There is no reason these days for a kid to run away to the circus. Not when the largest youth circus program in North America is right here in the Twin Cities.
For 22 years, Circus Juventas in St. Paul has trained more than 2,500 students ages 3-21 in the finer points of clowning, tumbling, trapeze and other more esoteric specialities, like the use of a German Wheel or Russian Sling.
Two Woodbury teens are in the cast of "Wonderland," the circus academy's summer performance showcase, which runs July 28 to Aug. 14 at their performance space in St. Paul.
The production, which features nearly 100 advanced students, melds the phantasia of Cirque de Soleil with athletics and acting. The theme of the show is a tribute to the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland."
Kate Schullo, 15, will be appearing in her third circus Juventas production. She's studying nearly a dozen disciplines at the school, from theater to contortion.
"I joined the circus once I came out of gymnastics," said Schullo, a student at East Ridge High School. "I quit and I wanted something else to do."
Schullo will perform various aerial feats in the show, including the swinging and the triangle trapeze. She also will perform an act called cradle.
"Cradle is similar to flying trapeze except that, instead of having a bar, one person throws you and another person catches you," she said. "I'm just a small person in general so I'm just a flyer and I get thrown around by people in general."
For the swinging trapeze, Schullo propels herself from a bar, spins in midair and then catches it. She likens the movement to pumping oneself high on a swing set and then letting go.
"It's only me up there," she said. "You pump it up until you're swinging and you let go and try to catch the bar."
Emilie Davidson, 14, enrolled at Circus Juventas classes in 2008. She saw a friend perform in the show and was hooked. Clowning is her strong suit, but she also performs stunts on bicycles, trapeze and globe, where she walks on a large inflatable ball.
"When people hear that I'm in a circus, they say, 'Oh, are there lions and clowns?'" she said.
Circus Juventas was founded by Dan and Betty Butler in 1994. The two met as teens in Sarasota Florida, where both studied with old-school circus masters. They started Circus Juventas, which was named after the Roman goddess of youth, to build self-confidence in kids.
Davidson said that eight years of classes with the school has certainly boosted hers.
"I'm a lot more confident that I probably would have been otherwise because I know that I can do certain things," Davidson said. "Not everyone can do a headstand on a moving bicycle. It's something I can feel better about myself about."
The toughest part is the time commitment, she said. Usually she goes straight from school to circus practice. Teamwork obviously plays a big part in the show. And teamwork is built on trust.
"You really should be able to build trust rather quickly," Davidson said. "If you don't trust your partner they're not going to be able to trust you, and then that really takes away from what you would be able to do together."