Winter under the big top: Season-themed circus show comes to Capitola Mall

The Flynn Creek Circus' big-top tent
The Flynn Creek Circus travels with its own big-top tent, which it will erect in the parking lot of the Capitola Mall for its “Winter Fairytale” show.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The Flynn Creek Circus is a Mendocino County-based performance troupe making a big splash in Santa Cruz County with a three-week run beginning Dec. 16. In a big-top circus tent in the Capitola Mall parking lot, the theatrical showcase “Winter Fairytale” presents the romance of winter in the guise of multicultural folklore and circus-style entertainment.

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California winters are nice and all — if you enjoy mild temperatures and the occasional soaking storm. But they contain no romance.

For that, you need snow … and sleigh bells, mittens, hot beverages, starlit nights, and maybe a Nordic legend or two about the magic that happens in the deep, quiet forest. And, given that winters in the real world have no patience for such twinkly-eyed fantasies, to get that jolt of wintertime romance, you need art. You need something like the Flynn Creek Circus.

The Flynn Creek Circus is a Mendocino County-based performance troupe that is making a big splash in Santa Cruz County this month. The performers of Flynn Creek are erecting a circus big-top tent in the parking lot outside the Capitola Mall. And it’s there that they will present “Winter Fairytale,” a theatrical showcase that mixes the romance of winter in the guise of multicultural folklore and circus-style entertainment.

The show opens for a three-week run on Dec. 16.

“We’re going to feature our trampoline wall artists who are really exciting. That’s a really fun act,” said Blaze Birge, the artistic director of the Flynn Creek Circus. “We have great acrobats. We have a world-class tight-wire walker. And she does low wire, so she’s doing dancing on the wire. It’s quite beautiful. We have a contortionist, with quite a lot of very strong aerial acts. We have a sword swallower who does some other pretty wild things, in a very theatrical way. We have a very funny host, who is the main character. There’s a lot of comedy in the show.”

All that high-flying circus daredevilry will be presented in service to a grand narrative, written by Birge and her castmates. As its name suggests, “Winter Fairytale” will feature fairies and other mythological creatures, including a winged Pegasus and a winter witch inspired by the Japanese legend of the Yuki-onna. What you won’t see is a certain bearded man in a red suit.

“You will certainly get the holiday themes without it being about Santa,” said Birge.

Flynn Creek has been doing this kind of thing for several years now, presenting its circus acts in the milieu of an original story. Birge said she draws from folklore of cultures from all over the world to link the acrobatics to meaningful myths and stories.

Flynn Creek's artistic director Blaze Birge (top) performs with her husband, David Jones, as a trapeze duo
Flynn Creek’s artistic director Blaze Birge (top) performs with her husband, David Jones, as a trapeze duo, pictured here during a show in Moscow.
(Via Elena Blednykh)

“For example, this year,” she said, “we have this amazing trampoline troupe. And we thought, how can we bring that out and bring a character to that act? And what is that going to reference? So, with them, they became the three wise snow hares. You do a little research and you find there’s like just tons and tons of cultural reference to three rabbits from multiple cultures going back a thousand years, with various meanings attached to that. And so we draw from those. We research each character that we add. And then we kinda pick and choose. You know, it’s like California cuisine, a little bit of fusion.”

Blaze and her husband and fellow performer, David Jones, put together the basic story, and as they bring the cast into the process, they bring in other ideas and influences. The cast for “Winter Fairytale” features 18 performers and artists.

For years, Birge and Jones have traveled the world as a two-person trapeze act. While traveling in Europe, they came upon the inspiration for the setting of the new show. “There’s this beautiful tradition in Europe of these just unbelievably quaint winter markets,” said Birge. “And we’re trying to bring that charm to [this show]. One of the characters is actually a snow-making character, So we will be doing the snow and ice.”

From its base in the remote coastal town of Albion, a few miles south of the town of Mendocino, the Flynn Creek Circus travels mostly throughout Northern California and Oregon. The circus performed in Santa Cruz County just last summer, in fact. The troupe sometimes performs adult-only shows featuring elements of burlesque and adult language. The “Winter Fairytale” show, however, is designed specifically for all ages and family audiences. “It’s perfectly appropriate for all ages,” said Birge of “Winter Fairytale,” “but it’s not just kids’ entertainment. It’s a lot like a Pixar movie, where it’s funny for the adults, too.”

Like many other similar organizations, Flynn Creek is adapting to the changing public perception of what that term “circus” means. Birge and her team specifically stress that the circus does not include animal acts — unless you count humans as “animals.” This is a circus that is harkening back to traditional circus arts without the exploitation of animals. Santa Cruz audiences, perhaps hip to the tradition established by Tandy Beal and the Pickle Family Circus, might be a bit more aware of the old humanistic traditions of the circus before the lion-tamer motif changed the public perception.

"Winter Fairytale" is an original production, drawing from multicultural folklore
“Winter Fairytale” is an original production, drawing from multicultural folklore to create a theatrical setting for a dazzling display of circus arts.
(Daisy Rose Coby / Anderson)

Along with the faux-winter atmosphere that the circus will create in its heated big top outside the Capitola Mall, the show will also offer mulled wine, hot chocolate and other wintry concessions.

“We’ve been described as a kind of ‘punk rock’ circus before,” said Birge. “And that’s not because we’re wearing spiked mohawks or anything like that. But there is a little bit of a new pushing the edges with us. That is true. And I feel like that’s definitely the general culture in the [Santa Cruz] area. So yeah, it does feel like a good match for us.”

“Winter Fairytale,” presented by the Flynn Creek Circus, opens Dec. 16. Performances run through Jan. 1, including a limited number of adults-only performances. Shows on Dec. 28 will be charity benefit performances. Seating is sold by cabaret-style table seating, or benches. For tickets, gohere.

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