Under the big top of a small circus

Greg Masse
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The old-style entertainment of the circus is ever-evolving but continues to live on.

A classic example of the small American circus of old has set up its big top in Glenwood Springs. Shows started Friday and will continue with its last two shows at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. today.

Circus Chimera – Chimera being a mythical fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail – is, according to clown and artistic director Tom Dougherty, a great name for the circus because of its international performers and crew.

“We have performers from Russia, Peru, Mexico and America,” he said. “We’re a single beast made of people from everywhere.”

And for a lower-budget show, the six-year-old Circus Chimera impresses.

The tent – although it’s an Italian-made big top bought for more than $100,000 – is relatively small as compared to larger circuses, but for the smaller towns the circus frequents, it allows the crowd an intimate view of the performers.

The circus has no animals, but for a different reason than people might think.

“We can’t afford them,” Dougherty candidly admitted. “A circus like Ringling Brothers owns the elephants, but trainers, which usually have their own animals, are expensive. A tiger trainer can cost $20,000 a week.”

Based out of Hugo, Okla., Circus Chimera tours the western half of the United States for 48 weeks a year – with shows every day during that stretch.

Dougherty, 47, who is originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., but now calls Florida his home during the few weeks he’s not touring, has been a clown for 26 years. He’s done work all over the United States and Europe and decided to bring his vast circus experience to Circus Chimera to see what could be built.

Most of the acts have remained, but Dougherty said he’s tried to inject more artistic relevance into the show.

He was originally hired to be the artistic director, but ended up as the show’s clown as well. “I was director of a theater company for 15 years. . To actually have a full circus sounded fun.”

He said it’s been a challenge trying to convince performers to change traditions and acts they’ve been doing for years, but slowly some changes have occurred.

Dougherty said the circus, at its heart, is about emotions and spirit.

“The spirit that pushes the acrobats to do a triple flip is the same spirit that pushed us to the moon,” he said. “You’re in conspiracy with the audience to make something happen.”

For a small circus, Circus Chimera is one of the best, Dougherty said.

From women hanging high in the air and spinning while clad in tight, sexy outfits to Dougherty’s portrayal of a clown; from the speedy and masterful juggler to the two motorcyclists racing around inside a metal globe – the acts on Saturday were both professional and dazzling to the eye.

“The premise of the show is when the impossible becomes possible through the magic of the circus,” Dougherty said.

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

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