November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Category — Theater

The Circus Life

Geraint Lewis photo

 A World That Sits on Sawdust

by Beth Timmins

Writer in Residence, Gifford’s Circus

A world that sits on sawdust,
Songs and cries and cheer.
Joy revolving round the ring
Watch in wonder, it’s here!

Beneath the twinkling tent you see
Magic under starlit sky,
It works it’s spell on all who tell
Of Circus; so strong the tie.

A world that sits on sawdust
The Big Top hides it’s secret,
Treasure it, as in the end,
It’s the ring that keeps it.

The rhythms of a poem remind me of those of a Circus; one moment tears can flood from your eyes while watching white doves fly around the ring, while in another, you’ll be laughing uncontrollably at the Circus clown. These moments by design are interwoven perfectly to empower one another, thus creating this most mysterious of art forms.

  Gem Hall photo

Nell Gifford performing at Gifford’s Circus.

We’ve now had the last show of the 2011 season. Each act performed, the violins played their melodies, the actors spoke their words and the audience roared applause for the final time this summer as Gifford’s Circus closed it’s blue green velvet curtains on “War & Peace at the Circus”. Gifford’s Circus was created by Nell and Toti Gifford in 2000. They began it from scratch; tent, horses, wagons, acts and all the other things that make up a Circus had to be made. It’s amazing to see it now, bringing that Circus sparkle to everyone who sees the show.

Few places brim with as much inspiration as a Circus. Everywhere you look, whether at the majestic Russian Cossack riding a pitch black gelding, or at the balletic aerialist rolling from ribbons of silk, there is always something to indulge your imagination. But with the beauty and glamour of the costumes and thrill of performing, comes the hardship of a nomadic life on the road, with days spent moving everything from the heavy seating boards to the canvas tents themselves.

Gem Hall Photo

Juggling with fire.

And, it’s not as if the Circus acts themselves are without an element of danger. In fact, some Circus artists have the most dangerous jobs in the world. The Ethiopian juggler Bichu, for example, burnt his eye while juggling with fire, but never gave up his act. Circus artists risk their lives everyday for that feeling of being in the centre of the ring, stunning viewers with inimitable skills. But their reason for joining the Circus is not simply the enjoyment in performance. It is the affect, every Circus artist I’ve spoken with agrees, that their acts have on the audience.

Gem Hall Photo

Tweedy the clown.

For Tweedy the clown, his purpose is to be “a real life cartoon,” and he is elated seeing the audience laugh. Pat and Kate Bradford delight in showing the audience something they have never before seen − an original, amazing hand-balancing, tap-dancing routine. It’s the audience’s enjoyment that keeps the Circus performers going through flooding rains and summer heat. Olivier, a Parisian mime, began his peforming career teaching disabled children physial expression.

Claire, one of the Parisians in the Circus band, says “the stars are our Big Top.” It feels that way late at night sitting around a fire listening to the many accents from exotic lands mixing in the air, while tent lights twinkle with the stars. Even so, when the touring season ends, and the intensity of life and work on the road wind down, the Circus family breaks up and the performers return to homes that sometimes are half-way around the world.

Circus is an art that has to be seen to be believed.  It’s a different animal, some say, where one artist risks life and limb doing flips through the air above the ring, throwing knives from his tongue, or dropping suddenly from great heights with just a length of silk separating her from a crushing fall. This is why eyes fix on the ring, the thrill of danger, the strangeness of something never before seen, the imagined brought to life in the exotic artistry of Circus.

About the author:

Beth Timmins is writer-in-residence with the Gifford Circus. Find out more about her time with the Gifford’s Circus at


October 27, 2011   Comments Off on The Circus Life


The Theater of Service:

Winnie Owens and Patty Minkler


By Jonathan Evans 

Colorado City, CO — I went to see the latest production at The Playhouse in Rye recently, not really knowing what to expect.  What I saw was a fun amateur comedy, primarily acted by teenagers; it had been rehearsed and produced in only four weeks and in the circumstances, it was a very brave effort.

The following morning I went back to the Theater to talk with Winnie Owens and Patty Minkler, the co-directors of the show.  I have to say that I had been warned that Winnie was a spiky lady, hard to pin down and outspoken when she was.  Patty is the local deputy sheriff in Colorado City, a forceful and prominent member of the locality- and not somebody I would have normally associated with the ancient art of Theater.  I came away from the meeting with my ideas completely turned around, not only about these members of the Greenhorn Valley community but about the role that theater can play in all our lives.  

Winnie was born in Butte, Montana, settled with her husband in Rye in 1966 and has been with the Greenhorn Valley Players for twenty years.   She took her two children to an audition for a play in the late eighties and never looked back.  Painfully shy as a child herself, she admits, theater and acting have given her greater self-confidence but went on to draw my attention to the fact that she’d still felt more comfortable wearing a Halloween mask when she’d introduced the show from the stage the night before.  This is not a woman who wants to hog the limelight and she is still frightened by the stage lights!

With an incredibly hectic life spread between the running of her home, a long-term job as liaison at the Muddy Creek Ranch and her position and responsibilities as president of the Playhouse Theater, Winnie has total commitment to Theater.  For her it is the ultimate art form and medium for self-expression, incorporating fiction, art, acting and the nitty-gritty magic of live performance.

“What you see is what you get”, she says, “right there in front of your eyes.”   She might well be talking about herself.

 This year she has seen five plays onto the stage in Rye, acted in three of them and directed two.

Patty comes from Beulah and has been in law-enforcement for twenty four years.  She has been active in the Lions Club and their distribution of food and care packages and is head of the Parade of Lights, a project very important to her because, she says, it serves to unite the towns of Rye and Colorado City at Christmas.  Most essential to her, is her service in the schools with young people and with the elderly in the community.  For her, a new involvement with the Greenhorn Valley Players and the Rye Playhouse has been an extension of this service, in a life spent looking for new ways to serve.

 She came on board as an actress to play a cop in the production of ‘Spirit’ early in 2009, got the bug and stayed on.   Patty loves to sew and makes all the costumes for the shows as well as recently moving into the role of director.

Between the two of them, they have been instrumental in the cleaning, the revamping and the makeover that the Playhouse has had recently.  With further ambitions to improve the seating, the interior and exterior, the building itself has gone from an old Mercantile store to the comfortable, well-lit ninety-five seat theater that it currently is.  And one has the sense that their work on this theater has only just begun.

But by far the most important role that they have seen for the theater goes beyond the next play or the next production.  For Winnie and Patty, the theater is about family and community building and about preserving local history and culture.  For some families, the theater is a thread of continuity which runs throughout their lives, as they take part in productions as children, grow up and have their own children do the same.  Acting can be a great confidence builder and can take the participants into realms that they never even dreamed existed. 

Theater, too, is the great educator as it holds a mirror up to life, up to our own faces and follies, both as actors and audience, and explores, exposes and in the end, applauds our common efforts.  It can bond a society, actors to audience, in a way that no other art form can.  It is a shared experience that can affect the way that each and every one of us sees ourselves and each other. You have to be brave to participate on the stage of everyday existence and theater is no less demanding.


Ed note: With this issue, begins a search for what’s happening in the far reaches of America, and the globe. We’d like to know more about theater, art events, musicians, etc. We’re looking for quality writing/reporting from the heartland and the hinterlands to share with a growing global audience. If you write about music, theater or art, take photographs, record poetry and song, or have an idea for an article that highlights something special in your world, from the arts to politics to economics, keep us in mind. We need all the help we can get!

December 20, 2009   1 Comment