New Victory Arts Break – Circus Tricks Week

Welcome to Week 11 of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

Cash in your tap shoes and step right up—it’s Circus Tricks Week! Using the stuff around you (and the stuff between your ears), you’ll practice feats of showmanship and learn to combine them into circus acts brimming with personal style.

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Trust or Bust

20 – 25 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

When putting together a family circus—or any circus for that matter—trust is key! The best circus ensembles rely on trust and teamwork to stay safe and combine their talents into magnificent spectacles. Cirque Ziva (New Victory 2014) from China’s Golden Dragon Acrobats featured daring feats of skill requiring serious cooperation.

Can your family operate as a team? Can you make the impossible possible using teamwork? Follow the inspiring example of the Golden Dragon Acrobats in this trust-based activity.

Materials: Small, soft objects (a sweater, a stuffed animal, small pillows); small furniture pieces that are easy to move (a chair, an ottoman); a blindfold

Step One: Find a room in your home that has an open space. Rearrange the furniture so that there is a path going through the room, framed by your furniture. Scatter small objects on the ground through the path to create obstacles along the path.

Step Two: Decide which brave family member will be blindfolded first.

Step Three: After being blindfolded (be gentle!), it’s their goal to cross from one side of the room to the other without stepping on any of the obstacles. Everyone else must use their voices to help direct the blindfolded person around the obstacles. If they step on an object, they must return to the start to try again.

Step Four: Repeat until each family member has had a chance at the course!

Step Five: As a family, talk about what it was like to move through the course.

  • Did you prefer being blindfolded or giving directions? Why?
  • How did you help each other complete the course?
  • What were each family member’s strengths?
  • Can you think of other times when you help each other, and how?

Circus, Quirk-us

To really make a circus trick your own, you need a touch of the personal—a special skill or talent that’s yours and yours alone. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Ben Johnson as he shows off a few cool tricks you can do with just a hat!

Hat tricks are… well, tricky! But when you master a trick and wow your audience, it’s worth all the hours of practice. In this activity, brainstorm quirky talents you might already have and think about how you might incorporate them into your upcoming family circus.

Step One: Think of a talent—something you can do really well. Maybe you can bend your thumb backwards, make a four-leaf clover out of your tongue, recite the alphabet from Z to A or sing like a bird!

Step Two: Have each family member make a list of all the special skills that they would want to perform in a circus. Have conversations to learn what other members of your family think are your most special skills.

Step Three: Put the lists together! Is there a talent you all share that you can perform as a group? What might your solo routines be? Are there any circus skills you dream of having but don’t have room for in your home? High flying trapeze, perhaps? Think about how you might recreate that in your space!

Having trouble coming up with interesting talents? Draw on your daily routine to craft tricks grounded in the familiar! The awesome Aussies of Circus Oz took inspiration from the classic photo “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” in Circus Oz: From the Ground Up Tour (New Victory 2012), turning the daily routine of a construction worker into a jaw-dropping spectacle.

Brainstorm activities and chores that are part of your daily routine (e.g. getting dressed, brushing your teeth, eating cereal). Add an air of danger or suspense to the activity to turn it into a circus trick! You could try:

  • Setting a time limit to create suspense (putting on as many articles of clothing you can in a minute)
  • Performing the act with a different body part to up the intensity (brushing your teeth without using your hands)
  • Playing with the scale of your act to make it extraordinary (eat cereal with tweezers)

BONUS: Design a circus act that combines your daily routine tricks with your other special talents you discovered today. Level them all up by adding suspense!

Which circus performer do you identify with? Ringmaster, strongman, acrobat, lion tamer? Why?

Amy Castanos

An acrobat! It must be such a rush being able to do all those flips, tricks and being able to balance. It takes real skill to walk on a tightrope or know when exactly to catch someone or to flip. They’re really cool! – Amy Castanos, second-year New Victory Usher

Share your answer with us! Post a photo or video of your quirky circus trick on Instagram and tell us what sort of performer you aspire to be! Tag us @newvictorytheater and we’ll feature you in our story.


Strike a Balance

30 – 35 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

Juggling! Hat tricks! Tightrope! Trapeze! To pull off these circus feats with the greatest of ease, you need one special skill in particular: balance! From everyday objects to professional circus props, circus performers balance objects in all kinds of ways. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Hassiem Muhammad as he teaches the basics of object balancing using household items.

You’re on your way to becoming a balancing master! Ready for a new spin? In Pedal Punk (New Victory 2015), the innovative circus artists of Cirque Mechanics performed their tricks on all manner of spinning apparatuses, from BMX bikes to Cyr wheels, which took tremendous balance—take a look.

Before seeing Pedal Punk, we introduced audiences to a few balance and coordination tricks inspired by the show. Grab a non-fragile plate and join professional clown and erstwhile New Victory Teaching Artist Christina Gelsone (you may recognize her as one of Air Play’s Acrobuffos!) as she teaches a handful of plate-balancing tricks. The show may be over, but the skill-building can continue!

If you could create a circus, what would it look like? What acts would it feature?

Manny Leyva

If I made a circus, it would be full of birds. They’re already stunning, full of life and colors, and they’re highly intelligent, so they can definitely be taught to perform tricks. My acts would be composed of birds by region, like North America, South America—birds from each continent! – Manny Leyva, third-year New Victory Usher

What about you? Would your circus feature feats of breathtaking balance? Show us your balancing skills on Instagram and let us know what sort of circus you dream about creating. Just tag us @newvictorytheater.


Innovation Manipulation

30 – 35 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

You’ve practiced performing circus tricks with some wacky items this week—hats, plates, brooms—but there are infinite things around your home that you can use to make an amazing circus performance. Watch as New Victory Teaching Artist Billy Schultz playfully demonstrates how to manipulate everyday objects to create a circus act.

Similar to the Rule of Three, you can build up your act with a small and simple trick, then a medium-sized and slightly trickier trick, and finally a big trick of tremendous skill that your audience will never see coming. You can also demonstrate three tricks with different objects, and then utilize all three in combination for a grand finale! Here’s a play-by-play.

Step One: Identify three objects that you can manipulate creatively and safely (i.e. dropping them or knocking them into things won’t do any damage). You saw Billy use a foam roller, a reusable grocery bag and a plastic bag. Some other object suggestions might be….

  • A throw pillow
  • A cardboard box
  • An empty plastic water bottle
  • A leaf or fake flower
  • A stuffed animal

Step Two: Explore each object! How can you manipulate each one? Can you…

  • Balance it? On different parts of your body?
  • Flip it?
  • Toss it from hand to hand?
  • Juggle it?
  • Catch it in an interesting way?

Figure out which manipulation works best for each object. Find your favorite new tricks!

Step Three: Order your tricks by difficulty: a small trick (the simplest), a medium-sized trick (slightly trickier) and a big trick (the most difficult). Practice performing them in order, building transitions between them and holding for applause!

BONUS: Use all three of your items at the same time to really wow your audience. It’s your grand finale!

Of course, circus performers often manipulate more than one of the same item at the same time—juggling! Return to the activities from Juggling Week to freshen up your skills as you continue to add more talents to your circus résumé.

If you could learn or perform one circus act, what would it be and why?

Melissa Rojas Martinez

I would love to be able to jump from pole to pole, or learn how to hula hoop. I would also love to learn how to walk on stilts so that I could change my height. – Melissa Rojas Martinez, second-year New Victory Usher

Tell us what trick you’d love to learn, and show us what you’ve practiced so far! Tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.


Circus Style!

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

From costumes to characters to music to design, every circus has its own unique style. What will yours be? For inspiration, take a look at these photos from a few circuses that have been on our stage. Do you remember any of them?


From down under, Circus Oz: Laughing at Gravity Tour (New Victory 2006) featured a live band and took its style cues from the storied evolution of rock and roll. Photo: Paul Miller


Circus der Sinne’s Mother Africa: My Home (New Victory 2016) was styled after Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha—lumber and sheet metal, a rainbow of traditional fabrics mixed with modern fashions, and the hustle and bustle of daily life.

CIrque Mechanics - 42FT

Cirque Mechanics’ 42FT – A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels (New Victory 2019) was an homage to the traveling one-ring circuses of the 1930s. Learn more about the specific inspiration of that era in this video, designed to prepare audiences for 42FT. Photo: Maike Schulz

Each of the circuses mentioned above has a distinct look inspired by a specific time and place. What time and place inspire you? What’s your look? In this activity, brainstorm some costume ideas for your circus persona.

Step One: Have each member of your family write down 3 – 5 words that describe the style they want their circus persona to embody. Sparkly? Classic? Formal? Wacky? Striped? What feels like most like you? What element of style can your whole family agree on to tie together your family circus troupe? It could be something as big as an historic era, or as small as matching socks.

Step Two: Use this template to sketch a circus outfit idea from head to toe. Make sure everyone involved does their own sketch!

My Circus Outfit

Step Three: Assemble your outfit and bring your sketch to life, the zanier the better! Take ordinary items in your wardrobe and mix them up in unexpected ways to create an extraordinary ensemble.

BONUS: How can you create the ultimate attire using items from each other’s wardrobes? Mix and mismatch!

Once you have your outfits settled and you’re confident in the style of your circus, think about what sort of music you’ll want to play during your performance. A carefully curated playlist will really sell your signature style and help set the tone.

A Family that Cirques Together

Now that you have a vision for what your circus will look and sound like, it’s time to start planning the main event! Comic daredevil Bello Nock has performed on the New Victory stage three times in Bello Mania! (New Victory 2016, 2014, 2013), and each time he brings a huge diversity of acts, stunts and gags.

What’s more, Bello is a seventh-generation circus performer—his family founded Switzerland’s Circus Nock in the 18th century—and his daredevil daughter Annaliese is continuing the tradition! Think about your family circus. Of all the acts you’ve practiced, which will you include, and who will take on what role? Get it all down on paper in this activity.

Materials: Paper, pen, Act List template (optional)

Step One: Label a sheet of paper with each of your names. Take turns writing the circus skills that each person has been mastering this week, along with the special talents each person has. Remember, don’t be afraid to be silly! Most skills with a strong performance can become circus skills!

Step Two: Once you have your lists, choose your preferred acts and put them in order to create an act list for your show. You can also choose a name for your circus and elect a ringleader to start the show and introduce each act. Use this Act List template to get it all organized.

Circus Act List

Step Three: Think about a special trick or combination of tricks that everyone can do together. That can be the grand finale of your circus! HINT: Maybe you can all spin around at the same time, or do a split! Have you all mastered your hat tricks yet? Get creative!

Now you can start practicing your routines in the order you’re going to perform them! Remember, it’s important to structure each act so your performance is as smooth and professional as possible. Here’s a suggested structure:

  • The grand entrance: There are many unique ways to start your act! Come in from off stage with your arms open wide, or arrange a blackout and then appear suddenly in the light. Make your entrance memorable.
  • The trick: Practice breaking the trick into levels—small, medium, big—to keep your audience continually impressed.
  • The ta-dah moment: This is simply a call to attention so that the audience acknowledges your trick and you let them know that your trick is complete. Think of it as a “Look what I have done!”
  • The bow: Bow once! Bow twice! Bow three times! Be proud of your act!
  • The exit: You could simply walk off stage, or you could add a little something more to make your act unforgettable. Do you have parting words? A catchphrase? A dance move?

What is the most impressive circus trick you’ve seen?

Aleks Kwiecien

The most impressive circus trick I have seen is definitely the Strongman in Cirque Mechanics’ 42FT, when he was picking up really heavy stuff. It always seemed so dangerous—almost impossible! – Aleks Kwiecien, first-year New Victory Usher

Share your answer—and the most impressive trick from your act—with us on Instagram! Just tag us @newvictorytheater in your post.


The Big Top

35 – 40 minutes, Ages 7 – 13

You’ve practiced. You’ve rehearsed. You’ve practiced some more. Now it’s time for the big show! Of course, first you need to let people know that you’ve got a show going on, for what’s a live performance without an audience to share it with? Let’s start by creating a circus poster.

Materials: Poster template or plain paper, colored pencils, tape

Step One: Print out the poster template, or draw your own based on it.

Circus Poster Template

Step Two: What is your family circus name? Write it in the banner! Check your Act List from yesterday if you can’t remember.

Step Three: Draw an image of your family circus in the center. Try to showcase individual acts, and remember to add your style!

Step Four: Tape up the poster somewhere where everyone can see it.

BONUS: Make a series of posters that showcase individual performers in your circus. Try to keep the style consistent.

Circus Ringleadership

Stories have narrators, orchestras have conductors, and no circus can go on without a trusty ringleader! Before you perform, learn how to hook an audience by perfecting your circus talk with the help of New Victory Teaching Artist Marisol Rosa-Shapiro.

Marisol amplified her circus talk with a megaphone! Here are some quick instructions for making your own out of paper.

Materials: Paper, pencil, scissors, crayons or markers

Step One: Draw this shape on your paper and cut it out.

Trace and Cut

Step Two: Decorate the paper and roll it into a cone. Tape to secure.

Roll and tape

Step Three: Announce yourself! Practice the circus talking skills that Marisol demonstrated:

  • Build the tip: The tip is that crowd of audience prospects milling about your home. Get their attention!
  • Freeze the tip: Stop those folks in their tracks! Keep their attention with a few larger-than-life details about your circus.
  • The opening: This is your sales pitch. Emphasize what makes your show special, from the acts to the performers themselves.
  • The jam: Make a personalized, limited time offer too good to ignore.
  • The grind: Get them into their seats with one last push of irresistible rhythmic patter. “Step right up! Step right up!”

Use the megaphone!

Now you’re ready to perform. Start off with a dress rehearsal to make sure the real show goes off without a hitch. Here’s how to prepare:

Step One: Select an area of your home that you’d like to perform in.

Step Two: Make sure the area is clear of anything that might harm the performers or the audience.

Step Three: Have your Act List handy. Remember that your ringleader will open the show with some snazzy circus talk and also announce each act, so take a moment to jot down how those transitions between acts will play.

Step Four: Each performer gets costumes, props and music ready for their act.

Step Five: Rehearse each act in order! Practice a few times and don’t be afraid to make some tweaks along the way. Adjust until you have a show you’re proud of.

Step Six: Perform! And have fun. Call up some family and friends and perform your circus for them over video chat, or set up a camera and film your family circus to watch and share later. You’ve spent all week preparing—you might as well capture it for posterity.

Countless circus artists have performed their acts on the New Victory stage. Which one has been your favorite and why?

Maria Tlapanco

My favorite was Tatiana, the juggler in 42FT. Honestly, her outfit was on point, and her dance moves and juggling were fluent with the music she performed to. Everything seemed perfect. – Maria Tlapanco, third-year New Victory Usher

What’s your favorite circus? How does your own performance compare to ones you’ve seen onstage? Share yours with us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

After a full week of circus tricks, you may be eager to step into the big top and witness a real-life spectacle! Here’s the next best thing—two minutes of New York’s own Big Apple Circus in full 360° video. Pan around, or strap on your VR headset if you’re fancy, and pretend you’re in the tent where it happens.

We hope you enjoyed this eleventh week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.