The Big Top Comes to Whitehorse

The circus arts are some of the oldest performing arts: acrobats, contortionists, the bearded lady, bears pedaling bikes, clowns, and juggling.

The big top, pennant flags waving in the wind. The smell of wood chips and animals. It’s mysterious, glamorous. Magical. From the outside.

In reality, “everyday is the same” — a new town a day, setting up the tents, selling tickets and popcorn, painting faces, performing, taking everything down, and then, the road again.

That’s according the Rachael Estrada. She’s the booking agent for the Family Fun Circus, which will be in Whitehorse for two shows on May 25. She works out of Florida, near Sarasota, a circus hotspot. That’s because traditionally, circus families would congregate there when they weren’t touring. Which, for the Family Fun Circus, isn’t often.

Estrada says they are on the road 11 months of the year, hitting a town a day. Chuy (pronounced “Chewy”) and Lola Davenport are the patriarch and matriarch of the Family Fun Circus. They travel with their kids, Jairo, Zenya, Johnny, and Zaira, and a few other performers. Estrada isn’t sure, but she thinks about 10 to 15 of them will be with the circus that is coming to Whitehorse.

She says circus families are like roving bands of gypsies, always on the road. The torch is passed from parent to child.

This is the case for the Family Fun Circus. Lola’s from a Mexican circus family, and she specializes in wire walking, juggling, and “various other acts”.

Chuy is related to Ben Davenport, who is “an old circus name”. Estrada says Ben Davenport was famous for working with elephants.

Estrada’s dad worked with tigers, and that’s what she was trained in. Which explains (in part) why she’s a booking agent now. She says big animals — elephants and tigers — aren’t in the circus anymore. There are various reasons for this, mostly societal pressure. Estrada says people get their nose in business that doesn’t concern them, and this is making the circus a dying art.

So, condensed versions, like the Family Fun Circus, is how they survive. The Family Fun Circus does have ponies and dogs. Johnny Davenport is a human cannonball, and there will be a motorcycle driving in a steel cage — the sphere of death. There’s also clowns, jugglers, acrobats, wire walkers, and contortionists. No bearded ladies or fl ame throwers.

Estrada says the Family Fun Circus will be around for a while. Johnny Davenport is almost ready to take it over; he knows how to do everything. That being said, though, Lola and Chuy aren’t going anywhere yet.

It’s a way of life that’s hard to shake. Estrada dropped out of the circus to go to college because she wasn’t trained in anything but tigers. She sort of did the opposite of running away to join the circus — she ran away to join the real world, but the circus found her.

The booking job “fell into her lap” when she was at college. She graduated from college, and kept the booking job. Sometimes she hates it, but it’s what she does.

The Family Fun Circus is setting up the Big Top in Shipyards Park on May 25. It’s in Canada already, crossing the border in mid-May and traveling up enroute to Alaska. There will be two shows on May 25, one at 4:30 p.m. and one at 7:00 p.m. The doors will be open an hour before each show. Come early to watch them set up. Maybe you’ll be enchanted, and will start a circus legacy of your own.

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