I only got to go to the circus a couple of times as a child, but each visit was magical. I remember every minute spent in the warm, glowing lights, the constant wonder and giggling, and each unexpected new experience. Whatcom County is fortunate to have the Bellingham Circus Guild, a small group of tight-knit circus arts performers, who bring the extraordinary talent of jugglers, clowns, acrobats, stilt walkers, aerialists, musicians, and storytellers to the stage every month throughout the year. Through their monthly shows, weekly classes, rentals, and special events, I can share a circus experience with my family any time of the year.
In as early as 2004, a number of performers were holding shows in an outdoor tent that moved around the county. Area performers were working on their own individually, teaching classes, practicing in garages. In 2007, local performers made a decision to band together to share costs of practice and class space and the Bellingham Circus Guild was born. Their goal was to encourage circus artists to practice, develop, and share with the community their unique artform. They used a variety of spaces in Whatcom County, until they settled at their current location at 1401 6th Street, Suite 102 in the Historic Fairhaven neighborhood around 2012.
About 15 individuals make up the core active membership of The Guild. They share in decision-making and management. A few of them have been involved since the beginning. A larger community of youth and adults from surrounding counties as far north as Vancouver, B.C. and as far south as Seattle currently participate by taking classes and renting the practice space and stage. Like the traveling circuses of my childhood, it takes teamwork to make a show. About 10 to 15 performers, a band, and a crew of about 30 volunteer ‘stage ninjas‘ help pull off the Guild’s monthly Vaudevillingham shows.
Named for the variety shows popular from the 1880s to the 1930s, Vaudevillingham includes some of the same elements that were common in a vaudeville show. First started in 2008, Vaudevillingham performances occur on the 15th of each month, no matter what day of the week the date falls on. The date was originally chosen because it was the day before circus space rent was due and it has remained ever since.
In a single show, one might see musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, magicians, acrobats, jugglers, and what the guild calls ‘experimental multi-media theatricalists.’ There is only one rule among Vaudevillingham performers: ‘No performer may repeat the same act, ever, at any Vaudevillingham show.’ The upside of that rule is that every show is fresh, new, and different.
Performances are at 7 and 9 PM. Although the content is not restricted or censored, there is a general understanding that children and families will attend the earlier show. Although no nudity is permitted, the later show can, at times, be more risque.
Classes for Kids & Adults
My sons took classes when they were ten from one of The Guild’s long-time members, Jason Quick. They were not interested in traditional team sports but loved going to Circus Arts Playshop one night a week. They preferred the freedom of the format that was unlike traditional classes. Students would have a short introductory lesson about a specific circus art form like hula-hooping or stilt-walking and then the remainder of the class could be spent practicing whatever skills interested you most. While they played with juggling, slack lines, and clown bicycles, they improved their balance, strength, patience, and social skills.
The Guild believes that anyone can be a circus artist if they work at it. No prior experience is required. Just curiosity and a willingness to learn while playing.
A variety of classes meet one night each week including Unicycle and Juggle Clubs and Physical Comedy Clowning Class. Private lessons in aerial performance are also ongoing. Experienced aerialists may attend self-guided practice sessions called open aerials. Conditioning classes and a variety of private lessons occur regularly at the space known as the Cirque Lab.
New classes are continually developing based on the interests of guild members and the public. Their website invites anyone to make requests for new classes that can then be connected with an appropriate instructor.
Performance Comes to You
When it is more appropriate for a performer to come to your home or business, the Guild will connect you. They send jugglers and clowns to birthday and holiday parties and corporate fundraisers. Aerialists have performed at summer outdoor concerts throughout Bellingham including Downtown Sounds. You almost always can find a performer at one of Bellingham’s Farmer’s Markets. Using the form on their website is the easiest way to bring a performance to your event.
Renting the Space
The Guild rents out the Cirque Lab to the public affordable for weddings, holiday and birthday parties, corporate events and fundraisers, concerts, plays, and whatever you can dream. The Lab is set up for entertainment. It can accommodate a group as large as 299 and the reasonable fee includes lights, seating, and basic audio capabilities.
A number of area performers also rent the space affordable for their special events. Its a place where artists may share their wares without breaking the bank. Area groups like the Provocateurs, aerialists, and local bands schedule special performances throughout the year.
Whatcom County is lucky to be home to the quality circus artists that make up The Bellingham Circus Guild. Their shows, classes, and rental options are a cultural resource for our area. I’m thankful for the privilege of bringing my family to the circus any month of the year.
1401 6th Street, Suite 102
Bellingham, WA 98225