Just outside the heart of historic Fairhaven stands an unassuming building. Inside this modern, metal building, live a talented group of dedicated performers. These performers make up the Bellingham Circus Guild.
This Valentine’s Day, the group hosted a themed event called My Circus Valentine, complete with an array of acts to entertain and awe the audience.
It was the eve of Valentine’s Day and my boyfriend and I didn’t know what to do. We’d exchanged presents and went out to dinner, but what about an experience? It’s only once a year where everyone is encouraged to observe love in all its forms. That’s when we decided to see the show. As we followed the painted signs that said, “Circus Show” we knew we had picked a unique way to celebrate this year.
“I have never really liked Valentine’s Day,” said Anneka Deacon, the artistic director, stage manager and producer of the show. “I don’t like the clichés of it and that everyone should be having a sweetie and all of this heterocentric stuff around it.”
Deacon has been a performer for 10 years and decided she wanted something different for Valentine ’s Day that supported circus performers. She started the show seven years ago. This year is the first time she hasn’t performed.
“This is a really good opportunity for circus artists to perform in a way that is really special to them. [It] allows them to share open-heartedly and get paid for what they do,” Deacon said.
At this point in my life, I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Brothers and my small town’s yearly carnival, but nothing had prepared me for the intimacy and closeness of the Bellingham Circus Guild’s stage.
As I entered I was greeted by the smell of fresh popcorn. The giggles of children and an aura of excitement illuminated the room; Spinning above my head was an artist wrapped in blue silk welcoming guests and surprising young kids when she’d compliment them on their circus-like outfits of tutus and tights.
As showtime grew closer the audience chose their seats and in the front row on a mat was a group of kids excitedly gazing up at a performer on stilts who towered over them. The lights dimmed and the sixth My Circus Valentine began.
The stage burst to life. The opening act was a singer and dancers who set the tone of the show by singing a Bellingham version of “Let’s do it (Let’s fall in love)” by Cole Porter. Each act was an expression of the hard work the artist put in and it showed on the stage.
The jugglers in the show weren’t just juggling balls, one was juggling round discs. He would spin and catch with one disc while the thrown disc would land still spinning in the other. The other team juggled pins with each other simultaneously. They rarely missed a beat or comedic moment.
The space between the audience and the stage was nearly non-existent. The acts invited you into their space and you were given a front row seat to the experience. The room had a sense of togetherness with its excitement.
One of the acts involved a large rope that was strung to the ceiling. The artist climbed to the middle of the rope and began to perform. Wrapping the rope around a leg and an arm, she’d let go. The rope would hold her weight suspended in the air. Then she would tie herself into another form and unravel once more. It appeared as easy as untying a silk ribbon from a present.
Another act, which caused my heart to skip a beat, was a pair of trapeze artists. The two told a story of a young woman picking apples before she snags the hat of a man who was raking leaves. The woman climbs onto the trapeze and the pair mischievously work together to tell the tale. During the performance the man would hang upside down and she would hold onto his arms spinning and then ascend back to the top of the trapeze. The two worked together to perform the stunts until the end when she politely returns his hat and steal his rake.
The atmosphere was a collective one that uniformly morphed from one act to another. Between each act was a storyteller that discussed themes of love and pain that created a narrative woven through each performance. The audiences’ cathartic response was different for each person, but it’d be hard to say that someone walked out of My Circus Valentine without experiencing anything.
“My favorite act was the trapeze,” my boyfriend, Nathan Moore said. “It was amazing to just watch them on one trapeze being able to do so many stunts. You could see how athletic [they were] and how much training they put into it because it was so precise. It was amazing to watch.”
There was a tidal wave of emotions from the heightened stakes of the trapeze pair that caused us all sweat. To an alluring piggy that was easy to love. To the display of aerial silks that morphed the artist from one entity to another. The artist looked like a flame to a waxless candle. The red silk transformed her. I heard one child call out, “Look, it’s a butterfly!” as the artist danced above our heads.
One of the last acts was an aerial hoop act, also known as lyra, performed by Dream Frohe. The hoop hung from the ceiling and Frohe used the hoop to suspend herself and create images for the audience’s imagination to shape. At the end of her act the rest of the company slowly joined her and they swayed slowly back and forth like a pendulum keeping time.
“After my act, we all come onstage a few at a time. It felt very powerful and sweet,” Frohe said. “Just standing there with everybody at the end of the last show and the audience was so stoked and receptive it felt really awesome.”
Frohe is an aerialist who uses many apparatuses. She has been an aerialist for nine years and is specializing most recently in the aerial hoop.
“I wouldn’t have had the guts to perform as much I have or in the way that I do without this community,” Frohe said.
Frohe said when she initially started her performance career, she thought the Bellingham community was supportive.
“My friend Anneka started [My Circus Valentine] with my input. [My Circus Valentine] is a show that encompasses love in all of its facets. The painful and the joyous and the tender parts,” Frohe said. “We hope it’s a show that people in any relationship with love can feel connected to people and feel a sense of belonging and being moved.”
This Valentine’s Day will be something I’ll forever hold close to my heart. Maybe next year you’ll get to see the pigs fly too. However, between now and next Valentine’s day, the Bellingham Circus Guild presents Vaudevillingham on the 15th of every month. If you’re up for it, you and your significant other can run away with the circus for a night too.
*Lauren R. Brigolin used her boyfriend, Nathan Moore, in her first person story as a source to describe their Valentine’s Day date.