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Growing Up Circus

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Christian Stoinev

During the 2008-2009 Big Apple Circus's Play On! season, Christian Stoinev was a senior in the big top's One Ring Schoolhouse and had made the decision to leave the tents and lights in favor of college life. Today, Stoinev is a sophomore at Illinois State University in Bloomington, Illinois. He's busy carrying a full academic load and participating in the university's Gamma Phi Circus, the oldest collegiate circus in the nation.

PBS CIRCUS talked with Stoinev about what it was like to be a child of the circus, and how he's adjusting to college life.

PBS CIRCUS: Have you declared a major yet?

Stoinev: Yes, I'm studying broadcast journalism. I want to be a sportscaster. I guess I like the attention. (Stoinev laughs.) My [professional] plan is to go back into performing, but college is my plan B; that way I won't be older and not comfortable performing and have to do it anyway. [College] is another learning opportunity. The biggest lesson I learned from college was how to live on my own.

PBS CIRCUS: Was it difficult going to school at the circus? What was your daily schedule like?

Stoinev: [School] got tough during the time when we were on the road and I had lots of assignments. We had two shows [per day], and I'd [meet with] my tutor between them. Not only did I have a performance, but I had to practice as well. On the road, I'd get up and go to [the on-site One Ring Schoolhouse] from 9:00 am to 10:30 am, and then I'd leave to perform at 11:00 am. I'd see my tutor again from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, and then I'd practice [my circus act] until 5:30 pm. After that, I'd get ready for the show at 6:30 pm. Homework happened at night after the show.

PBS CIRCUS: What do you miss most about the Big Apple Circus?

Stoinev: The thing I miss the most are some of the people. Many were like family members, and I was on that show for ten years and it was hard to leave those people. I still keep in touch with many of them, but the way it goes in the circus is that you have to say goodbye at the end of the year, anyway. I tell my friends that [working in the circus] is like being on an NFL team: You never know when you're going to get traded. When you grow up in the circus, everyone is a family member. If you do something wrong, they'll tell your parents or act like your parents, themselves. Coming into college, I was a little worried that people would be weird about me, and that I wouldn't have that kind of support. My peers at the circus program [Gamma Phi Circus] made the transition easy for me.

PBS CIRCUS: What do you think the circus gave you that a more traditional childhood might not have provided you?

Stoinev: The traveling was really nice. Because of the circus, I've been able to go around the world, and I'm definitely grateful for that. I've been to Mexico, Italy and Monte Carlo. Today, I have college classes that stress that you should study abroad, and I've already done that. [Traveling] was something that the circus has allowed me to do.

Related Link: Circus Kids Video

Big Apple Circus kids tell us what they like about growing up circus.