Circus performers find home in local warehouse
HAYSVILLE, Kan. (AP) — It takes a special kind of person to want to be in the circus.
You’ve got to flexible, you certainly can’t be afraid of heights — and it probably helps to have a fairly high pain tolerance.
In the Wichita area, there is a tightly knit group of people who are dedicating themselves to the circus life — and they’ve set up shop in Haysville, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Rush Hicks, a nationally touring circus performer, contortionist and sword-swallower, has moved to Wichita to start the When I Grow Up Circus — Wichita’s first professional circus troupe.
The circus, which is family-friendly and open to people of all ages, is had an open house at on Dec. 21 at its warehouse headquarters at 136 Pirner, Ste. 2 in Haysville.
There, people can learn about the group — which will both teach classes on circus arts and put on professional circus shows around Wichita.
“Your circus scene here is pretty big,” Hicks said. “We’re not even technically open yet and we’re already teaching people. Plenty of people are coming by every day, and they’re just showing up.”
Hicks’ partner in the circus business is Madison Hooper, one of the leaders of Phlox Kansas, a local fire-performance troupe.
As of now, most of the performers in the When I Grow Up Circus have been culled from Phlox.
“It started with fire and now we’re adding things,” Hooper said. “It’s almost just a further practice. ... With things like aerial performance, there’s no limit. You don’t have to stop — you just create new tricks for yourself.”
The circus currently has rigs set up for aerial silks and trapeze, though Hicks said he plans to add a lyra hoop, a secondary aerial rig, and an Olympic-size trampoline for wall-walking.
Hicks said the place is mainly intended to be an aerial gym, though people can also learn sideshow acts like sword-swallowing, fire-breathing, knife-throwing, juggling and an act called the “bed of nails.”
“It’s a new way for me to be active,” said Amber Baker, a circus member and “bed of nails” practitioner. “Aerials works some of the muscles that doing normal things doesn’t — your hands, your shoulders and your core.”
The aim, Hicks said, is to develop circus artists here that will eventually go on to perform with larger troupes.
“This will be an intermediary circus for people who are training to become real circus performers,” he said.
That doesn’t mean you have to be training for the circus to come have a circus workout.
The gym will be open to the public, and lessons will be available for people of all ages. Parents are encouraged to come and watch — and even participate, Hicks said.
“It’s just a more fun way to stay in shape,” Hicks said. “It’s not a yoga class — it’s kind of a mix of it all. It’s better than just going to Gold’s Gym and lifting dumbbells.”
In the off-season, Hicks said he plans on bringing in nationally known performers to teach master classes to local circus performers.
But what good is a circus without a show?
Hicks plans on producing elaborate circus shows at the Haysville warehouse, with narration — “a neo-circus like Cirque du Soleil where ... we’re actually telling stories.”
The first show is scheduled for Feb. 13-15.
Hicks, 33, has been a circus performer nearly all his life.
Diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, he is one of the most flexible people in the world “just by genetics,” he said.
He was living in New York City when the mayor of the Coney Island Circus found out about his flexibility.
Soon after, he was “kidnapped into the circus,” Hicks said with a laugh.
“I didn’t have any say so in the matter to be honest,” he said.
Hicks became the contortionist for the Coney Island Circus and held that title for about seven years.
After Coney Island’s official season was over, he went on tour with a traveling circus troupe, stopping in Wichita multiple times.
“Wichita actually became a natural stopping point on our tours, because it was halfway across the United States,” he said. “We’d take a break here and regroup.”
He’s performed at the Lizards Lounge, Lucky’s Everyday and — most recently — Barleycorn’s, where he has a New Year’s Eve booking currently scheduled.
Four years ago, Hicks befriended Hooper, the Phlox fire-performer.
He had booked her as an opening act at one of his circus gigs in town, and after that, the two quickly became “dear, dear friends,” Hicks said.
Recently Hicks decided he wanted to open his own circus company.
The only stumbling block: rents for the kind of space he needed in New York City were around $10,000 a month.
The suburb south of Wichita “has some of the craziest incentives for people to come out and open businesses there,” Hicks said.
Financial incentives from Haysville, in addition to his local contacts, pushed him to open his circus school in the Wichita area.
“I have never been through a bureaucratic process that just had no resistance whatsoever,” he said. “They just welcomed us here with open arms. Once the decision was made and I started getting the ball rolling it was like I was being pushed toward Haysville — it was no longer a decision I had made. It was 100 perfect on Haysville pushing me to come here.”
The closest similar circus troupe is based in Lawrence — The Last Carnival performed regularly at Riverfest in 2018.
Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com