The Venardos Circus arrives at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre this holiday season to debut a brand-new show and kick off the 2019 season. But Kevin Venardos of never dreamed of running away to join the circus; he envisioned himself performing on Broadway. A New Jersey kid who loved to sing and dance, Venardos studied musical theater at school. “At 22 years old, I was in New York auditioning for everything people would pay me money to do,” he explains, “I happened upon this really incredible adventure just by chance or by fate. I got a job as a ringmaster when I was 22 for the Ringling Brothers Circus. I did that for many years.” In fact, he was the youngest ringmaster in the history of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The following years were spent touring the country with the circus on the world’s largest privately owned train.
Just who is Kevin Venardos? “He’s a circus producer, but he’s really a dreamer, I guess,” the ringmaster laughs. Several years ago, he decided to create his own traveling circus production. It started with a tiny act at the LA County Fair in 2014 with rented equipment and big dreams. Over the next year and a half, the new Venardos Circus visited 20 cities with a moving truck full of props, a whole lot of gumption, and fierce determination to create something that would speak to guests on a heartfelt level. “Some dreams, they sort of evolve,” Venardos says, “Dreams are made of the stuff that you actually do and the world you are born into, more than just what you concoct in your brain. There are many forces that make dreams come to be. There’s no certain job security in any job that you do, so you might as well do the thing that you love.”
The Venardos Circus visited St. Augustine for the first time last winter and instantly connected with the community. “Florida’s been a home for the circus in many ways for different companies, “Venardos says, “There’s a lot of reasons why you’d want to winter here. It’s very possible that we’re going to have our roots here at some point. We’d like to have a physical address in St. Augustine.” The production will be on the road for 40 weeks in 2019, visiting 20-25 cities and performing approximately 320 shows.
When guests walk up to the red-and-white striped tent, they’re overcome by a sense of nostalgia. It’s inherently old-fashioned and inviting. “The Venardos Circus is a Broadway show inside a magic circus tent. We have incredible, world-class artists and production numbers that tell our story of following our dreams of becoming The Little Circus That Could,” Venardos says. The circus consists of a core group of performers who travel the country together. No animals are involved. Arrive early, because the excitement truly begins an hour before start time. A rotation of performers interacts with the crowd, welcomes kids on stage to learn circus tricks, takes selfies with guests, and creates a celebratory atmosphere. Guests can enjoy classic circus fares like popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs, and lemonade and mingle with the cast until showtime.
The production feels larger than life in such a limited space; guests are literally amid the action. There are aerialists and acrobats. There are silk and Lyra hoop performances overhead, trapeze acts, a cross-bow act, and a teeterboard act too. “There’s plenty of comedy, hula hoops, magical production numbers, marvels, wonderment, unicorns, and glitter,” Venardos laughs.
“When people arrive at the tent, they’re actually meeting the performers. They’re the ones taking the tickets, they’re working in the front of the house, they’re working concessions, they perform, and they’re the ones who put up the tent and take it down,” the charismatic ringmaster explains, “You really get to meet these people and see who they are. You can take pictures with them. And then the main event begins. It’s like a Broadway show that starts bursting forth before their eyes, and I believe they’re going to be taken away on an adventure that’s going to both bring them back to a simpler time where anything was possible and also remind them that that time still exists today. When they leave that tent, they’ll be reminded of just how powerful they are.”
Why should Jaxons make the trek to St. Augustine this winter to spend an evening at the circus? “Because they don’t want to miss out on what’s going to be an absolutely amazing time,” Venardos says, “It’s awesome, and it’s real. Apart from the magic, they’ll experience, I think they should take pride in knowing that their heart and their support has caused something like this to live against all odds. They should come to see it because it’s theirs.”
The Venardos Circus will perform at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre from December 19-January 27. Tickets can be purchased on their website, venardoscircus.com. The 90-minute show takes place entirely within a traditional big top tent and seats 300 people. Guests are in for a treat like no other with heart-stopping acts of daredevilry, acrobatic amusement, and personalities large enough to fill a tent twice the size but with a whole lot more heart. It’s so unique, you just might want to run away with the circus, too.