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What makes someone want to run off and join the circus? While the phrase is often considered to be a metaphor, Nicole Laumb has realized it in a more literal sense.

In 2022, Laumb and fellow Whatcom County circus performers Matthew ‘Poki’ McCorkle, Sadye Osterloh, and Justin Therrien bought a big top tent from a California circus company and created their own circus production, Shoestring Circus.

After putting on two weekends last year of sold-out performances next to Bellingham’s Waypoint Park through the Port of Bellingham, Shoestring’s big top returns this June with an entirely new program that combines nostalgia with storytelling flair.

“The creative opportunities in circus are pretty endless,” Laumb says. “Circus is spectacle, and you can kind of call anything ‘spectacle’ if you make it high enough quality to be stage worthy.”

2024 Shoestring Circus performances included the highly-skilled duo of Nina Sawant and Christine Lee. Photo credit: Sanderling Photography

The Path To Shoestring

Laumb, the circus’s marketing director, took an interesting path to the big top.

After dabbling in stand-up and sketch comedy in college, Laumb found herself working on a goat farm in California. She began taking aerial classes as a new hobby, and when a traveling circus happened to be looking for an aerialist, she literally joined the circus and never looked back.

In addition to several years of hosting a live storytelling program, Laumb has learned an assortment of circus sideshow skills, including escaping from a straightjacket and spinning chairs with her teeth. Any act that serves the overall narrative of a show, she says, is among her favorite things about being a circus performer.

“I really love when story and circus combine,” she says. “It’s a pretty magical spot.”

Likewise, Shoestring’s other principals all have over a decade of circus performing experience, both locally, across the United States, and beyond.

The magic of the circus comes to Bellingham June 7 to 23 with Shoestring Circus, in its second year of live shows. Photo credit: Rae Candent

Therrien can juggle, swallow swords, and practice magic. Osterloh does clowning and acrobatics, among other things. And McCorkle has a repertoire of acts that include putting swords in his mouth and balancing wine glasses on top of them.

This year, Shoestring Circus is bringing in new faces from around the country for its show. These include a highly skilled diabolo (a type of juggling) artist from Las Vegas, a beautiful duo lyra (suspended aerial hoop work) act from the San Francisco Bay area, as well as a very talented tightrope walker.

“They’re super high-quality circus acts,” says Laumb.

In addition, McCorkle and Therrien — who previously worked together for more than a decade on a show called “Palindrome” — will perform a brand new duo act, as will Osterloh and her trapeze partner Heidi Blossom; the two call themselves “The Bunion Sisters.”

No Bad Views

In addition to seeing legitimately talented professionals, many of whom commit acts of daring, Shoestring Circus provides an intimate, in-the-round performance experience. Its big top seats about 370 people, but Laumb points out there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.

“You’re really close to these people who are flying through the air,” she says. “You’re going to be able to see the detail of jugglers making crazy catches.”

While last year’s show narrative involved a funny dynamic between a father and daughter at the “Shoesday” celebration, this year’s performance will take place in a medieval fantasy world. Laumb could say more about it but wants to preserve a sense of mystery for what will be witnessed under the big top.

The big top of Shoestring Circus will be impossible to overlook this June, when three weekends of never-before-seen circus magic visit the Bellingham waterfront near Waypoint Park. Photo credit: David Vitz

“I’m excited for people who came last year to be surprised,” she says.

The shows will take place in the same location as last year — next to the waterfront pump track along Granary Avenue — on three consecutive weekends from June 7 to 23. Most days will have two shows, but several dates will have three performances: each last roughly 1 hour and 45 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets will be available to the public starting April 4. Laumb says tickets sold out quickly last year, so early purchase is a great way to ensure your seats this season.

Tickets for children ages 12 and under are $16, with general seating for adults at $32. A limited number of front row seats are also available for $48.

Even in a world of smartphones, streaming platforms, and artificial intelligence, Laumb says that the circus still maintains a relevant space in the modern world’s version of whimsy and wonder.

“I know I’m biased, but I’ve always found it to be one of the most engaging forms of live entertainment,” says Laumb. “You can put so many things under that umbrella, and I really love that modern circus is expanding that even more.”

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