The Bellingham Circus Guild is a place where “what-ifs” become “I did it,” strangers become co-performers, and wild dreams become reality. The Guild’s monthly uncensored Vaudevillingham show invites artists of all ages, talents, abilities, and interests to try something they’ve always wanted to do or perform their passion in front of an incredibly supportive audience. It’s a toss-up between the audience and the performers for who has more fun at these anything-goes variety shows.
“You never know what you’ll get,” says Dream Frohe, one of the Guild’s instructors and staff members. The element of surprise is what makes these monthly shows unique from the Circus Guild’s regular and professional shows.
Here’s how it works: Interested performers sign up online for the next Vaudevillingham, show up the day of performance shortly before it starts, meet the other performers and perform their act in front of an audience of up to 150 people.
The Guild members and other performers don’t see the acts until they go live, so it’s a truly uncensored surprise for the audience and everyone involved in the show. There’s no pre-screening or run through of acts, and performers have the opportunity to perform in a 7:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. show. Many audience members bring children to the 7:00 p.m. show.
Vaudevillingham is the only act of its kind in Bellingham. The variety shows are the Circus Guild’s take on vaudeville, which has been part of American entertainment culture since the 1850s. Historically, these acts consist of 10 to 15 unrelated acts including magicians, acrobatics, aerial art, juggling, dance, singers, and comedians.
Vaudevillingham includes all of these elements and more, and are always open to new and different kinds of acts. You may see a professional aerial artist like Frohe perform in the same space as a second-grader presenting a dance routine. The Guild encourages acts that are friendly to audiences, but are always full of surprises.
This variety show has been entertaining audiences and bringing together local artists and the community for 12 years. Every show is made up of volunteer performers, both novice and professional, and from across the street and out-of-town. The monthly shows are fundraisers to help the Guild continue its official mission, “to assist and support the circus arts community of Whatcom County, to promote circus arts to the community at-large, and to radically proliferate delight at every opportunity.”
If you’re in the mood for a more professional show, the Guild schedules several a year that are assured to spark wonder, awe, and delight for audiences. Performers in these shows are based on audition or a selection process. This February will bring the 10th anniversary show of their Valentine’s Day professional act, My Circus Valentine. The professional show includes variety acts similar to Vaudevillingham, but with an application process and rehearsed acts.
The Guild’s performers and members have toured with different professional circus companies, and often draws performers from out-of-town or larger cities for the high caliber shows the Guild brings to the community.
“There’s a surprising level of quality here for the size of our town,” says Frohe. “People get to really develop their own style in a way that isn’t necessarily what you see in the wider world. It feels like it’s small, but thriving.”
The Bellingham Circus Guild also offers opportunities for beginners to learn new circus skills or practice their passions in a collaborative space. From a weekly Juggle Club to Aerial Arts classes, the Guild provides a space for the community to experience circus arts, regardless of age, level, or ability.
Frohe associates their steady growth rate to the collective nature of the Guild—and that nobody is the boss. The organization has grown a lot since its inception, but at just the right pace for everyone involved to handle.
Moving forward, the Guild would like to see growth in the available classes and number instructors to get the community more directly involved in circus at all different levels.
“I love working with people who are so excited and never thought they could do anything like this,” Frohe says. “I would love for us to be able to provide more of that.”
Vaudevillinghams are held every month on the 15th at both 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. at 1401 6th Street, Suite 102 in Fairhaven. A donation of $5-$10 is suggested. Interested in being a part of this unique and fun show? Fill out this form from the Bellingham Circus Guild’s website.