Around 1976 I had two formative circus experiences, each of which couldn’t have been more different from the other. The first I’ve written about a few times, the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, which I saw at the Providence Civic Center. While I was a fan of many an ACT from the Greatest Show on Earth, I was never a fan of their productions. It might have been great to be IN the RBBB show, but my experience of watching it was always like, “Oh look! There’s a circus down there somewhere I guess. Are those fleas? Maybe we can rent a hang glider or something to get us a little closer to the ring. I’d like to see if the performers have faces!”
But around the same time I experienced another circus. This was a very SMALL circus, under a literal tent, set up in a dusty field in my home town. In point of fact it was pitched a walkable distance from my own house! The acts at THIS circus were in fact terrible, as was the spectacle. There was no parade of elephants, no daredevils, no death defying acrobats, or tumbling Italian families, or anything like that. The one act I remember stood out for its lameness: some kid juggling kleenex, which falls to earth, as you can imagine, very slowly. And he missed one. Oh yes, and I seem to remember a couple of kids on a ladder.
And yet I was excited about it. Wooden folding chairs on sawdust in a real tent. And it contrasted with the big budget, corporate extravaganza of Ringling. It let me know by example, that there was a RANGE of possibility out there. A circus can be many things, presented many different ways. It captured my imagination. It inspired me. I always wanted to run away with a show, to live in a world where that was possible.
It stands to reason that this circus was created by an educator. Out of curiosity, I researched it recently and learned what it was that I had seen. Circus Kirk was the creation of one Charles W. “Doc” Boas, Ph.D (1926-2002). Doc Boas was a professor who had spent some time with circuses in his youth. It had long been his dream to create a circus that would teach young people. In 1969 he made the dream a reality with the backing of the Lutheran Church of America. You can get all the deets on him and Circus Kirk here on the Circuses and Sideshows website. As it happens, when I caught the show in my small town in Rhode Island it was mere months before Boas finally packed up his tents in 1977. Real glad I caught that show. Today is the late Dr. Boas’ birthday. Thanks, Doc.