The circus is coming to New Paltz – not just any circus, but the Cole All-Star Circus, founded in 1938: a mom-and-pop version of Cirque de Soleil, with acrobatic performances, jugglers, trapeze artists, fire-eaters and more. They are a fundraising organization dedicated to entertaining entire families while at the same time raising money for charitable causes. In the case of New Paltz, this would be for the new Hasbrouck Park Playground fund.
The Cole All-Star Circus show has been traveling to towns and villages throughout New York and Pennsylvania for more than 60 years. It was taken over by longtime circus manager and performer Billy Martin in 1987, after its owner, circus legend James M. Cole, retired at age 80. According to Martin, who fell in love with the idea of the circus in the second grade while attending Old School #4 in Olean, New York, “The circus serves as a great fundraiser for communities and schools as we provide the entertainment and the show and they provide the gymnasium and location. A large portion of any proceeds go directly to the project or cause they’re raising money for, and meanwhile children and families get to see live performers.”
Before Martin even saw a live circus, he was enamored of the pictures of them and the books written about them, circus lore and music and the idea of all of these acts being juggled under one tent or one sky. “When I was 12 years old, [Cole’s] circus came to town, and I knew right then and there that this is what I wanted to do!” Young Martin reached out to Cole and the two became pen pals. Eventually, when Martin got old enough, he began working for the All-Star Circus, doing odd jobs, learning how to juggle and master balancing acts, serving as the ringmaster and then deciding to take over when Cole stepped out of the big top and bright lights.
“He was the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met,” said Martin, who was traveling with his wife and fellow circus performer Angela Martin, a trapeze artist, from Cape Cod to Pennsylvania in between shows as he spoke with the New Paltz Times.
For Martin and his wife, circus performing and being on the road is more of a lifestyle than a job. “I’ve never worked a day in my life,” said Martin with the hearty laugh of a veteran emcee. “It takes strength and skill and a love of what you’re doing. We have one performer who has to balance a tall, thin pole with a woman on top as she spins around. That takes incredible athleticism. Where do kids get to see that type of performance up close? Not something on YouTube or on TV, but right there in front of you? Real people who are doing amazing things, and we have some talented people in our troupe.”
The performers who are coming to New Paltz are incredibly athletic and skilled, and hark from Russia, Bulgaria, South America, Spain and throughout the US. “It’s like a mini-United Nations,” said Martin. “But we all pitch in, and we all help to load and unload, and no matter what, the show must go on. Everyone contributes and everyone is equal. I think we’d live in a much better world if it operated like we do in our circus.”
William Wheeler-Murray and Michele Zipp were a large force behind organizing and implementing plans for the newly constructed Hasbrouck Playground, and a passerby brought this circus to Zipp’s attention, as Murray says, a “way we could bring some family entertainment to town and raise money for the playground.”
Once Murray began to research Martin and the Cole All-Star Circus, he saw that it was a venerable organization with a large fundraising component that he thought could be a win/win.
Given New Paltz’s history of controversy surrounding bringing a circus to town back in the early 2000s, when two town councilwomen fought over the state of animal treatment in circus culture, both Murray and Martin were quick to point out that this circus centers on human performers and entertainment. There will be no elephants parading around or tigers in cages or chimpanzees on shoulders. There is a dog who won America’s Got Talent several years ago who is in the show, but that’s the only dog in this non-pony show.
The show will take place at 3 p.m. at New Paltz High School on Sunday, February 23.
Children aged 12 and under are admitted free with a paying adult. Advance tickets can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com and search Billy Martin Circus New Paltz or the exact address is: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/billy-martin-circus-comes-to-new-paltz-tickets-91300045895.
“There are few things that entire families can enjoy together, but the circus is one of those things,” said Martin.
For additional information, email NPZcircus@gmail.com.