My At the Airport column for USA TODAY this month is all about the bozos -and the jugglers, plate spinners, musicians and other circus characters – that have moved into San Diego International as part of the airport’s new performing arts residency program.
“It’s not our usual venue,” said Fern Street Circus co-director John Highkin, co-director of San Diego’s Fern Street Circus – but when the call went out seeking applicants for the residency “we were intrigued with the idea of the airport as a community space and a place where circuses don’t usually happen.”
With monthly performances and weekly in-airport rehearsals and regular, unannounced interactions with passengers before and after security, the circus performers are proving that airports are a great place for circuses to happen.
But like a wire-walking act, choosing the right type of passenger interaction for an airport circus performer can be a delicate balance.
“We recognize that people come to airports with various frames of mind,” said Highkin. People travel for various reasons — some of them sad— and there’s the hectic phase of checking bags and getting through the checkpoints and, once past security, “the opportunity to be still.”
Pre-security, said Highkin, “we’ve figured out the most appropriate thing is for us to be playful and surprise passengers, but then let them move on.”
There are also plenty of rules and procedural issues a circus in residence at an airport has to go through and keep in mind.
Circus troupe members have to be fingerprinted, photographed (without clown make-up … ) and go through background checks and security training in order to be badged to enter secure areas of the airport and circus props must be thoroughly scrutinized by the TSA.
And no matter how impressive it looks, at the airport jugglers aren’t permitted to use fire, swords, cleavers or other sharp objects pre- or post-security.
During its residency, the Fern Street Circus is not only interacting with passengers at SAN Airport unannounced, it is holding weekly workshops and in-airport rehearsals.
Monthly performances of the circus’s new airport-centric work are scheduled for August 19, September 15 and – the grand finale – October 15.
Check the SAN Airport website for times and locations.
And don’t be surprised if you encounter more bozos than usual at San Diego International Airport.