Circus isn’t all clowning around, it’s hard work |

Circus isn’t all clowning around, it’s hard work

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The trucks and trailers are all lined up in a row, shaking almost imperceptibly from the roar of the massive generator that powers the mythical beast Chimera.

Circus Chimera, like other small traveling acts, struggles from week to week to stay alive and profitable. The big top that people used to seek out by the thousands is quietly being replaced by other forms of entertainment.

But for those who devote their lives to this old-time art form, the circus is everything.

Traveling 11 months a year, performers and crew members alike have to be devoted. In return for the arduous road schedule and the never-ending work, those who travel with the circus are among the few who get to experience the gypsy’s life.

Oh, to run away with the circus – the dream of many a discontented kid.

But being on the road and working seven days a week for 48 weeks, taking a month off, then doing it all over again can grate on even the best of folks.

Living that way can lead to jealousy, cliques, resentment, family squabbles and emergencies. It’s all a part of life on the road. A traveling community made up of a mixture of people from all over the world, the world of the circus is at once gratifying and exhausting; rewarding and grueling.

“It’s hard,” said clown and artistic director Tom Dougherty. “It’s 48 weeks out of the year, seven days a week.”

Once numbering over 200 strong in the United States, circuses are a dwindling “blue-collar art form,” Dougherty said.

Behind every foolish antic, flawlessly performed acrobatic maneuver and dance routine, there’s a lot of work and an occasional fight.

“It’s a very difficult life, that’s what a small circus is like,” he said. “I liken it to a shark, you’ve got to keep swimming or you’ll die.”

But at the same time, that closeness and familiarity amongst the 91-person society that is Circus Chimera is also part of the charm.

“This is the community, it’s tight and small.”

Dougherty also said that despite its difficulties, the circus is a great place to raise children.

“There is so much adult influence,” he said.

A Catholic nun acts as the children’s schoolteacher.

“There’s about 12 children in our show right now. Inherent in circus life is responsibility. Everyone has jobs here. You have to do your job or the show doesn’t go on; and if the show doesn’t go on, you don’t get paid.”

Indicative of jobs required in a small circus, performers could be seen hawking programs around the stands in between acts.

Other amenities at this traveling village are a cook tent, where the crew eats; and several recreational vehicles that serve as home for many of the performers and crew.

Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Dougherty said he always liked to travel. But to be in a constantly-moving show like the Circus Chimera, you have to more than like traveling, it becomes part of you.

“The good side of it is the circus. It’s one of the only true forms of entertainment for the family,” he said. “Circus is not for children, it’s not for adults, it’s for families. I love performing, and I love being in the ring.”

Circus performers salaries can range from as little as $200 up to $5,000 a week, depending on the size of the circus and the level of the performer.

The show

As showtime approached for the first of Saturday’s three shows, the atmosphere behind the scenes at Circus Chimera was very calm. A few performers stretched and warmed up, but unlike a short-running play or a newly-rehearsed musical, the performers were calm and ready.

They peeked through the canvas door from behind the big tent’s single ring, awaiting their cues.

One girl said a little prayer and did the sign of the cross before she ran out to twirl and flex while seemingly hanging by a thread about 20 feet above the floor.

Outside the darkness of the tent, three performers played around, laughing and pretending to fight as they awaited their next part in the ensemble show.

Eleven-year-old Alina Sergeeva, who Dougherty calls the star of the show, joked with Dougherty like siblings or two old friends, despite their 35-year age difference.

“She really has the ability to be a superstar in my opinion,” Dougherty said of the young Russian. “She’s humble and she has a great work ethic.”

But by tonight, the mix of people, personalities, talents and stories that makes up the circus will be gone again, again leaving an empty field where so much sweat and hard work went into the six Glenwood Springs performances.

It’s off to Montrose and eventually to California as the never-ending show keeps rolling on.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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