At Circus Juventas, youth learn the ropes

At Circus Juventas’ summer show, “Wonderland,” acrobatics students refine their craft and train for professional careers.

Abby Guggisberg practices aerial silks at Circus Juventas at their location in the Highland neighborhood of St. Paul on July 22.

Zach Bielinski

Abby Guggisberg practices aerial silks at Circus Juventas at their location in the Highland neighborhood of St. Paul on July 22.

Sophia Vilensky

Walking into Circus Juventas a week before summer show time, the scene is reminiscent of any other heavily youth-casted community play. Parents paint sets, the best brushes daub on stage makeup and Soffe-clad tweens practice the subtle art of flirting.

Then they start to bend.

Suddenly, you’re no longer in another local auditorium. The ceiling, you realize, is a big top. There’s a wall of unicycles behind the stadium seating, and that Cirque du Soleil performer contorting over yonder? They go to the high school down the street.

Welcome to Circus Juventas’ “Wonderland” rehearsals — where it’s down the rabbit hole, and up the Spanish web.

Co-owned and founded by husband-and-wife duo Dan and Betty Butler, Circus Juventas is a year-round circus school. More than 2,500 children — age 21 and under — take classes at the school, working their way up the class list in hope of being cast in the company’s much-adored summer show. This year’s “Wonderland” runs from July 29 to August 14, drawing motifs from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” and its sequel, “Through the Looking Glass.”

Stone Langworthy — cast as the White King in the show — is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota, where he studies kinesiology. He’s been “in circus” for eight years, eventually deciding to enlist after seeing his older sister thrive under the big top. When Langworthy joined, he was already way behind those who started their circus education at the age of two.

“I was past the age and size where learning to flip was viable.”

Instead, Langworthy found his niche in boy’s trapeze class. Today, the double trapeze act is his specialty.

Langworthy practices nearly every day of the week for five to six hours at a time; a schedule that is commonplace among students involved in the program. While this year will likely be Langworthy’s last in the theater portion of the program, in the next year he will begin training for a professional circus job with the hope of paying off his student loans.

Another character in “Wonderland,” Noah Posey — who plays the caterpillar — has been involved with the circus school for three years. And, like any good caterpillar, he bought the show’s hookah himself.

“I decided to sign up just to learn a flip,” Posey said. “I’m a dancer and it’s a crowd pleaser.”

Flips are no big deal to the artists these days; like Langworthy, Posey hopes to go professional, too.

Though they have their own specialties, together the boys perform a three-man hand-balancing act in the show. “Wonderland” has a runtime of three hours, with each performer taking part in many acts. To the untrained-in-the-circus-arts eye, “Wonderland” seems far from an amateur production. The sets are lovely — vibrant, looming and brilliant. Even costumes seem to scintillate.

Whichever road the boys choose to take, bigger big tops surely await.