By Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer | Published September 22, 2015
The 2015 edition of St. Jude the Apostle School’s biennial circus takes place this week with performances scheduled in the school gymnasium on Sept. 23-27. Under the guidance of Circus of the Kids, the Tallahassee, Fla. based circus arts instructional program, this is the school’s fifth circus since 2007. Circus of the Kids, which was founded in 1982, is the brainchild of Bruce Pheffer. The Florida State University graduate said he fell in love with the circus around age 11 when he saw one at Calloway Gardens. Since its inception Circus of the Kids has presided over circus performances at over 150 venues throughout the United States and Canada.
Pheffer said St. Jude the Apostle School is the largest school where they hold a circus, and it usually has the most number of kids in a cast. This year 142 middle school students are participating in various facets of the circus. That’s 82 percent of the school’s middle school population.
With its circus equipment and 14 instructors in place, Circus for the Kids conducted St. Jude’s first practice after school on Sept. 8. During the first of two practices I attended, students were practicing human balancing, hula-hoop and trapeze, three of the 20 acts that will be performed during the circus.
The students and school administrators make a great commitment to the success of the circus. Broken down into one-hour sessions, the students and their various acts have practice each evening, beginning at 3 p.m. and ending at 10 p.m., except Sundays. It comes out to five or six hours of practice a week for each performer. It’s quite amazing to watch the maturation process as they learn to master the acts from one day to the next. One minute they appear clumsy and unsure of themselves, and before you know it, they’re taking on the double trapeze, hand balancing or juggling.
Eighth-grader Anna Gigilo is the school’s ring mistress this year, the fifth in a line of one previous ring master (Davis Homrich) and three ring mistresses (Lily Williamson, Grace Guynn and Mattie Ryan). “I hope to use my role to bring excitement to the circus ring and to entertain my audience to the best of my ability,” said Gigilo.
“The circus is used as the medium, but it’s really about teaching success and boosting self-esteem,” said Pheffer. St. Jude principal Patty Childs says the circus inspires teamwork among students and encourages a better sense of trust. “With students of different grades working on acts together, it allows students to broaden their social circle to include additional people they normally might not hang out with, and ultimately coming to rely on and extending themselves to others,” said Childs.
Lauren Jennings, a 2015 graduate of St. Jude’s and a current freshman at Marist School, Atlanta, is one of three circus participants in her family. She and her older sister both did the hula-hoop and her brother Ryan, a seventh-grader at St. Jude, is doing the triple trapeze. “It was eye opening to learn what other performers must go through for training,” said Jennings. “I got to experience the effort it takes to organize such an event, and I appreciated the work that all the instructors did to make it all come together.”
The first public performance, a dress rehearsal, is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday evening. St. Jude has invited the entire student body of St. Peter Claver School, Decatur, for a special 10 a.m., circus presentation Thursday morning. There is also a 7 p.m. performance on Thursday and Friday, a 2 p.m. and a 7 p.m. performance on Saturday and a 2 p.m. performance on Sunday.
To purchase tickets call 800-881-SHOW or visit http://circusofthekids.com