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_1138.jpg Ride for Heroes a success

    Nearly 1,200 cyclists flooded the roads around East Parker County during Saturday’s 12th annual Moritz Ride for Heroes.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • H. Harris.jpg Aledo ISD School Board Place 7 candidates

    Early voting for the May 10 general election begins April 28. Following is information gathered from the candidates for the Place 7 Aledo ISD trustee race, Hoyt Harris, James Riley Morrison and Debra Rogers.

    April 23, 2014 3 Photos

  • D_Davis photo.jpg Aledo ISD School Board Place 6 candidates

    Early voting for the May 10 general election begins April 28. Following is information gathered from the candidates for the Place 6 Aledo ISD trustee race, incumbent David Davis and challenger Farida Goderya.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Anita Callaway.jpg Callaway gets A+

    Anita Callaway, an English teacher at Daniel Ninth Grade Center, was named “Teacher of the Year” during the 2014 Marva Collins Teaching Excellence Awards ceremony held April 15 in the Aledo High School auditorium.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • Man dies in Farmer Road crash

    A 60-year-old Parker County man was killed around 9:30 a.m. April 15 in a one-vehicle crash in the 2100 block of FM Road 3325, also known as Farmer Road.

    April 23, 2014

  • Fire victims' fund established

    Two streets down and hours after many members of the East Parker County community gathered April 5 to present a new home built with donations to the Hancock family, another family in the West Oak subdivision lost their home to a fire and is now in need of support from the community.

    April 23, 2014

  • Delay adds $56,000 to Aledo Trail project

    The long delay in the Aledo Trail downtown couplet, now due to finish in summer instead of spring, will add about $56,000 to the cost of the project, Parker County commissioners learned last week, when they approved a change order upping the contract to around $3.3 million.

    April 23, 2014

  • Parker County Sheriff's Report March 31-April 11

    April 11
    Theft of property

    A deputy was dispatched to 8600 Interstate 20 East, Aledo, in reference to a theft investigation. The 57-year-old male complainant said an unknown suspect stole $1,000 of copper wire from the Sprint tower on the site. A case was made for the theft of property: aluminum, bronze, copper and brass.

    April 23, 2014

  • East Parker County Calendar of Events

    April 24
    Bearcats ‘N Boots Gala: dinner, auction and entertainment

    • 6:30 p.m. at Cendera Center, 3600 Benbrook Highway, Fort Worth.
    • Catered by The Wild Mushroom; entertainment by Four Day Weekend.
    • Tickets cost $100.
    • Benefitting the Aledo ISD Education Foundation
    • Title sponsor Buford-Thompson Company.  
    • For more information, go to aledoef.org.

    April 23, 2014

  • EXTENSION NEWS: Take a mind vacation

    For many of us, every day has some sort of stress associated with it. Whether it is something at home or at work, it seems like there are a million things stressing us out and making us feel overwhelmed.

    April 20, 2014

Must Read
Top News
House Ads
AP Video
SKorea Ferry Toll Hits 156, Search Gets Tougher Video Shows Possible Syrian Gas Attack Cubs Superfans Celebrate Wrigley's 100th Raw: Cattle Truck Overturns in Texas Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Erupting Volcanoes in Guatemala and Peru Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm FBI Joining Probe of Suburban NY 'Swatting' Call U.S. Paratroopers in Poland, Amid Ukraine Crisis US Reviews Clemency for Certain Inmates Raw: Violence Erupts in Rio Near Olympic Venue Raw: Deadly Bombing in Egypt Raw: What's Inside a Commercial Jet Wheel Well Raw: Obama Arrives in Japan for State Visit Raw: Anti-Obama Activists Fight Manila Police Motels Near Disney Fighting Homeless Problem Michigan Man Sees Thanks to 'bionic Eye' S.C. Man Apologizes for Naked Walk in Wal-Mart Chief Mate: Crew Told to Escape After Passengers