By Judy Sheridan
Sometimes, people do run away and join the circus, reflects Simone Key, the daring young red-headed trapeze artist, ringmaster and co-owner of the Culpepper and Merriweather Circus, which will set up its Big Top in Aledo’s Bearcat Park next Tuesday, March 26.
More often, though, they grow into their lives as entertainers, traveling daily, learning to ride a unicycle along with their ABCs, improvising in front of an audience, pushing a needle and thread through sequins to bedazzle a costume.
“Once we had a couple come with us and sell tickets,” Key said. “He was a funeral director, and she worked at a pharmacy, and they wanted to see the sights.
“Every now and again you get people like that, but it seems like a lot of people we deal with are multi-generational.
“My grandfather was a ringmaster and magician, my aunts and uncles and mother were pretty much all in the circus in some capacity. My dad rode unicycles ... and we all learned.
“When I was little, my parents couldn’t keep me off the trapeze. Before I could remember, it was second nature.”
Key, 23, hangs and balances and swings on a short horizontal bar, suspended by ropes. Performing in a tent works better than in a building, she said, because the supports stay exactly the same.
She calls herself old school in her approach to the apparatus. Nets and safety harnesses take too much time to set up and get in the way.
“My bar is only about 15 feet off the ground, but it’s made more dangerous in that I don’t have a backup,” she said, “though some states require it by law.”
Key’s strength and flexibility allow her to do many different movements on the bar. She can balance on both her stomach and her back, hang from her heels, do the splits upside down.
The thing she’s most proud of — her signature move — is to hang from the bar by her neck.
Sometimes tricks are performed as the trapeze swings, requiring precise timing and catches.
The actual acts — that’s what a circus is all about, Key said. Spectators who suspect the little 30-member circus might prove “rinky-dink” will be surprised at the talent pool, she said, which circuses share.
Key downplays the spectacular nature of the famous three-ring circuses and stumps for the intimacy of the small.
“Nowadays, circuses have a lot of themes,” she said, “They do production numbers and dances. They’re more theatrical; there’s more flash.
“To me the theme is, ‘It’s a circus.’”
Spectators have different favorites when it comes to the acts, Key said. Occasionally it’s a small act, like the one her sister used to do with fantail pigeons.
The clowns are new this year, a male/female duo once employed by Ringling Brothers.
The big cats — a lion and brother/sister tigers — are always popular, although the male lion, Francis, has been known to spray the front row in response to the “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience.
“He’s hilarious, and he feeds off the crowd’s reaction,” Key said, “Trey tries to cut him off.”
Trey, Key’s 6-foot, 8-inch husband, is the only member of the show who didn’t grow up in a circus family, she said, but he had an uncle who was a huge circus fan.
After completing a degree in philosophy from Brown University, where he also played basketball, Trey signed up for Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Later, he managed the Culpepper and Merriweather Circus, buying it in 2001.
The two evening performances in Aledo are at the beginning of an eight-month western circuit that will encompass California, Oregon and Washington, eventually covering 17 states, Key said.
The troupe will get up at 5:30 a.m. and stay on the move, working seven days a week, averaging 500 shows a year.
They play in towns with populations of 5,000 or less, she said, because the people seem genuinely appreciative.
The circuit ends in Hugo, Okla., where the performers take four months off, “hibernating” in their winter quarters while the cats go to an exotic animal park.
The circus also makes a central U.S. circuit.
“Traveling is a lifestyle, and it’s not for everybody,” Key said. “You’re in a new place every day, and you don’t know where the Wal-Mart and the laundromat are.
“But to me, this is very normal, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I want to do it as long as I possibly can, because I don’t think circuses are going to be around much longer.
“The gas is higher, there are more permits every year, permits for the cats, insurance. In Minnesota, we have to have an electrical inspection before we turn on a generator.
“There are so many rules that someday we won’t be able to do what we do.”
Circus headed to Aledo March 26
By Judy Sheridan
- Aledo ExtrA
Plans move forward for new judge
The new judge for Parker County Court at Law No. 2 will be chosen by voters in November, but plans are underway now to determine who will appear on the ballot.
Buchanan to step down as AISD head football coach
Aledo ISD has announced a restructuring of the athletic department for the 2014 school year. At his request, Coach Tim Buchanan will become the fulltime athletic director so he may focus on the entire athletic program of the district as it continues to grow.
Water park burglar sought
Hudson Oaks police are requesting the public’s assistance in catching a burglar who broke into Splash Kingdom Water Park in Hudson Oaks earlier this month.
Commissioner at odds with school district's demand for land
Aledo ISD superintendent Derek Citty is moving forward with plans backed by the school board in May — plans to secure two school sites in the Morningstar subdivision, slated for the corner of Old Weatherford Road and FM Road 3225 in the City of Fort Worth’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
An unforgettable state championship
Corey Kiser and Riley Sartain, members of Aledo High School’s state champion softball team, honored by trustees last week, are to blame for the 10-3 tattoo on the finger of their coach, Jeff Lemons.
Firefighter arrested for child sexual assault
A volunteer Hudson Oaks firefighter is in the Parker County Jail on charges he repeatedly sexually assaulted two young relatives over a several year period.
Richard Frederick Adams Sr., 62, arrested July 21, faces two charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14, a first-degree felony.
Fire protection improving in Aledo
Stephen Watson, interim chief of Emergency Services District No. 1, briefed the Aledo City Council on improvements to the city’s fire protection — including the purchase of a site for a new fire station — in Thursday night’s Aledo City Council session.
Aledo ISD trustees affirm hiring policy
The Aledo ISD School Board affirmed a policy delegating the hiring of most school personnel to the administration by a 4-1 margin last week, with trustees Jay Stringer, David Tillman, Hoyt Harris and Steve Bartley voting in favor and trustee Bobby Rigues arguing that the board should retain the responsibility.
Aledo coffee shop helps support the troops
HUDSON OAKS — Wild West Splash Kingdom was the host of military members and military supporters the night of Saturday, July 19, during ‘Salute the Troops,’ sponsored by Holy Grounds Coffee and Gifts in Aledo and Ducerus College Planning.
Calendar of events
Holy Grounds Coffee & Gifts, at 108 Jearl Street, is hosting a series of outdoor movies in their parking lot at 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays through Aug. 23.
Admission is free and feature drinks are half price during the films. “The Amazing Spiderman” is Aug. 2, followed by “Tangled” on Aug. 9, “The Lego Movie” on Aug. 16 and “The Avengers” on Aug. 23.
For more information, call 817-440-7770.
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