Having survived the pandemic shutdown of all things live and in-person, the family-run Cole All-Star Circus, founded in 1938, is headed back to New Paltz for a second rodeo on May 6 at 1p.m. in the New Paltz High School auditorium.
Owned and operated by lifelong performer and acrobat Billy Martin and his wife and fellow performer Angela Martin, the Cole All-Star Circus travels to towns, villages and cities throughout New York and Pennsylvania with a cast of 12 members (no animals) who turn, twist, spin, juggle, fly through the air, turn a sleight-of-hand and create little bursts of magic and memory for those who have the opportunity to see them live.
Ironically, it was right before the worldwide lockdown when the Cole All-Star Circus first came to New Paltz. “We were raising money for the Village of New Paltz Recreation Fund, toward the playground at Hasbrouck Park, when I learned about this circus that helps communities fundraise,” said Village trustee William Murray. “They came to New Paltz in February of 2020 and helped us raise $1,800 – and for many people, that was the last thing they did together as a family before the COVID shutdown.”
Hailing from Olean, New York, Billy Martin shudders when he thinks of that time. “It was challenging for us, as it was for everyone,” he said. After a lifetime spent entertaining people in small, intimate venues, he and his wife did what they had to do to keep going. “I was an Uber driver for a while. You get pretty good tips when you pull up in a real tuxedo,” he said with a laugh. “My wife opened a fitness and exercise school called Showgirl Fit, where she taught women aerial moves and all kinds of acrobatics using our circus equipment outside. It was unique and helped get people incredibly fit, particularly with upper-body strength.”
Although they’re primarily an East Coast-based circus troupe, the Martins found a summer location in Des Moines, Iowa. “We were able to spend a summer there doing shows at a place called Adventureland, an amusement park site. We were just so thrilled to be able to perform and bring people some joy during that time.”
By 2022, they were able to get back on the road with an abbreviated schedule. “When Pennsylvania opened up, we started doing shows there; and then New York started asking if we could come do performances at various schools, and we were able to do about 100 shows that year. People were just so happy to have us back. It was a great feeling.”
Now they’re busier than they ever have been, with shows booked throughout 2023. “This is the busiest schedule we’ve ever had in the 60-year history of this circus,” said Martin. “It’s been overwhelming. We’re calling this the Grateful Tour.”
In fact, when Murray began to look into bringing the Cole All-Star Circus back to New Paltz, they had no openings in their schedule. “About two or three weeks ago I received a call from Billy that they had an opening on May 6 at 1 p.m.” With that only being a couple of weeks out, Murray got in touch with Jim Tinger, longtime director of the New Paltz Youth Center, and asked if he’d want to partner with the circus. Tinger agreed; Murray received the green light from the school, hopped back on the phone with Martin and told him that it was showtime.
The Cole All-Star Circus serves as a fundraiser for various charitable events, and this show will have any proceeds going toward the New Paltz Youth Center. In addition to that, Murray said, “There’s not a lot of opportunity for kids and parents and grandparents to see a small, affordable, ethical circus that is live. They have acrobats and jugglers and sleight-of-hand acts that are so fun to see live.”
The Grateful Tour will include all of the classic circus tropes like trapeze artistry, aerial feats, quick costume changes, magic, comedy and some crowd favorites like Slinko and a brand-new comedian, Franko, who Martin said really engages with the audience.
“I love the idea of kids sitting cross-legged on the floor and having the opportunity to see live, skilled performances that they’ll remember forever,” said Murray. Another perk is that adults are charged for tickets, but children under 12, accompanied by an adult, get in for free. Tickets cost $20 when purchased prior to the show and $25 at the door.
The 12-person troupe is headed to New Paltz on May 6 at 1 p.m., and tickets can be purchased online at eventbrite.com/e/billy-martin-circus-comes-to-new-paltz-to-benefit-npz-youth-center-tickets-620201388047. They can also be purchased at the Youth Center on Main Street or at the door of the show at the New Paltz High School Auditorium on May 6.
To learn more about the Cole All-Star Circus, go to billymartincircus.com.