Twenty years ago, Sally Davis and her sister, Lynn Davis, launched the beloved Telluride Academy program “Circus Holus Bolus,” which allows campers ages 9-12 to become acrobats, clowns, ballerinas, performing animals and musicians, while building skills in magic , juggling, tumbling, mime and hula-hooping. Three weeks of silly fun crescendos into a final performance under an artfully crafted elementary big top at the school gym on July 9.
Sally, a self-described “teaching artist” who’s been a part of Telluride Academy, for nearly 35 years, and Lynn, an actor and musician, are equal visionaries behind the multi-generational program.
“Lynn and I both love the old, small, magical European circuses, so we thought, let’s make something zany and whimsical,” Sally said.
“Sally’s a genius in getting kids to be funny and fun,” Lynn added. “She’s the only one who can get that energy out of them.”
As Sally encourages and instructs camps like a pied piper, Lynn applies her Broadway-honed theatrical expertise, “cracking the whip” backstage. Their artist and carpenter brother, Bruce, will join Mud Butts stalwart Michael Stasiuk to create whacky and unpredictable props for the production like Bruce’s dummy-shooting cannon, clown car and magical cloning box, and Stasiuk’s two-person elephant, zebra and giraffe costumes.
Rounding out the Davis family of circus leaders are Lynn’s daughter, Skyler Herrick, a contemporary dancer who’s participated in the circus since she was two years old, and her second cousin, Avery Davis, a skilled ballerina in gymnastics and hula tricks. Both dancers attend University of North Carolina’s School of the Arts and will direct choreography and dancing for the production.
Lynn said the Davis family’s influence on the circus will generate “the most whacky, creative, outside-of-the-box performance you’ve ever seen because we can’t stop until it’s on. It’ll be over the top. Magical, fun, silly, colorful and whimsical.”
“We’re all getting to know each other as one family, while learning big circus song and dance,” Sally added.
After an initial week of exploring camper energies, talents and interests, the group will move to the elementary school gym during the second week, into what Sally calls the “magic fish bowl, which we’ll turn into our beautiful big top.” In addition to skill-building and theater work, campers will create large circus drawings for the opening night gallery show and craft set murals that resemble old circus posters, featuring figures with incongruous heads.
Local child-whisperer Trisha Clement will return to the program this summer to help with costumes and production, along with community creative Ashley Boling, both of whom have been involved with the circus for years.
Circus alumnus Gabe Waldor, now 15, recalls how he once played the character who introduces the show, floating onto the stage on a trapeze, reciting the opening chant, which he remembers to this day.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you to sit behind you to tell you something I know nothing about…”
Waldor, a camp counselor at this summer’s program, appreciates how the circus offers the opportunity to “wear many different hats,” creating a unique experience filled with “silliness, happiness and effervescent joy.”
“Rather than just acting regular, each character has a special talent like balancing, juggling or gymnastics. For each character you get to do an intensive with somebody from town who knows a really cool talent that they teach you,” he added. “Since you get to go to the circus every day, all day, and you’re learning all these crazy talents, it builds a strong community. You’re doing things that are so silly that you forget your inhibitions and there’s no pretense to mask the community-building.”
The circus band is comprised of Sally’s partner, band leader Bart Hopkin, an experimental musician, ASU professor and drummer Dan Collins, and Lynn’s husband, bass player Jack Herrick, a longtime member of the North Carolina-based string band The Red Clay Ramblers.
“We usually find a horn player or two,” Sally added. “Gabriel is bringing his violin, and kids end up saying ‘Oh, I play the trumpet,’ and we say, ‘OK, you’re on.’ We incorporate whatever kids have to offer.”
What differentiates the circus, Lynn said, is that it’s a “full production” with lights, set, costumes, rigging, props and a live band — all of which provide an “extraordinary level of engagement.”
“And the things that happen when the kids get on stage are so exciting and stunning,” Lynn added. “The kids just rise and give it their all. And you can’t believe what you’re seeing. There’s nothing like it.”
“My favorite part of the circus is the chance to collaborate with siblings and close friends,” Sally said. “And seeing how much the kids get out of it. It’s so thrilling for them.”
The circus runs from June 20 to July 9 with two- and three-week options. Discounts are available for Telluride R-1 School District students, who may use promo code kidsinneed22 when registering for summer programs at tellurideacademy.org.