By Katie Garwood | firstname.lastname@example.org
As a musical theater student at Ithaca College, Kevin Venardos didn’t envision himself getting into the circus business.
Growing up in New Jersey, Venardos frequented Broadway shows and set his sights on a career in theater.
In 2000, Venardos—who, at the time, just graduated college—was “basically looking for someone who would pay me to sing and dance.” And that’s when he found an ad for circus ringmaster auditions at the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus.
“I circled it with a big highlighter sent a headshot and resume and many adventures have followed,” Venardos said. “I toured with them for five years, then Big Apple [Circus] then [Circus] Vargus, and eventually, if you like to make things and you have a certain way you like to try to make them, sometimes it’s hard to live under someone’s roof.”
Coupled with a need to create steady work for himself and having his own vision for a show, Venardos decided to start the Venardos Circus.
He calls it the “Broadway big top,” featuring human feats such as juggling, aerialists, fire artists, magic and comedy, strung together with a story told through singing and dancing. It runs at the St. Augustine Amphitheater parking lot under the classic red-and-white-striped tent from Jan. 24 through Feb. 10.
“The whole thing, I think, is pretty unique,” Venardos said. “A marvel if I do say so. I’m definitely proud to share it with the community.”
The circus is based in Los Angeles but travels to different cities throughout the country. After being connected to the St. Augustine Amphitheater and the St. Johns Tourism and Development Council, the TDC gave the circus a grant, which Venardos said has been spent entirely on advertising—not only to locals but to those up to 50-mile radius away.
And so far, the advertising is paying off—Venardos said advance ticket sales were some of the best they’d ever had. Part of that success may be attributed to the recent release of the movie “The Greatest Showman,” as well as the end of the Ringling Bros. Circus in May. Venardos said he hopes to make his show into an annual event in St. Augustine.
“I’ve found if you can get people, no matter how different they may seem, under a circus tent, we realize how much we have in common,” Venardos said. “They leave lighter and happier than when they walked in, which is the mission. If we can do that—just getting them in the tent is the hard part. Once they’re there, they come back and then they want to be there, the next year and the next.”
Venardos Circus not only provides audiences with entertainment, but it also provides entertainers with work. For Blake Hicks, a BMX bike rider, Venardos Circus’ debut in St. Augustine also marks his first show with this circus.
Hicks rode his bike on “America’s Got Talent” and also had one of his BMX videos go viral. Since then, he’s been getting contacted by different circuses and shows looking to feature his act—performing tricks on his bike on a flat stage.
“We live in a generation where everybody’s holding iPhones and iPads and you can get anything on YouTube,” Hicks said. “But to see it live, to see it performed in front of you, it’s magic. It gets addicting, you get better at it and you want to be able to inspire creativity in whatever you do.”
For Venardos, employing other performers and helping their “dreams come true” is one of the most rewarding parts of his job, a close second to putting a smile on a face in the audience.
“I’m going to keep doing it as long as I have air in my lungs,” Venardos said. “I spent the first three-quarters of my life wondering ‘why am I here, what am I supposed to do, is there something that’s meant for me?’ I found that was a lot of wasted energy. I needed to go through it to find it, but now I know that this is why I’m on earth.”