Interview: Lucia, teen founder of The Traveling Rhubarb Circus

When she was 13, Lucia started a circus troupe in her barn. The Traveling Rhubarb Circus includes 17 kids, and is now preparing its 4th show, A Stitch in Time. Last September’s performance, Look!, sold out four shows to an audience of 90 each night. In April, the troupe was engaged as a guest artist, teaching circus skills to 60 kids at a week-long vacation day camp. Kids manage all aspects of practices and performances—choreography, teaching, publicity, ticket sales, lighting and music. I’m a member of the Traveling Rhubarb Circus and it’s one of my favorite parts of the year. I asked Lucia a few questions to get a sense of what it’s like to run a circus as a teenager.

Tell me a little bit about the circus troupe you started:

The Traveling Rhubarb Circus started when a bunch of bored kids decided to put on a circus performance to earn some money. My friend Bella and I were the only ones who had taken classes at NECCA [New England Center for Circus Arts] but we tried to teach the rest of the kids some tricks and earned. To gather an audience we walked around our small town talking to whoever we met, giving demonstrations of our skills, and inviting them to come to the churchyard later to see our “big” show. We brought Bella’s little red wagon to hold all of our equipment, and filled it up with rhubarb. We passed the hat at our performance and earned $13! Eventually we decided that we wanted to perform a bigger show, one that people would buy tickets for. We started the Sunday practices after that weekend and they have continued ever since.

What got you into circus?

I had always liked to climb and my mom knew that. So she signed me up to go to Circus Smirkus camp for a week. I liked it enough that my mom looked up NECCA to find a class that I could take there. I really enjoyed the class and after that there was no going back.

What made you decide to start Traveling Rhubarb Circus?

I didn’t really decide to start the circus, it just grew out of a group of kids in my neighborhood. Bella and I had wanted to put on a more professional circus, and a lot of people started showing up on Sundays for practice. The hardest thing was beginning to advertise because at that point there was no going back. Once the posters went up we had to pull together a real show! One of the neighborhood kids, Miette, began taking on an organizing role—managing publicity, and snacks, and scheduling. We named her our producer, and that’s been a key role ever since. I never expected there to be further shows after the first one but they just kept going each year.

What’s hard about running a troupe in addition to all the other things in your life you have to worry about?

It is really stressful to run a circus. The work relating to the circus is more real time than homework. If you miss an assignment in school, the only one who is effected if you. If you do that in the circus everyone is confused. There is a lot more pressure to get things done right. Communication is really hard—we normally communicate through the kids, but the adults are needed for scheduling and transportation. This tends to cause gaps in our communication. In the summer everyone has vacations, in the winter there is school. Because the circus isn’t my only job it had to be fit in around everything else.

There are also a lot of group dynamics that are hard to overcome with a kids’ organization. When it’s just kids, every one has to be honest and pull their own weight on top of all their other responsibilities. Sometimes it feels like I’m just giving myself extra homework. I get over that when it gets close to the show.

What do you like about it?

I really like the community. I like how it is the kids that are motivated and that the kids are teaching. Its great to be in charge of a circus and able to experiment with how it’s done. Because no one was there to teach us how to function as a circus there was not one way we had to do it. This allowed us to come up with our own mode to work in. I also like performing and it’s a lot of fun performing with my friends.

-Larkin

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