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Memories From a Circus on the Road


Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre

Sarah Schwarz and a young friend on the Big Apple lot.

A circus season is a lesson in grueling predictability. It's performing the same act over and over again. It's packing up the trailer, stuffing the big top into a truck, and moving to another city. It's waking up in the same trailer, but in a different city, just to repeat what you did the day before. But in the midst of all this hard work and monotony are magical moments that spring up like mushrooms after a hard rain. Some of these special memories come under the hot glare of the circus lights, but many happen in the back lot or on the city streets that play host (and semi-permanent home) to the personalities and talents that compose a circus family.

During 2008-2009, the Big Apple Circus put on its Play On! show, a production showcasing music, comedy and physical feats. The circus traveled up the eastern seaboard, setting up its tent in ten cities and performing 364 shows. In the midst of this tour that began in Washington D.C. and ended in Hanover, New Hampshire, the Big Apple Circus performers and staff members collected memories along the way.

"New York is incredible," says Big Apple Circus performer Luciano Anastasini. When the big top pulls into the Big Apple, he and his family always take full advantage of the city's many amenities, including ice skating in Central Park and going to see the Empire State Building. But Anastasini's best memory from the 2008-2009 Play On! season followed the special New Year's Eve midnight performance in Lincoln Center. "The audience had a glass of champagne or cider and they wished "happy New Years!" and we all started dancing," he remembers. "That was incredible: The audience and performers were dancing [together] in the ring. We danced [for] a couple of hours," Anastasini says.

Big Apple Circus Guest Director Steve Smith also recalls the joy of being in the midst of New York City's cultural center. "For me, [my best memory] is the dress rehearsal in Lincoln Center. There's just something magical about that night," he says. "The show is in pretty good shape, the house is packed with friends and family of the circus. It's that energy. It's just circus magic," Smith says.

Big Apple Circus juggler Marty LaSalle says that this circus is really one that thrives in an urban setting where the show garners the most solid audience numbers, a factor that makes performing more rewarding for him. While New York and Boston are wonderful cities, LaSalle says his best memories of his year come after the bright lights are dimmed and when the crew and performers come together, informally. "We finish the show at night, and the weather is great and every night there's a barbecue and people walking around," he remembers. "It's certainly a great atmosphere. ... It's like being in college again, but better because you don't have to live in the dorms."

Sometimes, those same circus performers who engage crowds with laughter or startling feats of physical ability need to unwind a little, too: Sometimes the entertainers need to be entertained. Big Apple Circus wire walker Sarah Schwarz remembers feeling exhilarated by a side trip she took with her boyfriend. "There was this beautiful day and we'd performed a show, and afterwards, Sergio and I jumped on his motorbike and we went to an Aerosmith concert on Jones Beach in Long Island. It was the highlight of my season," she says.

Another favorite stop along the way is below the Mason Dixon line. "I think Atlanta is amazing," says Big Apple Circus clown Glen Heroy. "The audiences are unbelievably amazing." The Big Apple Circus pulls into a lot near Stone Mountain, Georgia, a community approximately 30 miles outside of Atlanta, in February. Here, the clowns, jugglers and acrobats will entertain crowds for several weeks.

"It's a beautiful site," says Big Apple Circus crew member Efrain "Smiley" Diaz. "It's nice and quiet ... and even on the drive down we stopped in many places and the people were so friendly, and their accents are funny," he says.

For wire walker Sarah Schwarz, the tour dates in Georgia allow her to explore the local scene, including the state's famous Stone Mountain. "Every year, I go climbing up the mountain," she says.

Every tour season, the Big Apple Circus puts down roots in places like Boston, New York City, Washington D.C. and Charlestown, New Jersey, and as they entertain the crowds, the performers leave indelible memories in their wake. But the Big Apple Circus artists, crew members and management are also transformed by the people and places they see along the routes.

Big Apple Hits the Road

The circus sets up camp at it's first stop of the tour, Dulles, VA.