The Cole All-Star Circus, a traveling band of acrobats and other entertainers who use their skills and panache to earn an honest living while helping raise funds for local causes, came to New Paltz on Sunday.
The money raised was earmarked for upkeep and improvements to the new Hasbrouck Park playground, including the commissioning of an artist to incorporate a “local pollinators” theme into the community-built play space. Village trustee and event co-organizer William Wheeler Murray provided a “conservative” estimate of $1,600 for the total.
Murray said that there were worries about attendance until an hour before showtime. In the end, an estimated 625 children (of all ages) crowded the New Paltz High School gymnasium to watch the acts and nosh on snacks. The bleachers made available proved inadequate to the task, and custodians rushed to set up more seats, even breaking out the special graduation seats with the Huguenot logo emblazoned on thick maroon cushions.
Murray described himself as one of a group of “concerned citizens” who recognized that “there hasn’t been a circus in New Paltz in recent memory.” One of those citizens, Bill Schnitzer, was singled out by ringmaster and circus owner Billy Martin for being instrumental in bringing this particular circus to meet this particular need. Schnitzer, a longtime circus buff and historian, has known Martin for many years and suggested the idea.
Presented in two acts, the Cole All-Star Circus is comprised of mostly human performers who Schnitzer later described as emulating the style from before the days when tents were used. Jugglers (which in this case technically would include the unicyclist, who kept three of the machines rolling by leaping from one to the next), aerialists (including one woman who rode a bicycle among the rafters atop a contraption balanced on the chest of her partner on the floor some 30 feet below), a magician duo (who maintained a delightful ambiguity as to who was making the tricks, and who served as a lovely assistant), and one animal act (rescue dogs trained to display their natural acrobatic abilities, and clearly happy to do it if their body language is to be believed) were among those who elicited cheers, laughter and gasps from the audience.
Words cannot capture the feeling in one’s gut as an acrobat steps climbs onto a board that teeters atop a stack of blocks and cylinders that wiggle in all directions, nor can they fully convey the joy of watching a dog leap over his tumbling master or ride a scooter like a biped. Circuses are designed to invoke emotions and stimulate all the senses, down to the hair raising on the back of the neck and the tongue salivating for cotton candy. None of the children admitted free to this circus have ever attended one in New Paltz before, but given the welcome it received, Schnitzer and other “concerned citizens” seem hopeful that it won’t be that long a wait to see one again. Ringmaster Martin made that clear when he promised that they’d return next year.
“The circus was without a doubt a success,” said Wheeler Murray. “Everyone who came really enjoyed all the acts presented by the Billy Martin Circus and the performers appreciated the great reception and applause from our audience! We were thrilled and so were they. We’re already discussing plans to present them again next year, possibly adding another show.”