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Lindsay Culbert-Olds rehearses on rope for the performance of “Stars Above” by Hideaway Circus.

The Arts

Perfecting their specialties

Hideaway Circus brings a taste of the 1800s circus arts to two performances under the stars at NECCA

Tickets for “Stars Above” are on sale at starsabovecircus.com; admission prices range from $15 to $50. In case of rain, the affected performance will be held within the two days following. “Stars Above” follows all federal, state, and local guidance pertaining to outdoor gatherings.

BRATTLEBORO—Juggling a dog, a 1-year-old, and a brand-new show, New York–based Josh Aviner, 30, and his wife, Lyndsay Magid Aviner, 32, will bring their Hideaway Circus to town with performances of “Stars Above” as part of a Northeast tour.

They will perform at the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) at 10 Town Crier Dr. on Friday, Aug. 13 and Saturday, Aug. 14.

According to the Aviners — 2020 Drama Desk Award nominees in the Unique Theatrical Experience category for Beyond Babel, a dance-theater riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet — the show is a modern take on the nostalgia and intimacy of early-19th-century touring circuses.

“Centered on a day in the life of a traveling family troupe, ‘Stars Above’ celebrates our interwoven connections to loved ones, to community, and to what we’ve lost,” they say.

As described in a news release, this intimate outdoor family-style circus “combines elements of both contemporary and bygone-days circus.”

The all-ages production will be performed under the stars on a custom-built circular stage and with an aerial rig.

Adults will note and relate to a number of classical circus bits throughout — circus tropes that were well known on the circuit for generations — and they’ll enjoy the work of circus veterans, including Adam Kuchler and Ottavio and Naomi Gesmundo.

Young people and circus newcomers need no prior experience: “Stars Above” is new, a reimagining of one of history’s most entertaining and captivating forms of popular entertainment.

A dedicated circus historian, Josh Aviner is among a somewhat esoteric group of producers and directors who work in circus, dance, and variety arts — with an eye toward advancement of those performance genres, as well as their preservation.

With Big Apple Circus gone and the old traveling companies defunct, it’s hard to find a good old-fashioned traveling troupe these days. Except, that is, for Vermont’s own Circus Smirkus, where Aviner studied and for which he served on the Board from 2015 to 2020.

‘Circus is about what you’re good at’

Having become a U.S. citizen at 19, Aviner was born in Switzerland to an English mother and a German/Israeli father.

His parents brought the family to the United States when Aviner was young, and here his father established a green fuels business. Dealing back then in carbon-neutral biodiesel put the senior Aviner in the vanguard.

From his father, Aviner learned to appreciate business and entrepreneurship, but it was a childhood friend and neighbor who helped him find his circus home.

Both avid gymnasts — but closet circus buffs, too —Aviner and his neighbor shared a quest for circus training. The friend discovered the Northeast Kingdom–based Circus Smirkus, and Aviner convinced his parents to let him attend.

That was the start.

“I knew at age 10 that I wanted to do circus for my whole life,” he said.

Fourteen years ago, Aviner started training at NECCA, shortly after it opened at the Cotton Mill, studying under founders Elsie Smith and Serenity Smith Forchion, as well as with Bill Forchion and legendary coach Sellam El Ouahabi.

NECCA operated in a small space at the time, “but it quickly became the best place in the Northeast corner of the U.S. to learn circus technique,” Aviner said. “I would drive two and half hours from southern Connecticut on Saturday mornings and drive back in evenings.”

“Looking back, my parents were surprisingly permissive to allow me to do such long road trips every weekend by myself at age 16,” he said.

He later performed in various genres as an undergraduate at New York University Tisch School of the Arts and at a nightclub theater, the Box, while studying in London.

“I enjoyed it, but I was much more interested in the business and production side,” Aviner recalled.

Thus, he transitioned into casting and producing, which he’s done in places ranging from New York to Las Vegas and beyond.

Aviner and Magid Aviner met at Columbia in the Theatre Management master’s degree program. Magid Aviner had been a child actress touring with the cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Following her studies at University of Tampa, she had a fruitful acting career in New York, but soon found that to be disillusioning. She, too, found her way to production and theater management.

Having since raised funds for award-winning not-for-profit theaters, including Atlantic Theater Company and Soho Rep., she’s worked in commercial development for Olympus Theatricals and in theater management for the Nederlander Organization, a Broadway theater real estate operation.

She serves on the board of New Dramatists, a leading new playwrights’ organization.

Hideaway Circus really is family circus. The husband-wife team is augmented by Aviner’s brother, Jacob, as music director, his mom making props, and Magid Aviner’s father aiding in tour logistics: the nitty gritty of storage, rentals, purchases, and transport.

International circus stars forced to return home

Stars Above showcases an all-star cast of circus artists and musicians, performing original music and reimagined covers. The cast is 100-percent American, a rarity in contemporary circus, Aviner explains, for which you can credit — or blame — the pandemic.

“In March 2020, many in the cast were forced to leave contracts with top international companies to return home to the United States,” he said.

“Pandemic travel restrictions created a unique opportunity to bring some of the most talented circus artists of our time together into a single company, spanning ages, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds,” he noted.

Aviner said that performers range from “sixth-generation circus veterans with skills passed down through their families” to “highly gifted individuals from the top circus schools in the world.”

The collective experience of the “Stars Above” company includes decades of performing with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Midnight Circus, Circus Flora, Circus Harmony, Circus Smirkus, Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Éloize, Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, Spiegelworld, Circus Monti, and Circadium’s Contemporary Circus.

The company features a laureled juggler, a decorated clown, and graduates of the École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal, the Royal Academy of Ballet in Amsterdam, NYU’s Tisch and Steinhardt schools, Columbia University, Berklee College of Music, and the University of Tampa.

Themes of coping with the unexpected

The “Stars Above” story is a reaction to COVID-19: “When what you plan doesn’t happen, how do you move forward?” Themes of coping with the unexpected and how such resiliency and flexibility enriches the circus community — any community — infuse the script.

“Stars Above” pulls a lot of material from early American circus, an era roughly defined as 1815 to 1825. At that time, no animal acts performed in circuses, and the events were outdoors under the stars — as this show will be. (Circuses were not seen under tents in this country until 1827.)

Moreover, the towns on their tour mirror those that would have been on an early-19th-century tour — including Brattleboro.

Having toured the region and well beyond into Europe and Australia with other works, Aviner and Magid Aviner explain that this Northeast tour is a “development,” a time to tweak the show in anticipation of engagements next year in New York City, Philadelphia, and Montreal.

The mark that Hideaway Circus leaves on the reincarnated circus form is that “we bring to it what is great about musical theater: We tell stories with music,” Aviner said.

The creative husband-wife team is passionate about the circus.

“Theater is competitive, but circus is about what you’re good at,” Aviner noted. “Circus performers find their specialty and perfect it to the hilt.”

And for that reason, both Aviner and Magid Aviner prefer circus arts over theater and even over dance and gymnastics.

“With circus shows,” Avenir added, “if you put effort and will into it, you can do anything. Persistence and hard work: that’s what pays off.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #625 (Wednesday, August 11, 2021). This story appeared on page B1.

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