to diversity, acceptance, and progress. 

Have you found the circus community as a whole to be an accepting environment? 

I have found that me identifying as queer does not come into play much in the broad circus community. Any discrimination I have faced has been more for race than gender identity. 

Do you know any other circus enthusiasts who align themselves with the LGBTQIA+ community?

The presence or lack of LGBTQIA+ circus members varies based on circumstance and location. Select circus groups do have members who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community, but when considering circus as a whole I feel it is not very common or widespread. 

Have you participated in/do you know of LGBTQIA+ support groups within the circus community?

My studio offers an intensive for women and transgender and nonbinary individuals called BUST! which offers workshops to address LGBTQIA+ social issues. AYCO and ACE also offer classes at conferences that inform those who take them about LGBTQIA+ issues within and beyond the circus. 

Do you feel the geographical location of your circus studio affects how people at the studio view the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Absolutely! Santa Fe, New Mexico is very progressive when it comes to gay rights, so people are more accepting of others being unapologetically themselves. Even the last mayor was gay and no one treated it as out of the ordinary. However, Tennessee, where I used to live, was much more conservative and less accepting, so the circus programs in that area and other parts of the South are less accepting than Wise Fools. 

What is some advice or encouragement you would like to share with other LGBTQIA+ circus enthusiasts? 

Find a community if you don’t have it because a support system is very important. When you fall into feeling alone, a community, or even one person, there to support you can mean the world. It is not always easy to be unapologetically yourself, but that is what moves the world and creates growth.

Anything else you would like to share?

It is very important for people to understand that these pieces of identity must be respected, but it is also important to be conscious of the fact that the person comes before the set label. Nobody is just one label, so be careful to maintain the human aspect of the individual rather than letting the label overtake the complex identity. 

Conversations with LGBTQ+ Circus Folks

Part One, by Revely Rothschild

I was lucky to have the opportunity to interview Autumn Wheeler (from The Circus Project in Portland, Oregon) about their experience as an LGBTQ+ circus coach, student, and performer.

Autumn Wheeler

So, first off, if you could just introduce yourself? Specifically, what pronouns do you use, and what circus experience do you have? 

I use she pronouns or they pronouns. I’ve been doing circus for a really long time, actually– I started at a summer camp when I was twelve or thirteen, and I’m twenty-six now, so I’ve been doing it for like half my life. I started with fabric and hoop, and then I moved into more tumbling and hope and more-ground based stuff. And then I did a training program with The Circus Project, which is an organization in Portland… I did rope, hoop, again… and then prior to the pandemic I was doing the pro-track program at NECCA and I majored in Chinese Pole and minored in hand-balancing. So I’ve really been all over the place. 

So, what do you do now, are you teaching, or coaching, or studying, too?

Throughout the pandemic I’ve continued training handbalancing, just cause I didn’t need to go anywhere to do it, doing online lessons, or on my own… I’ve been coaching, I coach sling, which is kind of random, I haven’t trained it a lot… Chinese pole, hand balancing, “slumbling,” which is something I think is just something made  up at NECCA, it’s kind of dance-y tumbling, not like power tumbling, just linking moves together. Oh, and I totally forgot to mention, I have my undergrad degree in theater, like clowning, so I also coach theater. 

That’s super cool! So, you were mentioning that you’ve worked with some different circuses, and I was wondering how you’ve seen different studios interact with LGBTQ identities in different ways? And also, because you’ve been a part of the circus world for so long, whether you’ve seen those interactions change with time?

I think yes to all of those things. I remember, when I first started circus, I didn’t even know I was queer, or really identify as queer in any way. I remember I had one queer coach, but it was very different than it is now. It was very under-the-table, and we didn’t talk about it. I’m sure it’s different there– it was also a small town, and I’m sure it’s changed a lot. But looking back, it… didn’t feel super inclusive.The Circus Project, in Portlamd, in my experience has felt very welcoming of all different kinds of queer identites. I was able to train with other queer people who were really open about their identities for the first time, and that was super awesome. I also coach there for a program called Voice Project, which is specifically for youth with different marginalized identities. So that is awesome and has been so rewarding for me to coach queer youth and make a space for them in ways that I don’t really like I really had– although, like I said, I wasn’t really identifying as queer at that time. And then at NECCA, I don’t know, I think it sort of depends. I had some trans friends at NECCA that really struggled with people getting their pronouns right or… understanding them and their experiences. But then I had some gay friends, more on the spectrum of sexual orientation than gender identity, who felt really included. 

Yeah, for sure. That leads really well into one thing that I was wondering about– do you think there’s a difference between how circus approaches gender identity versus how it approaches sexuality, and if so, why is that? 

That’s such a good question. I feel like – at least the coaches that I’ve had who don’t themselves identify as queer – it’s been much more easy for them to be more accepting of different sexual orientations, and gender… it’s really been hit-or-miss. And I feel like maybe that’s just cultural, in terms of people still getting on board with pronouns or transgender people’s experiences more broadly. But I don’t know! I wish it wasn’t that way. I have noticed a difference in terms of gender and sexuality. 

I totally know what you mean. Recently, I was reading a book about the history of circus for this blog, and there were female circus performers whom men would describe as having really big muscles, but those women still had to act very feminine in certain ways. I think in some ways, circus is so geared towards working beyond the normal limits of what we think is possible, but then in other ways it’s rooted in some strict history– for example, the tradition of having a male person as a base and a female person as a flyer in an act together. I don’t know if that’s exactly a question, but I’m curious what you think about that, generally?

Yeah, that’s something I’ve thought about a lot, especially since I’ve done a lot of basing as a woman (though I identify as nonbinary and a woman, because of the way I look I’m often viewed as a woman). But as a woman, basing, I feel like that’s something that’s been encouraged as a way to resist stereotypes. But then I don’t know… at one point I shaved my head and was looking a lot more “masculine,” and I felt like there was more uncertainty around that in certain ways, versus if I was being perceived as a woman doing things “outside of the norm”, if that makes sense. Also I’ve thought about, like, I was saying that there’s been a lot of inclusion of people of different sexual orientations, but I still notice the disconnect in the acts that are being performed. Like I had two gay guy friends at NECCA, and they did perform together once, but much more often they would perform with a woman. So even if the people were queer the acts weren’t. 

Mhm. I think it’s so interesting to think about how circus is for you as a person in the community, versus how audiences perceive it– and not only in terms of sexuality. So I was also wondering whether you think people perceive circus as welcoming or not so much, towards the LGBTQ community?

Yeah, I think about this a lot. I think that on a surface level people really assume that it is really inclusive of all sorts of different people, whether that’s race or gender or different ability– I think people assume that because circus is so creative and out-of-the-box, it will be. But then as I’ve gone deeper into the industry, and this could be just my experience, I’ve noticed that it’s still pretty strictly adhering to norms, if that makes sense?

Yeah, I’ve totally noticed that, especially in terms of body positivity, for example– like yes, to an extent circus is for anybody and any body, but then at the same time there are so many prejudices, but also the reality that your physical abilities do affect how well you can “succeed” in circus, because the idea of “success” is still overwhelmingly present in circus. 

Yeah, totally! 

Can you think of any times when you’ve noticed that sort of contradiction come up, in regards to any LGBTQ stuff?

I think sometimes, in the ways that circus schools advertise themselves as super inclusive, even when that’s not people’s actual experience in terms of microaggressions or daily interactions that make you question whether that message of inclusivity is really true. 

And then on the flip side, are there any really positive experiences that you’ve had? I think we’ve talked about how circus can be a bit contradictory, but I’m also wondering what some of your positive experiences have been?

I’ve had realy positive experiences with queer people leading circuses. For example, I’ve worked with Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus– which, I don’t know if you know what that is, but it’s a circus that’s run by Jack, a trans circus artist, and he brings together people with different queer identites and we make stuff! It’s really fun, and I feel like having someone in leadership who’s familiar with the queer experience is really awesome. Yeah, I really think that by doing circus with other queer people– whether that’s a student or a coach– it’s really great to have that shared experience with other people in the room. 

Totally. This might sound too personal, which I don’t mean it to be, but if it is, you don’t have to answer at all of course, but are there any specific stories of people or things that have helped you along your… for lack of a better word, your journey as a queer person? Specifically, in terms of circus?

Yeah, I think specifically working with Jack and Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus. I didn’t meet him through that, we were part of my same training company at The Circus Project, so he was just my fellow student. But I think that seeing him be so forward about that part of his identity, made me feel really encouraged to bring that part of myself forward. And I think that that inspired me to be the same person for other people– like when I started at NECCA, I was really forward about that part of my identity as queer, and not many other people were at the beginning, but at the end of the experience a lot of other people were coming out as queer as well. I’ve gotten a lot of people saying, like, “You really encouraged me,” and I was like “Oh I had no idea, that’s awesome!”

That’s so inspiring. Do you notice that same sort of thing happens, either between you and the students that you teach, or within the groups of students that you’ve taught?

Hmm. Well, I actually struggle with this, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, because I never know how to out myself to students, because right now, with how I look right now, with  long-ish hair, people might not perceive me as having a queer identity. And I don’t want that, because it’s not my experience, and I also want to be a queer person in leadership for other people. What do you think?

I don’t want to go too in-depth because this is my own experience, but I’ve done circus camps since I was about six, and I’ve had a couple of circus friends throughout that whole time, and by now, almost all of us identify as queer in some way. And I think that one thing that has made us all feel so comfortable is that we’ve had a couple of nonbinary coaches. Especially, I work with one coach right now who uses they/them pronouns, and whenever we work with little kids, we explain to them what pronouns are and have them share their own pronouns. So I think that sharing pronouns can be a good way to both share your own identity in a very open way, but also help younger students understand more about gender fluidity. And like you were saying earlier, I think that’s something that has sort of changed with time, as well. 

Yeah, for sure. That’s something we do as well, I totally agree. 

Unless there’s anything else you’re wanting to come back to, I think my last question is sort of related to that– we’ve talked about how circus has improved some, and now I’m wondering how you think circuses can continue to improve in terms of LGBTQ+ inclusivity?

Yeah, one of your other questions is making me think, too… I feel like as a queer woman, doing Chinese pole was a very affirming experience because having a circus school like NECCA, and my coach there, Sandra, was amazing because her experience learning pole was that she was told she couldn’t do it… and she did it anyway and she was in Cirque du Soleil. But it was awesome to be supported to learn a discipline that was typically more men, and have a space where that wasn’t the expectation. So in terms of improving, I think there needs to be a lot of attention given to trans experiences in circus, like in terms of using the pronouns that people ask for. I think there can also be more coach training, and also learning how to include different bodies, in terms of spotting or the language that we use to refer to different body parts. 

Another thing that I’ve heard you mention a bit, and this is just my re-phrasing, but the idea of “paying it forward”? Like, there’s kind of the institutional level of coaching and the organization’s goals, but then there’s also the individual level of personal relationships that we form as LGBTQ+ circus artists, and those can be really empowering and formative, too. 

I think so, yeah. And that’s part of why I wanted to do this interview– other queer circus people have been so important to me, and I want to help to share that with other people, as well. 

Would you be open to me including your email at the end of the interview, just in case people have further questions or want to reach out to you to talk?

Yeah, totally! 

For anyone who is interested in reaching out to connect about Autumn’s experiences as a queer person in circus, their email is autumn@thecircusproject.org. Thanks for reading, and Happy Pride Month!