New Victory Arts Break: Tulu

At the 1992 Summer Olympics, Derartu Tulu made history by becoming the first African woman to win an Olympic gold medal. This historic moment inspired Ethiopian brothers Bibi and Bichu to create their awe-inspiring spectacle Circus Abyssinia: Tulu. Today we’ll explore different circus skills and create a circus of our own inspired by a person from our own lives.

Tulu runs December 9 – January 1, with a Sensory-Friendly Performance on December 18 at 5pm.

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New Victory Arts Break: Circus Abyssinia: Tulu

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Before the Show: Handcrafted Juggling
In order to create your own circus, it’s important to have a few circus skills under your belt. Let’s start with juggling! And not to worry if you don’t have any juggling materials at home—New Victory Teaching Artist Ben Johnson has got you covered. Let’s begin our juggling lesson with a video where Ben breaks down some juggling basics and suggests a few objects you might have at home that you can swap for traditional juggling objects!

Now that you’ve tried scarf plastic bag juggling, let’s level up to juggling balls! Here are some instructions for making juggling balls out of everyday materials.

Materials (per ball): One tennis ball, six pennies, two small but stretchy balloons

Uninflated balloons, tennis balls, pennies, a pair of scissors

Step One: Cut a small slit down the side of the tennis ball. Adult supervision required! Then fill the tennis ball with the six pennies.

Step Two: Get the tennis ball inside one of your balloons by carefully stretching the mouth of the balloon around the ball. This takes patience, and balloons may break! Once you’ve succeeded, cut off the mouth of the balloon and repeat the process with a second balloon so that there’s no tennis ball showing through.

Step Three: Repeat until you have your desired number of balls! Do you want to juggle two or three balls? How about five?!

Finished juggling balls wrapped in balloons with the openings cut off

Step Four: Rewatch Ben’s video and practice some of the same tricks using the balls. Keep track of how many balls you’re able to keep up in the air. Are you able to get through all three levels?

Great work! Now that you’ve conquered a juggling skill, you’re ready to head over to the New Victory Theater for Circus Abyssinia: Tulu from Ethiopian fire-juggling brothers Bibi and Bichu.

On the Way: A New Victory
Let’s check out the historic moment that inspired the show you’re about to see! Derartu Tulu brought Olympic gold home to Ethiopia after finishing in first place in the 10,000 meters. Check out the video below of Tulu’s winning race and answer the reflection questions on your way to the theater.

Video Reflection

  • What are some things you noticed after watching this video?
  • How did the athlete that finished in second place, Elana Meyer, congratulate Tulu after the race? What examples of good sportsmanship have you witnessed in your life?

Derartu Tulu celebrating with silver medalist Elana Meyer

  • Everyone is good at something! What’s your special skill?
  • If you could give gold medals to everyone in your household, what would they be for?

Challenge: After you’ve watched the video of Tulu’s victory and considered the reflection questions, complete your journey to the theater with a slow-motion race!

  • How overexaggerated and silly can you make your movements?
  • How do your silly movements affect your slow-motion speed?
  • What do winning emotions look like in slow motion?

After the Show: Cirque du You
Now that you’ve explored juggling, learned about Derartu Tulu and seen the circus inspired by her victory, you’re ready to envision a circus of your own inspired by the victories of someone you know!

Step One: Think of someone—a member of your family, a friend or mentor, an artist—that you’d like to choose as your circus inspiration. Who are you choosing and what about them inspires you? Mika and Keyleen from the New 42 Youth Corps each chose different inspirations; Mika chose her sister and Keyleen chose the Acrobuffos!


My circus is inspired by my sister and how she is a very goofy, extroverted individual. She likes to express herself by expanding her talents.


The Acrobuffos and their show Air Play inspired me to imagine a circus that plays with the concepts of air and defying gravity.

Step Two: One great way of laying out your thoughts is with a mood board—a collage of your ideas and creative inspirations. Begin brainstorming different elements of your circus inspired by your chosen person. Collect notes, drawings, magazine clippings, or any little inspiring thing and paste them all onto a piece of paper. Think:

  • What circus costumes would you design to reflect your chosen person?
  • What circus props would you use to celebrate them?
  • What circus acts could honor them and the things that make them special?
  • How else could you acknowledge this person during your circus?

Mika’s circus mood board showcases puppetry, martial arts, outdoor venues, and costumes for both human and canine performers:

Mika's mood board

No paper? No problem! Keyleen created her mood board digitally using Google Jamboard:

Keyleen's mood board

New Victory Teaching Artist Alberto Denis
Learn more about creating a mood board with New Victory Teaching Artist Alberto Denis in our Theater Sets and Costumes Arts Break.

Step Three: Review your mood board and brainstorm a name for your circus that encapsulates your themes and your inspiration. You could include your person’s name, your name, the name of where you live or the name of the main idea!


Expression: Circus Art is the name I chose for my circus. It celebrates my sister’s skills in karate and other art forms. She also loves animals, especially dogs, which is why I incorporated both live and origami animals.


My circus, Wind Under the Butterflies, will be in a garden filled with flowers and butterflies. I love butterflies! There will be aerial dancing, belly dancing, tricks with fire and fabric kites like Air Play‘s.

Challenge: Share your circus design with the person that inspired you!

And Beyond: Everyday Circus for Days
As teenagers, brothers Bibi and Bichu spotted a teacher juggling oranges on the school playground. The pair joined in the action and haven’t stopped since! You may not have a juggling teacher at your school, but you can kickstart your love of juggling with videos from the artists below:

  • Swedish jugglers Patrick Elmnert, Wes Peden and Tony Pezzo preview their out-of-this-world juggling show Water on Mars, which came to the New Victory in 2017.
  • The South African artists of Circus der Sinne have brought foot juggling to the New Victory twice, with Mother Africa in 2013 and Mother Africa: My Home in 2016.
  • Circus artist Stephen Ragatz has been juggling for decades, touring with Cirque du Soleil and to the New Victory with Cirque Mechanics, but his iconic red ball routine remains one of our favorites.
  • American juggler Delaney Bayles shows off her Tricks of the Month for the International Jugglers Association.
  • Every year, British juggler and musician Luke Burrage organizes a vote on the top 40 jugglers in the world and then creates a compilation music video revealing the results.

Looking to expand your circus and enhance your skills? Our ensemble of New Victory Teaching Artists have a dazzling assortment of activities that, with a little practice, will help turn your one-ring living room circus into a five-star spectacle for the ages!

New Victory Teaching Artist Marisol Rosa-Shapiro
Draw crowds to the big top like an experienced ringleader with Marisol Rosa-Shapiro.
New Victory Teaching Artist Billy Schultz
Create innovative circus tricks at home using everyday objects with Billy Schultz.
New Victory Teaching Artist Ben Johnson
Make ’em laugh with Ben Johnson and the dependable (and always hilarious) Rule of Three.
New Victory Teaching Artist Sarah Petersiel
Hone your clowning skills with Sarah Petersiel as she breaks down the art of the silly mistake.

Eager for more circus? Cirque Mechanics is returning to the New Victory this spring with Zephyr, a whirlwind of circus that will blow you away. See you then!

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.