The Flynn Creek Circus might be a familiar name to some. Circus fans and Northern California locals may have even attended the first shows back in 2002.
For those not familiar with the name, now is the chance to become acquainted. The Flynn Creek Circus, started by husband and wife duo Blaze Birge and David Jones, has been gracing fields, farms and convention centers up and down the West Coast for two decades. This year’s performance, Balloons, Birds & Other Flying Things, honoring their 20th anniversary, comes to Sebastopol Aug. 11-14 after stops in Petaluma and Rohnert Park in July.
Using memories solicited from previous audience members, Balloons, Birds & Other Flying Things is a series of vignettes told through music, acrobatics, comedy and jaw-dropping feats of circus talent.
Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote, “The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” the show is centered on a father and daughter who attend the circus together, creating a memory which moves through the daughter’s life even after her father passes away.
In preparing the show, Birge and Jones were inspired by the ongoing experience of raising their own daughter while running a circus. Balloons, Birds & Other Flying Things is an invitation into the mysterious nature of our experiences and memories.
“Flynn Creek is special in that it’s a very narrative circus—we kind of do contemporary circus theater in a way, because there’s always a storyline involved that’s thoughtful and absurd, and funny,” said MC and marketing manager Nicole Laumb.
The group began with a series of epic, circus-society-type parties in Comchee, a small village on the Mendocino Coast where Birge was living. As a circus performer touring in America and Europe at the time, Birge wanted a local group.
“There was nothing, there was no circus whatsoever. So I started throwing these rural kinds of parties with circus performances,” Birge recalled.
The property hosting the parties was on Flynn Creek Road, hence the circus’s name. From Birge’s account of the early gatherings, they were nothing short of epic.
“They were pretty wild. I mean, it’s in the middle of nowhere, and 800 people would show up. They all had themes—one year we did an Egyptian theme where we collected roses from a friend’s garden and covered the entire walkway with rose petals. That’s how we got started,” Birge said.
Birge originally studied philosophy and performance art installation in college, and found her love of circus inadvertently through investigation into rigging to suspend sculptures. She ended up apprenticing with a circus in London, never anticipating she herself would end up in the ring.
“I was interested in the acrobatics side. I won’t pretend I wasn’t, but I was 25. I really didn’t think that that was something I was going to be able to do. But I did! I went and apprenticed under a fifth generation Romanian circus family in England, and just sort of fell into the performance side, and particularly the aerial arts. It was all encompassing, and what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years!” Birge said.
From those early 2000s’ parties, the show and company grew to what it is today, a touring circus with a rotating cast, changing every year to incorporate the myriad circus talents worldwide. This year’s cast includes slack rope walker and choreographer Esther De Monteflores, Boston-based circus artist Alexis Hendrick, French circus company CollectifA4, drummer Zak Garn and more.
Each performer carries a unique and inspiring story of finding their love of circus, from those who knew at an early age to those—like Birge—who amazed themselves with their ability and the chances of fate that led them to performing. The eclectic group is joined together by their dedication to and love for the craft, and their commitment to the adventurous lifestyle that circus performance offers.
“The cast is also the crew. We travel weekly, put up the tent, perform, take down the tent and move to the next location. Everyone is working, sweating, making sure that the show goes,” Laumb explained.
Going to the circus isn’t like going to a play or a concert—there is a uniqueness to the experience of the circus that I as an audience member have often wondered about. Hearing the phrase, “The circus is coming to town,” brings a sense of fear, mystery, nostalgia, timelessness and wonder all at once.
As a bystander, I’ve always attributed these associations to old films like Something Wicked This Way Comes or books like The Night Circus, which weave romance, danger and magic into the very fabric of the circus tent. Outside of cinema and literature, I inquired with Birge as to just what that inimitable circus-quality stemmed from.
Birge responded: “Circus is incredibly authentic, in a way that theater is not, in a way that dance is not. What you’re looking at contains true risk, true athletic risk that has consequences. And that thrilling element is very unique. That, coupled with the amount of time it takes to master these completely useless skills. There is this weird silliness factor surrounding the incredible risk that creates pure entertainment. What you’re seeing is somebody’s will, somebody’s passion, somebody’s absolute determination to accomplish. And you’re seeing the residue of all the failures it took to get to that success as well. And I think that’s the authenticity you’re seeing. It just comes across.”
In a way, circus is magic—a feat of human determination and a commitment to the absurd, resulting in something profoundly entertaining and almost inexplicable. Sounds a bit like life, doesn’t it? Only this version includes tightrope walkers and trapeze artists.
See ‘Balloons, Birds & Other Flying Things’ at the Sebastopol Grange, 6000 Sebastopol Ave., from Aug. 11-14. Tickets and additional information available at www.flynncreekcircus.com.