For 27 years, Circus Flora has entertained St. Louis’ families and friends in a unique, mind-blowing way. However, audiences aren’t the only ones connected via family. Circus Flora is a family within itself.
One of the acts that has wowed audiences since the early 1900s is the Flying Wallendas high wire act. Alex Wallenda has grown up in the famous troupe and can remember watching the no-net act while sitting in his stroller. He says that it was a big joy to grow up in the circus.
“There was always quite a bit of travel, eight to 10 months out of the year on the road,” Wallenda says. “Growing up on the ultimate playground was such a pleasure. I decided to get up there and start working with my family.”
Wallenda started training on the high wire at around 3-years-old. He made his debut with Circus Flora at age 7. The Wallendas joined Circus Flora in 1989, and since Alex was born in 1988, he views Circus Flora as an extended family since a lot of the same characters appear each year. The no-net act is also a family tradition.
“We don’t expect to fall, and it’s never happened to us in a major capacity. We train to stay up there,” Wallenda says.
Even though Wallenda jokes that the audience enjoys the high wire act more when they stay up there in lieu of falling, years of practice and hours every day go in to perfecting the act. Then muscles and reaction time become sharp and second nature.
“There’s not a lot of nerves. When we practice, we start at a very low level and rehearse until it’s absolutely perfect and then we move it up until it’s perfect,” he says. “We’re not typical daredevils who get their thrills in being on danger’s edge. We get our thrills from the applause from the audience.”
The one-ring circus also added a family member back into the fray, with the addition of Associate Artistic Director, Jack Marsh. Marsh’s parents both have been involved in Circus Flora for years (his dad is Theater Director Cecil MacKinnon and his mom is in the show and directs the show). He first saw the circus ring at age 2. As he grew up with the show, Marsh assumed a number of roles that provided a top-to-bottom view of the organization. He did everything from washing the bleachers, operating the back curtain and working on the ring crew to juggling and tumbling as a member of the company and the St. Louis Arches youth circus troupe.
Marsh wouldn’t change growing up in the circus for the world. While attending public school in New York, Marsh traveled with the circus and a tutor, so he had a foot in both worlds. He says that coming back to people who have helped raise him and conversely that he’s watched grow up feels like coming home in a way.
Marsh is learning different aspects of the show via a three year understudy period before taking over officially. His goals are to learn as much as possible and to support Circus Flora’s improvement.
“I think we put on a terrific shows and I think there’s always creative ways to make the show fun and feel fresh,” Marsh said. “It’s such a different world in the circus. You get to meet talented, interesting and creative people who’ve chosen this lifestyle and it’s a cool atmosphere to grow up around.”
Both Wallenda and Marsh look forward to this year’s show, “A Trip to the Moon,” running May 30 through June 23 in Grand Center. Based off of a movie, this year’s circus includes a rare all-girls flying trapeze, Johnny Pierce’s hilarious dog act, The Flying Wallendas, two horse-related acts, the St. Louis Arches and more. And, what makes Circus Flora different from other circuses is the interwoven narrative that connects the acts together.
“We’re inspired by the (science fiction) film made in 1902. We’re using it as our jumping off point, encountering moon creatures, getting shot to the moon and getting back to earth,” Marsh said. “It’s really special and it creates a sort of cohesion into the show that others don’t have. We treat the show as one unit with a bunch of different elements. It’s a lot more valuable to have a whole that you can experience.”
Wallenda and Marsh are looking forward to the surprises that the circus can bring. Wallenda says the random jokes that happen on the show amongst performers are always a treat.
“One year we had a cream pie fight midway through the show that I don’t think the audience knew wasn’t a part of the show. They enjoyed the added bonus they got to see,” he said. “There’s also a goal act. Goats aren’t very obedient and they want to do their own thing.”
Marsh agrees that the biggest surprise this year is the “magical” goats act.
“It’s pretty surprising that you can get goats to do anything, let alone a full act,” he says.
Circus Flora will be exhibiting a variety of acts between May 30 and June 23. For more information on Circus Flora, visit circusflora.org.