Many readers may whimsically recall childhood threats to run away and join the circus – and many may also have felt despair when COVID-19 eighty-sixed the 2020 season of Circus Flora.
But those readers needn’t have fretted: That beloved metro area institution is proving that the show can go on.
In mid-April, with artistic director Jack Marsh, Karen Shoulders, the nonprofit’s managing director, announced that the pandemic had led them to postpone till next year “The Trial of the Century,” the circus’ 2020 production. Originally scheduled for June 4 to 28 in the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s 1,200-seat Big Top in St. Louis’ Covenant Blu-Grand Center neighborhood, it now will thrill audiences next June.
At the same time, though, Shoulders and Marsh noted that area supporters can still reconnect with their inner child by visiting Circus Flora’s website next Thursday for a virtual circus.
“Circus Flora has been a family summer staple for almost 35 years, and now more than ever, we want to continue to provide a bit of joy and wonder to St. Louis,” Shoulders says. “A virtual circus showcase gives us a new opportunity to bring the circus directly to our fans in their homes, and we can’t wait to ‘see’ everyone at 7 p.m. on June 4!”
“You’ll have to make your own popcorn for this one,” she amusedly replies, “and while it won’t be a full-length big top production, we’re going to have some great acts and music – and the virtual format allows for real-time interaction.
“We’ll have a few Circus Flora company members online and available to chat, which is something brand-new for a Circus Flora production. Plus, viewers can make a real-time donation to Circus Flora as they enjoy the show, and that generosity will be immensely helpful during this time.”
While striving not to spoil too many surprises, Shoulders continues: “Our first virtual circus showcase will feature acts that are new to the Circus Flora roster, a few familiar favorites and a couple guest appearances. We might also have some pretty spectacular – and perhaps hilarious – behind-the-scenes glimpses – in case anyone is wondering what the Daring Horseman [solo bareback rider Caleb Asch] has been doing during the stay-at-home order.”
Despite the finesse of the institution’s pivot, Shoulders confesses that the turn to the virtual scarcely came easily for the troupe.
“It’s a tough time for the circus industry, as it is for the entire performing arts sector,” she says, “and while our cast and crew are disappointed that our season is postponed, they unequivocally support the decision and are focused on staying safe until they can perform and create something magical together. Having the new June 2021 date, as well as the virtual circus … , gives all of us something to anticipate.
“Like many of our neighbors, we’re staying home and staying safe, while we turn to the virtual world to spread the magic of circus arts. Members of our troupe are also helping in individual ways – for example, our costume designer has pivoted from sewing clown pants to sewing protective masks.”
To defray the cost of the coronaviral complication, Shoulders says, the circus took part in Give STL Day on May 7. It also has been selling a limited-edition T-shirt through the #HereForGoodSTL campaign being conducted by Shrewsbury’s Little Tiny Monster.
Like a real trouper, Shoulders closes with this note on COVID-19: “The impact has been harsh and will be felt for a long time to come. We’re doing all that we can as an organization to ensure that the show will go on in the Big Top in 2021, and we encourage the St. Louis community to help us get there by making a donation during our virtual circus showcase or anytime online.”
Circus Flora, 3401 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, 314-827-3830,
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