Exhausting schedule part of circus routine
Natalie Chandler was in the midday heat Thursday, watering the trained dogs of the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus.
It was a quiet time at the circus grounds on the old baseball field at Baldwin High School, before the excitement of the night’s two shows and after the hustle and bustle of setting up the big top and establishing camp for the day. Chandler was one of a handful of those with the circus out in the sun, doing day-to-day maintenance or routine chores.
For Chandler, it was all part of doing a job she loves.
“I love it all,” she said. “I love the shows, traveling, the work. It’s all fun to me.”
Once a self-taught trapeze artist, Chandler is now one of Culpepper & Merriweather’s ring masters, announcing the second half of the show. It’s a job she does twice a day during the season, which spans March to mid-October.
It’s also a job she does in a different town every day. Chandler said the circus leaves the site of the previous day’s performance at 6 a.m. to get to the next town. It then sets up before enjoying a few quiet hours of rest before that night’s shows. When that is finished, it will break down and prepare to travel in the morning. The only variety in the schedule is on weekends, when the circus does matinee shows, she said.
It sounds like an exhausting schedule, but Chandler said it didn’t bother her.
“I’m used to it,” she said. “I’ve been with a circus for 25 years. I was born to it.”
Helping Chandler with the dogs was her 3-year-old daughter, Genevieve. Chandler, a single mother of two, said she went to regular schools when young, traveling with her parents’ circus in the summer or during school breaks. She intends to home school her two daughters.
“I’d like to think there will be big-tent circuses around when they’re grown,” she said.
Last Thursday did present something different for the circus from the southeastern Oklahoma town of Hugo, Chandler said. Its 2012 tour took it out of the Midlands’ heat.
“We were in the Michigan Upper Peninsula,” she said. “The temperatures were in the 60s and 70s. This is the hottest day we’ve had.”
As Chandler was caring for the dogs, Dave Volponi was repairing the water tank on her travel trailer. Earlier, he served as tour guide for a class of Baldwin High School students.
Volponi said he joined the circus when it visited his hometown in California.
“I was a stilt walker,” he said. “I helped out at the circus that day, and they asked me if I wanted a job. I said I’d have to have time to think about it. They said I had until morning. That was 25 years ago.”
He was with the circus when it last visited Baldwin in 1991, Volponi said. During his time with the circus, he has added a number of skills to his repertoire, doing a high-wire act and riding a unicycle.
Chandler said she would be happy when the season ends but would soon be impatient to get back on the road.
“After a few weeks, I’ll be ready to go,” she said. “That’s the way it always is."