BETHEL, Conn. — While Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus may be closing down, you can now learn how to perform your own circus skills in P.T. Barnum's hometown of Bethel -- all thanks to Cynthia Rauschert, who has just taken over ownership of Spark Arts.
“No prior circus experience is necessary, there’s a place for everyone in our circus family, said Rauschert, a Bethel resident.
At Spark Arts, students of all ages can learn tumbling, juggling, plate-spinning, stilt-walking and unicycling as well as clowning games, acrobatics and hula-hooping.
Classes, which have ongoing enrollment, are also offered for students with special needs, seniors and at-risk kids.
Rauschert said she loves the circus and believes everyone can find a role that's a perfect fit.
"It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to be on stage since then you can be behind the scenes," she said. "If you are really small. people can lift you up. If you are really big, people can rely on you to hold them up."
She believes that the circus is empowering. "Anyone can start from scratch, students can teach one another and everyone learns at their own pace. It's a skill-sharing environment.
Rauschert, a 46-year-old New Jersey native, said she has been fascinated with the circus her whole life.
"When I was in kindergarten, we did a pantomime circus at a senior center for our graduation. I was the juggler. Thirty years later, i taught myself how to juggle and from learning this skill, I started meeting other people in the circus and performing."
She has a bachelor's degrees in theatrical clowning from a pilot program in the New College of California, which has since closed. She also did promotional work for Cirque Du Soleil.
Ultimately, she would like to create a community circus — "a performance troupe that will travel within the community and perform at local parades."
Rauschert said she has mixed feelings on the closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
"I am desperately sad to see a 147-year tradition end, but I'm also curious and optimistic about what will occupy the space left behind," she said.
"I am part of a burgeoning movement of new circus artists and circus arts educators. It will be interesting to see what images the word 'circus' conjures in a few decades," she said.
On Feb. 10 to Feb. 11, Spark Arts will perform "Seussical The Musical!" at Bethel Middle School. Spark Arts' prior owner Erin Volpintesta is producing the performance.
On Feb. 25, Spark Arts will be holding a Family Circus Day workshop from 2 to 4 p.m. where families are invited to try different circus skills, from balancing peacock feathers to juggling to walking on stilts to making human pyramids. Preregistration is required.
Spark Arts also offers classes in dance, music, theater drawing, painting, fashion design, clay, photography and more.