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Queens Chronicle

Lifelong circus dreamer comes to Queens

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Posted: Thursday, May 16, 2013 10:30 am

It is considered something of a cinematic clichÈ: the wide-eyed child stepping under the big top for the first time, walking out hours later to swear to anyone who’ll listen that he or she will join the circus.

The story rarely plays out. Inevitably, the kid comes to his or her senses and picks up a seemingly sensible career, like accounting or lawyer. Yawn.

Starting May 19, Queens will host a true embodiment of that starry-eyed kid, when the Big Apple Circus’ John Kennedy Kane appears under the big top — as the ringmaster, just as he always wanted.

He’ll be the master of ceremonies for the circus’ “Legendarium,” a nod to the circus as it used to be. It’s a suitable venue for Kane, who himself is a veritable time warp.

A substantial mass of humanity, with a deep guttural voice and cadence that’s prone to theatricality, Kane is the rare case of a ringmaster who’s born, not bred. In an era when actors stand under the big top and deliver rehearsed lines, Kane can say he is doing the very job he has wanted all along.

“I was that kid who wanted to join the circus and actually did,” Kane said. “[My parents] thought it was a phase. They helped me pack. They were so sick of hearing me talk about joining the circus.”

The Buffalo native was such a nag about his big top ambitions he was nicknamed “Circ” as a teen.

He started as a magician and was soon eating fire for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers circus, before making a short-lived move on to being a clown.

The 52-year-old has called the circus home for 30 years. This excludes a diversion into the wild world of journalism (which you may understandably confuse with being a clown).

Kane then paid his professional dues, traveling with 15 “mud shows,” inside show-biz talk for the dirt-pit classic circuses that act as testing grounds for top talent. Venues like Big Apple and other bold-faced names don’t accept resumes, Kane said. They’ll find you.

And all those years working the circuit have paid off professionally for Kane. He knows the ins and outs of a show, and can keep the pace going.

“I know circus rigging,” he said, citing an example: “I know that trapeze isn’t ready to go yet. They have said that the few times here that I had to make up stuff, I did a great job. All my years being a clown, being a magician have helped. Nothing here phases me.”

And that kid who always wanted to run off and join the circus is coming back to his home state for a stint in Cunningham Park, where, he says, “The audiences are amazing.”

Big Apple Circus

When: May 19 to June 16. Twice per day, times vary

Where: Cunningham Park, 196-22 Union Tpke., Fresh Meadows

Tickets: $20-$60


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