Every year, the Edmonds Civic Center Playfield hosts a circus of wire-walkers, fire jugglers and clowns – all under the age of 19.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, members of the Wenatchee Youth Circus spend their weekends performing in 11 different cities across Washington state. This year, the troupe will host four shows at the Edmonds Civic Center Playfield. One of the shows specifically caters to children enrolled in summer day cares and day camps.
“They are probably our favorite audience of our whole summer, because that show, full of day care kids and day camps, ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ and interacts with us and gets excited and we love them,” said Meliesa Hawley, a volunteer mom and Vice President of the Youth Circus. “We look forward to Edmonds every year because of that crowd.”
Hawley, who also performs in the show with younger circus members as “Red” the clown, thinks reactions like these are the best part of the circus.
“When you’re an 8-year-old in the audience, you’re watching other 8-year-olds out there on stage. That’s pretty cool,” she said. “I’m an educator, so I love kids and I love being able to develop kids, and I see our show inspire kids to want to do cool extraordinary things.”
This was certainly the case for Hawley’s daughter KaytElise, who walked away from a Wenatchee Youth Circus performance seven summers ago determined to join the show. At the time, Hawley was not convinced.
“I thought it looked too hard. I thought these were really advanced acts and I didn’t know how she was going to learn how to do them, but she hounded me about it for most of the year,” she said.
Hawley brought her to practice the following spring, when she was 9 years old. Now 14, KaytElise is performing in the circus’ finale act.
Hawley recognizes the inspiration she saw in her daughter in kids watching from the stands.
“I see kids out in the audience doing cartwheels and other sorts of acrobatic things that they know how to do because they’re just feeling lifted up and inspired by kids their own age doing these things,” Hawley said.
Wenatchee educator Paul Pugh created the Wenatchee Youth Circus in 1952 as an after-school tumbling class to keep students active and busy during the winter. Within a year, the tumbling class grew, consolidated with the local YMCA and began acquiring circus equipment. That summer, the circus went on tour.
“It’s been traveling every year for 65 years,” Hawley said. “We have kids who are second- and third-generation performers now coming through the Wenatchee Youth Circus.”
But the circus no longer consists of only Wenatchee residents. Kids from Vancouver, Ellensburg, Spokane, Seattle and even Edmonds are currently involved in the traveling troupe.
Incoming Edmonds-Woodway freshman Andrew Rutz was slacklining with a friend at Marina Beach two years ago when Hawley approached, asking them to watch the Youth Circus’ show.
“He came [to the show] that day, and then came back to me the following summer and said, ‘Here’s my dad, convince him,’” Hawley said.
Together, Hawley and Rutz persuaded his parents to let him join the circus. He performed with them in Edmonds that same weekend.
“As soon as I joined, I was welcomed by everyone,” Rutz said. “Everyone was just trying to get me into acts, like seeing what I could do and helping me learn how to juggle.”
Rutz will be touring with the circus again this summer, walking wire. He says being involved in the circus has influenced him to take more chances.
“I just try to do more things. Like I see a trampoline, I’ll go jump on it and do a couple flips,” Rutz said. “I might not have done that before.”
Rutz is not the only Edmonds resident who will perform in the show at the Civic Center Playfield this summer. Seven years ago, 34-year-old Chris Scanlon joined the Edmonds leg of Youth Circus tour as a guest clown. Scanlon, who has special needs, was asked to perform after meeting Wenatchee Youth Circus founder Pugh, who performed in the circus as the clown Guppo until he passed away in January at age 88.
“At the end of each performance, they always invite the kids to come down to meet the performers and have them sign their program, and so Chris would of course go down and meet everybody,” said his mother, Rose Marie Scanlon. “He met Guppo, and Guppo really took to him.”
Every year since, Scanlon meets the circus performers for dinner both nights they spend in Edmonds. During the shows, he performs in the clown act and sells concessions in the stands. He says “everything” is his favorite part of being involved.
“I like doing the circus every year,” he said. “I like doing the clown act.”
“He loves being out there and they have just allowed him to do that,” Rose Marie Scanlon said. “The whole Wenatchee circus is just tremendous. All those kids are so respectful. That’s what’s just really neat, because that isn’t always the case.”
Scanlon also is one of the circus’ biggest promoters in Edmonds. Every year, he makes fliers and posts them in local businesses to advertise for their upcoming show.
“He promotes the circus here like nobody’s business. He wanted to get a sign made announcing the arrival of the circus each year and so his dad took him over to this company that makes signs,” Rose Marie Scanlon said. “He loves the circus.”
Scanlon’s signs are currently hanging on the east and west sides of the fence surrounding the Civic Center — with the goal of helping the youth circus draw yet another large crowd in July.
“There are years that we are able to completely fill that stadium, which we love to be able to do. [We’re] hoping to do it this summer,” Hawley said. “Edmonds has always been a real warm, welcoming crowd.”
The Wenatchee Youth Circus will perform Edmonds Civic Center Playfield at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. July 15 and 16. Tickets are available at the event and cost $6 for adults, $4 for kids and $19 for a family of two adults and three kids.
Tie-dye T-shirts will be on sale for $5 to help the circus buy new equipment, feed the performers and maintain affordable ticket prices.
You can watch a video about the circus here:
— By Caitlin Plummer