Ever since I was in fourth grade, I have spent each and every evening at Sailor Circus, my home. During the school year, each day I go to school and then immediately drive over to the blue and white arena for practice.
Most days I arrive at the tent so early that the lights are off and there are only fifteen other people. More students trickle in as they get out of school and before I know it, there are nearly 130 kids there. At some times there are five or six different acts practicing. Each act has a designated practice time and the coach or coaches specialize in that area. Most of our coaches who have performed with other circuses were once part of Sailor Circus. The coaches work with small numbers of students to teach an act and decide who is ready to perform.
After weeks of rigorous practice, the show is assembled and rehearsed night and night again. Volunteers craft us gorgeous costumes, props, and pull the show together. Once the lighting and music is perfect, we open for a week-long run of daily shows. 1,700 people fill the bleachers and drown us in applause.
After an exhausting week, we get a couple of days to rest, and then we start all over again. Once we finish the second season, we take the summer to run a public summer camp.
Wenatachee Youth Circus
This summer, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to fly up to Seattle, WA and join the Wenatchee Youth Circus. The WYC is a summer circus program that travels around Washington and is open to children of all ages.
Many families get involved; parents help coach, small children get thrown around, everyone has a place. Whoever is able to make it goes to weekly practices throughout spring, then during the summer they set up and perform for about four or five days in each place.
Sometimes setups are in baseball fields and sometimes in county fairs; sometimes in grass and sometimes in dirt; sometimes the ground is perfect and sometimes there is a tree in the middle of the site. You learn to work with what you have. On day one, everyone carpools to the site at the break and waits for “the trucks” to arrive. Once two large semi-trucks pull onto the lot everyone starts racing.
Setup day was about eight hours of pounding stakes and pulling equipment up; the faster things went up, the more time we had to practice. The parents who live on the lot in RVs jumped in to help rig. This was all very new to me, but everyone was very helpful; I was pounding stakes on my first day.
I had never traveled with a circus before, so it was odd to live on-site. I am used to going to practice, then going home and flopping into my bed. But here, you literally eat, sleep, and breathe circus.
There were two big tents for sleeping quarters- one tent for girls, and one tent for boys. Each night there was a curfew of 10:00 and that meant everyone had to be in the tent ready to go to sleep, but every minute leading up to curfew was spent playing games with all of your friends.
At one location, we were performing as part of the Pierce County Fair, so each night we were able to walk around the fair and go on the rides. It was a blast. Each morning the early birds (a.k.a. me and three other people) would wake up and wait for the breakfast bell while everyone else had an abrupt awakening to the loud ringing. Meals were served about five times per day and were prepared in “the Cook Shack” by a volunteer cook. When you heard someone banging “all four corners” of the triangle, you knew it was mealtime…. or it meant everyone was about to receive a stern talking to.
Everything was rigged outside, which was a refreshing change from the hot arena I am accustomed to practicing in. While performing in front of the blue sky was amazing, it also meant that we had no control over weather conditions; during the three weeks I was there, I performed during a storm, in the cold, and in the heat of 110 degrees.
In the blazing heat, we would get too dehydrated to practice and would just rest before shows. The only time you had to practice was daylight hours between performances, so you always hoped the weather was good. Nearly every moment there wasn’t something going on, I looked over to the trampoline and saw a group of boys flipping as if there was no tomorrow.
Each show began with a grand-entry where every performer ran out and the Star Spangled Banner was sung. No two shows were the same; there were constantly new people getting accepted into acts and lots of improv. Every performer participated in the tumbling and mini trampoline act as star performer, Mitchell Thacker, jumped over the entire circus, which was super fun to be part of.
I was one of the cheerleaders for the act, running out with a flag leading “Wenatchee Youth Circus’s own team of tumbling twelves”. I also was able to perform as part of the clown act and dance a lot! It was a much more relaxed show atmosphere than I am used to, which was less stressful.
The Wenatchee Youth Circus was a very different experience from what I do at Sailor Circus. I learned a lot on my trip and became aware of what other youth circus programs there are. I am so grateful I had this experience and was able to make many lifelong friends.
A huge thank you to James Cole for the wonderful pictures!