|Photo by Bill Raab|
It's just a typical day at Circus Juventas
. Summer camp has concluded, so the young performers are hard at work preparing for their big summer show, Showdown
, set in the Wild West. Near the raised flats, which are painted to look like an old western town, folks flip and twirl while bouncing high into the air on trampolines. At the center of the arena, people practice their lasso skills, while others tumble through the spinning ropes.
It's all part of a day's work for the young performers, who are eagerly practicing for the largest event of the year. Unlike the spring circus, which highlights all performers training at the school, the summer program allows the best performers to show their stuff in a mix of acrobatics, dance, theatrics, and exciting circus tricks.
|Photo by Dan Norman |
Circus Juventas founders Betty and Dan Butler met as teenagers while both performing in the Sailor Circus of Sarasota, Florida, in the '70s. They began dating when they were both 15 years old. Dan was a catcher on the flying trapeze, and Betty was an aerialist and acrobat on the high wire.
After graduating from the Sailor Circus, they went on to have traditional career paths, attending Florida State University, entering the business world, and then moving to Minnesota in 1991.
In 1994, the couple went to a Sailor Circus reunion and performed together. They had such a great time that they thought about how they could provide circus training and experience to young people right here in Minnesota.
They gave a presentation to St. Paul Parks and Recreation, then started a small program aimed at providing youth development and circus training for young people at Hillcrest. It was so successful that within three years they had embarked on a $2 million capital campaign to build their own permanent big top. It opened in 2001.
The school now serves 2,000 kids a year, with 25 instructors from all over the world plus guest teachers and choreographers. Many of the students receive some form of scholarship, which is absorbed by the school rather than coming from grants. The Butlers hope to one day offer a degree in circus arts so that students will be able study academics and performance at the same school. "We're waiting to get European Circus Foundation accreditation," says Dan Butler "It's a slow process, but we're pursuing it."
Over the years, a number of students have gone on to embark on professional careers in Ireland, South Africa, and New York City. This year, a young man named Zeb Frickie, who plays Billy the Kid in the show, is leaving for Australia to work with Bello Nock, a world-class circus performer who visited Circus Juventas for a workshop.
But even for the kids who don't go on professionally, the program offers life lessons, fitness, and a non-competitive artistic experience that they can use no matter what they end up doing with their lives. Kids come from all over the metro area, and some even move closer just to go to the school.
Ian Knopp-Schwyn, a 10th grader, has been in the program eight years. He found out about Circus Juventas through a friend of his mother, and in 2004 he fell in love with the circus. In Showdown, Knopp-Schwyn is playing one of the main characters, where he'll be performing the Russian bar. He believes that the circus has helped him mature as a person. "I used to be shy," he says. Now, he's much more outgoing, and has learned teamwork. He hopes to be involved in the circus somehow as an adult, perhaps as a rigger.
This summer's production, Showdown
, takes place in the Wild West. Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp will be battling it out with lasso tricks, trampoline work, aerial acts, a spiral of fire, and more. There's even going to be a seven-person pyramid on the high wire (it's only the second time in history that a youth circus has accomplished the feat). IF YOU GO:
1270 Montreal Ave., St. Paul
Tickets are still available at www.ticketworks.com or 612.343.3390 or by calling the Circus Juventas box office at 651.699.8229
1270 Montreal Ave., St. Paul, MN