Saint Paul, Minnesota
|Area served||Minneapolis – Saint Paul|
Circus Juventas (formerly Circus of the Star) is a youth performing arts circus school located in Saint Paul, Minnesota and serving youth throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The organization was founded in 1994 by Dan and Betty Butler, and offers circus arts training to children ages 3-21.
Emulating the style of Cirque du Soleil, Circus Juventas' themed shows have enjoyed popularity in the Twin Cities. Launched at St. Paul's Highland Fest in 1995, Circus Juventas has since performed in venues including the Science Museum of Minnesota, Target Center, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, the Mall of America, Roy Wilkins Auditorium, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Dan and Betty Butler met as teenagers at the Sailor Circus of Sarasota during the mid-1970s. Dan was a catcher on the flying trapeze, while Betty was an aerialist on the cloud swing. They began dating at age sixteen and both of them went on to perform at Florida State University's Flying High Circus. Dan became a successful real estate broker in Atlanta, but eventually faced bankruptcy and chemical dependency. The couple came to reside in Minnesota because Dan Butler was receiving alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation at Hazelden. After rehabilitation, Dan became a precious metals broker.
The Butlers founded Circus Juventas in 1994, citing a desire to give back to the community as one of the reasons for its creation. It was originally known as Circus of the Star, named for Minnesota's nickname, The North Star State. The newly opened Hillcrest Recreation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota provided the couple with inspiration for the circus program, and they asked the city if they could hold classes there. The Saint Paul Parks and Recreation Department approved the program, and assumed liability for approximately fifty children who enrolled the first year. About thirty of those students stayed with the program and performed in their first show at the 1995 Highland Fest, an annual family-oriented festival. After this performance, interest in the program increased. By 1996, around thirty more students were enrolled, and by 1997, an additional twenty-five had joined the program. The circus was still based out of the Hillcrest Recreation Center's gym, and had to work around the schedule of the other regular activities in the facility. In 1997, the waitlist for the program was around 200 students.
In 1996, Circus Juventas began a capital campaign to build a permanent home in St. Paul. A long-term lease was secured from the City of St. Paul and initial designs for the 21,000 square foot (2,000 m²) big top were completed. With contributions from hundreds of families, supporters and area foundations, the campaign goal of US$2.1 million was reached and the big top was built in 2001.
On 16 August 2009, at the closing performance of the show Yulong, a set of bleachers holding 420 audience members collapsed, sending seven people to the hospital. In the ensuing investigation, it came to light that Juventas had not had the bleachers inspected each time they were set up, as required by their lease with the city. They had been issued a permit in 2006 for the bleachers, and had not had them inspected since. The school was fined $500 and shut down until the legal and safety issues could be fully investigated. The investigation showed that several boards had been missing from the collapsed bleacher, which had been erected and used regardless.
As of 2010, the circus school enrolled students from ages 6 to twenty-one, with an additional enrollment of about 150 toddlers and other younger participants.
The school typically puts on two shows per year: a spring performance featuring less advanced students studying circus arts at beginning and intermediate levels, and a late summer show to display the talents of more advanced students. While the earliest shows were focused primarily on technique and the individual acts, by 1997 or 1998 the school began to put more focus into the artistic side of performances, including integrating said acts into Cirque du Soleil-style narratives, according to Dan Butler.
- 2008: RavensManor, a haunted house-themed show, based loosely on the Haunted Mansion ride located in Disneyland. RavensManor's story included a tragic romance and zombies, and was scored by Peter Ostroushko.
- 2009: Yulong: The Jade Dragon (sometimes shortened to Yulong), a presentation derived from Chinese legendary and circus traditions. Produced in collaboration with the Chinese American Association of Minnesota, the show spotlighted three Taiwanese guest artists and included an emphasis on Chinese circus acts such as Chinese pole and hoop diving.
- 2010: Sawdust, a performance evoking the traditions of historic American circuses. Special guests in the show were veteran circus performers Willie Edleston and Tony Steele who played slightly fictionalized versions of themselves.
- 2011: Grimm—Happily Ever After! (sometimes shortened to Grimm), a show retelling a number of the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. Characters included Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and the Frog Prince.
- 2012: Showdown, a Wild West-themed show set in the fictional town of Tumbleweed. The performance included portrayals of real outlaws, lawmen, and singers, including Lillie Langtry, Black Bart, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp, and featured a seven-man highwire pyramid, becoming the second youth circus to complete this trick.
- 2013: Oz, based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
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- Nelson, Tim; Elizabeth Baier (17 August 2009). "Witness: Circus bleacher collapsed like a 'fallen souffle'". All Things Considered. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
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- Rowe, Ashleigh V. (Series producer) (7 October 2010). "#209: Lightsey Darst, Mike Wohnoutka, Circus Juventas + The Pines". Minnesota Original (Television production) (Twin Cities Public Television). Retrieved 13 December 2013.
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- Huyck, Ed (29 July 2009). "Circus Juventas, plus Taiwanese guest artists, present 'Yulong'". MinnPost. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Gabler, Jay (20 July 2010). "Circus Juventas gathers "Sawdust"". Twin Cities Daily Planet. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Do, Trang (28 July 2011). "Behind the scenes as Circus Juventas rehearses "Grimm—Happily Ever After!"". Twin Cities Daily Planet. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Preston, Rohan (10 August 2012). "In this show, Tumbleweed really tumbles". Star Tribune. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Bankston, Amanda (6 August 2012). "The Young and the Fearless". Minnesota Monthly. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Royce, Graydon (28 July 2012). "Onstage spotlight: Circus Juventas". Star Tribune. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Cropp, Avery (July 26, 2013). "'We're not in Kansas anymore'". Stillwater Gazette. Retrieved August 6, 2013.