By Sam Jack
The last time the circus came to Haysville – when Carson & Barnes stopped here in June 2015 – it packed up its tent and left again after two days.
This time around, the circus is here to stay. The When I Grow Up Circus Warehouse opened in Grand Avenue Industrial Park II last month.
Haysville native Madi Hooper is running the new circus arts gym and performance venue, together with Rush Hicks, a circus clown, contortionist and former Coney Island sideshow performer.
Hooper is a performer with the Phlox Kansas troupe, which can often be seen spinning and juggling flaming hoops on Final Fridays in Wichita’s Old Town Square. She met Hicks when he was in town with another troupe, Mystic Circus.
“That’s where the friendship got started, and then we decided – he decided – this would be a good idea, to open up shop here in Haysville,” Hooper said.
Hicks knows hundreds of people in the circus and variety arts fields, he said, and he is hoping many of them will want to come train at the circus gym in Haysville – where the cost of living is more affordable – during New York City and Coney Island’s off-season.
He also wants to serve adults and children interested in a more free-form, artistic alternative to conventional gymnastics.
“Gyms like this are popping up everywhere, because people are wanting something different,” Hicks said. “Girls are watching ‘America’s Got Talent’ and saying, ‘I want to be that aerialist.’ This is an alternative to something like gymnastics or martial arts, and it’s much cheaper for our monthly membership than those things are.”
A membership at When I Grow Up, $50 per month, grants access to open gym times as well as classes and “club” sessions devoted to circus disciplines such as juggling, aerial performance, contortion and knife-throwing. One-off classes will focus on sideshow tricks like fire-eating, glass dancing and lying on a bed of nails.
“We are going to take on about 60 students, and our circus troupe here in town is about 12 to 15 people,” Hicks said. “Since I travel all around, I can pull in trainers and stuff to come during their off-seasons.”
In addition to its function as a gym, the Circus Warehouse will also be a performance venue. Hicks and Hooper are planning the local troupe’s first show for Feb. 13-15.
“We’re putting stage lights up, building a stage. We’re probably going to get 100 people in and do a dinner theatre for Valentine’s Day,” Hicks said.
The performance will be in the “neo-circus” style popularized by Cirque du Soleil.
“It’s a theatre production, not like a pitched-tent ring,” Hicks said. “There are a lot of smaller neo-circuses, but we’re trying to be something a little different. Cirque (du Soleil) doesn’t use words to tell their stories, since they’re trying to draw an international audience. Since we’re U.S.-based, our shows use words to tell a story, top to bottom. It’ll be a play with circus arts integrated into it.”
For more information on When I Grow Up Circus Warehouse, including class and open gym schedules and times, visit www.facebook.com/wigucircus, or call Hicks at 843-303-2199. The warehouse’s address is 136 Pirner, No. 2.