FRANKFORD — Sussex County and New York City may not have much in common in terms of daily life, but part of the Big Apple will be in the area for the next several weeks.
Members of the Big Apple Circus, based in New York City, have made their home at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Frankford as they prepare for a series of shows in both Sussex County and New York celebrating the organization’s 40th anniversary next month.
The group, consisting of 100 to 125 performers and crew, arrived in the middle of August, circus Chairman Neil Kahanovitz said. It will remain in the area until early October when it moves to Lincoln Center in New York City. Until then, most of the people involved will continue to live at the fairgrounds, with various trailers for eating, sleeping and storing equipment.
Founded in 1977, the Big Apple Circus has boasted some of the world’s most famous performers throughout its four decades of existence. Though based at Lincoln Center, its website notes that the act has traveled as far south as Atlanta and as far west as Chicago.
This is the first year the Sussex County Fairgrounds has hosted the circus after it previously operated in Walden, N.Y., Director Mark Lonergan said. According to the Big Apple Circus website, the Walden property was sold after the circus filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2016.
When Big Top Works acquired the company in February, organizers immediately set out to find a new practice spot. Prior to choosing the fairgrounds, they looked at several other locations to determine whether each had enough room for all necessary components.
“When they found this place, they realized, with its big open fields, they could indeed set up everything that they needed,” Lonergan said, “and it was close enough to New York City that we could actually, when needed, go back and forth.”
Once the circus decided on the property, workers began to erect two tents on the empty lot. The main tent, where the shows will take place, seats more than 1,700 people and also houses all circus equipment. The second tent serves as a storage area as well as a space for performers other than the trapeze and high wire acts to rehearse.
The circus’ headline act will feature Nik Wallenda, a seventh-generation member of the famous performing family. Wallenda and the rest of his troupe will create a seven-person pyramid atop the high wire during shows, an act he said is rarely, if ever, performed by anyone else.
Another noteworthy group in the circus is the Flying Tunizianis. The troupe will attempt a quadruple somersault during the trapeze act, Lonergan said, even though most performers perform only three consecutive somersaults in an act.
Wallenda, who has become famous for his much-publicized tightrope walks over Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon in recent years, is excited to return to his roots as a regular stage performer.
“My heart has always been under the big top,” he said, “although I’ve gone outside of the big top in order to create a worldwide brand so that hopefully we can fill the big top.”
While the members of the circus said living in Sussex County is a big change from the hustle and bustle of New York City, they have found many of the changes to be beneficial. Ringmaster Ty McFarlan, for example, cited the value of everyone involved with the production living in the same area.
“There’s not a whole lot of having to wait on performers to arrive because they have to take a transit system to get here,” McFarlan said. “We can literally walk from our trailers to the performance space, which is very time-efficient.”
McFarlan also appreciated the quiet, serene atmosphere of the county and compared the overall atmosphere at the fairgrounds to that of a campground.
“Everyone can converge in the circus tent and focus, get what we need done, go back to our trailers, have fun for the evening, and get ready to do the same thing the following day,” he said.
Wallenda has also grown accustomed to the fairgrounds and surrounding area, saying one of his favorite aspects of his job is being able to travel to all different corners of the world.
“I love this part of the country,” Wallenda said. “We go for walks and we go past all the pumpkin patches and the farms. It’s fun.”
The shows at the fairgrounds will begin with a 7 p.m. show on Friday, Oct. 6, and run through Tuesday, Oct. 10. Saturday will feature two shows at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday’s shows will take place at 1 and 5 p.m. Following a day off on Monday, the circus will perform one final show Tuesday at 7 p.m.
All tickets for the performances will be general admission, priced at $10 and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, Kahanovitz said.
Lonergan said the Sussex County shows will be like dress rehearsals before moving the performances to Lincoln Center.
“The audiences here will get the sneak preview,” he said. “This is where we try to work out all the kinks and understand what the show really is.”
In addition to the circus workers appreciating the lifestyle of Sussex County, they have also enjoyed the hospitality of the fairgrounds and General Manager Gary Larson.
“The fairgrounds themselves have treated us extremely well, and they’ve essentially let us do everything that we need to do to prepare the show,” Lonergan said. “It’s not a light footprint that we leave behind, and it’s really quite great that they have been so generous with us here.”
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” Kahanovitz said. “People have bent over backwards to be as accommodating as they possibly can, and we’re really looking forward to having the local folks come out and see the show in a couple weeks.”
Big Apple Circus shows in New York City will begin Friday, Oct. 27. Ticket information for individual shows can be found at http://www.bigapplecircus.com/tickets/ticket-info.
By Kyle Morel New Jersey Herald