The circus, like a burger joint or neighborhood bar, is beloved because of its familiarity.
The trapeze, acrobats and animal trainers are nothing new; in fact, quite the opposite. Slight variations of these types of performers can be seen in circuses around the world.
Still, hundreds gather into a massive tent with glowing swords and wands each year and react in amazement when they see something remarkable.
“One of my favorite things to do is to go see the circus,” John Kennedy Kane, the ringmaster for the Big Apple Circus, said. “I love watching the show the way the audience does and I’m always dying to know what they’re going to do next.”
Kane, who stars in Big Apple’s newest show “Luminocity”— a homage to Times Square — has always loved the circus. He opted out of taking the SATs as a teen and ran away to become a performer under the big top; his family even calls him “Circ.”
He’s not the typical strapping, young and beaming man that many ringmasters today are and he’s not afraid to be the first one to admit it.
“I had a miniature circus in the basement when I was younger,” he said. “I wasn’t only the overweight kid in high school, I was the overweight kid who wanted to be in the circus. But over the years, I went from the weirdo brother to the interesting uncle.”
Despite his differences, Kane’s mutton-chops, booming voice and twinkle in his eye make him a perfect fit for leading “Luminocity.”
He’s like a mixture of a kindly grandfather, showman and Santa Claus, all wrapped up in a knee-length red coat and black top hat.
The Big Apple Circus sticks to a formula that pairs traditional performances, like the Arabian horse act and tightrope walkers, with surprising twists.
For example, the Dosov Troupe performs flips and tricks on the teeterboard — like a seesaw on steroids. On paper, the act doesn’t seem to be anything original. But when the family steps into the ring and begins soaring into the air, more than 50 feet high, the audience gasps partially in fear but mostly in admiration of the troupe’s amazing tricks.
Ty Tojo, a 16-year-old juggler, also takes his craft to the limit. He made this year’s Guinness Book of World Records for juggling seven balls behind his back. After the show, he attempted and eventually succeeded at beating his own record by juggling nine — he said it’s easier to work with an odd number of balls.
Unlike most circuses, the Big Apple only stops in seven cities each year. Other traveling shows can travel to more than a dozen cities all over the country.
“This is my first time in Queens but I have to say, the audience is really so different than anywhere else we play,” Kane said. “They scream.”
The screaming mostly comes from the younger crowd. Kids ages 10 and under spent most of the show yelling at the top of their lungs when Rob Torres, the circus’ clown, pretended to collect cheers into a wooden box.
When Torres walked amongst the crowd, crafting balloon animals while the rigging team prepared the ring for the next act, almost all the kids screamed and begged the clown to toss them a contorted tube of latex. They couldn’t get enough.
Though many of the jokes are targeted at kids, the Big Apple Circus is not solely for youngsters.
Parents were also mesmerized by the various feats attempted by performers.
That’s because the circus, unlike many other forms of entertainment, puts viewers in a state of childlike wonder; where magic suddenly doesn’t seem impossible and what is real and what is merely an illusion are not so apparent.
When: through June 15, various times
Where: Cunningham Park, Union Tpke. and Francis Lewis Blvd.
Tickets: $21 and up