Weatherford Democrat

Aledo ExtrA

March 18, 2013

Life under the big top

Circus headed to Aledo March 26

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.”

Text Only
Aledo ExtrA
  • IMG_7134.JPG Despite cold, peach crops looking rosy

    Parker County peach growers won’t know for sure for a few more days, but as of Wednesday, one day after April temperatures plummeted into the low 30s, they’re predicting a good, even rosy, peach harvest for this year’s Parker County Peach Festival.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Aledo ISD "Shattered Dreams" and parent workshop

    Aledo ISD high school students will get a taste of what it’s like to be in a car accident with fatalities Thursday, April 17th, and Friday, April 18th, as they participate in “Shattered Dreams,” a program designed to save lives. A parent workshop about the topics addressed in the program will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 17.

    April 16, 2014

  • Hitting the trail for MS

    STEPHENVILLE – The Cowboy Capital MS Trail Ride is a fun-filled event dedicated to raising funds that support national research into the cause and cure for Multiple Sclerosis as well as provide programs to more than 9,000 people in the Lone Star Chapter area whose lives are touched by MS.

    April 16, 2014

  • Parker County man killed in single-vehicle wreck

    A 60-year-old Parker County man was killed around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a one-vehicle crash in the 2100 block of FM Road 3325, also known as Farmer Road.

    April 15, 2014

  • hiebert_kim.jpg Aledo City Council Place 4 candidates for May 10 election

    Early voting for the May 10 general election begins April 28. Following is some information gathered from the candidates for the Place 4 Aledo City Council seat. Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall is running for re-election unopposed.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • Jean Bailey photo.jpg Aledo City Council Place 2 candidates

    Early voting for the May 10 general election begins April 28. Following is some information gathered from the candidates running for the Aledo City Council Place 2 seat. Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall is running for re-election unopposed.

    April 15, 2014 2 Photos

  • USAF photo.jpg USAF heroes to Ride for Heroes

    The 12th annual Ride for Heroes bike ride this Saturday in Aledo will include some VIPs: members of the United States Air Force Cycling Team.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • FM 5 intersection makeover

    City of Willow Park officials were recently told that a planned reconstruction of the intersection of Interstate 20 frontage roads and FM Road 5 now has funding from the state and is moving ahead.

    April 15, 2014

  • DSC_0074.JPG Bearcat Bootcamp holds successful fundraiser

    Bearcat Bootcamp, an Aledo fitness organization, held its first 1-mile Fun Run and Back the Bearcats 5K race April 5.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hearing held for Annetta Crime Control District

    The Crime Control and Prevention District proposed for the Town of Annetta — which voters have the chance to accept or reject in the May 10 election — moved forward last week with an April 7 public hearing.

    April 15, 2014

Must Read
Top News
House Ads
AP Video
Raw: Royal Couple Visits Australia Mountains Raw: Pro-Russian Militants Killed on Base Captain of Sunken South Korean Ferry Apologizes Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing Raw: Blast at Tennessee Ammunition Plant Kills 1 Hoax Bomb Raises Anxiety in Boston Egypt Clamps Down on Mosques to Control Message After Fukushima, Japan Eyes Solar Power New York Auto Show Highlights Latest in Car Tech Ex-California City Leader Gets 12 Year Sentence Disbanding Muslim Surveillance Draws Praise Hundreds Missing After South Korean Ferry Sinks Passengers Abuzz After Plane Hits Swarm of Bees Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?