For the New York-based performing group Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, tradition is something meant to be challenged, even as it’s being celebrated.
And while the circus remains a real family tradition, Bindlestiff is turning the genre on its ear, merging acrobatics, burlesque, and vaudevillian humor into one action-packed, surprising show.
A Cirkus is Born
Founded in 1996 by Stephanie Monseu and Keith Nelson, the talented troupe of two to 16 performers per show regularly performs at theaters, colleges, and festivals, sharing its love of the variety arts with audiences worldwide.
With its founders well-versed in the art of fire eating, Bindlestiff offers audiences a chance to view the nearly impossible, providing a spectacle that for adult audiences stretches the definition of what is traditionally considered a circus, crafting a somewhat raunchy and utterly riveting production that merges sideshow, burlesque, music, and vaudeville.
A Little Bit of Magic
For several years, the troupe performed in what it billed as “the last vaudeville house in Times Square,” presenting several shows a day and giving both audiences and performers a chance to explore vaudeville-style arts better.
They were forced to close up shop when the former shoe store was demolished in 2004, but the group soon hit the road, bringing its finely-honed, edgy acts including sword swallowing, fire eating, acrobatics, contortion, magic, and buffoonery to audiences worldwide.
From Kinko the Clown, who made a satirical bid for president in 2008, to Mr. Pennygaff’s sword swallowing, Miss Una’s surprising aerial feats and Philomena’s precision bull whip handling, a skill that allows her to slice a rose held between a volunteer’s trembling teeth. The show is a risque celebration of the circus, one that pushes boundaries while still allowing viewers to be swept away for a while by the death-defying feats.
Bindlestiff is also dedicated to teaching performers the art of the circus, and the non-profit organization offers workshops, performances, and lectures for the general public along with advanced classes and internships within the group.
The troupe also performs and presents workshops in schools, ranging from single workshops to two-week programs that explore the circus, vaudeville, Wild West touring shows and sideshows, ultimately offering a study of more than a century of American entertainment.
The courses allow everyone who has ever dreamed about running away to join the circus a chance to realize that dream for a while, generating increased interest in the spectacle that ultimately is the circus at the same time.
More than 400 Bindlestiff graduates are currently performing at a variety of venues worldwide.