Off the wall and into the circus: Bellingham Circus Guild

By Zach Barlow

Laura Birch demonstrates an aerial stunt at the Bellingham Circus Guild in Fairhaven. Photo by Zach Barlow.
Laura Birch demonstrates an aerial stunt at the Bellingham Circus Guild in Fairhaven. Photo by Zach Barlow.

Right across the street from the Greyhound Station in Fairhaven, there exists, quite literally, a circus.

“The Circus Guild is a collective of circus arts enthusiasts. It’s a melting pot for people to come together to train, perform, and share their love for the arts in a space where open communication is encouraged,” said a teacher and original member of the Guild who goes by Chipps.

Chipps also “dabbles in everything from sideshow, to fire performance, to various things with bananas,” he said.

“The Guild started [in 2008] with a troupe of performers who put on a local show called the Dream Science Circus,” Chipps said. “In order to put on the performances, the group acquired a warehouse to rehearse in. After the show the troupe wanted to keep the warehouse and continue to practice their art.”

The Circus Guild holds weekly aerial classes to teach participants how to climb on various materials, like silk ropes and hanging hoops. Over time and experience the climbing eventually turns into acrobatic tricks while hanging in the air, said Josh Bersos, an aerial artist who has been taking classes at the guild for the last four years.

The guild also offers classes in juggling and “acro,” which is a style of dance that combines acrobatics with classical dance techniques, Chipps said. This style of dance is most frequently used in Cirque du Soleil and modern contemporary dance performances.

“The Circus Guild offers a place to develop my art and share it with my friends,” said Greg Dotson, who has been practicing and performing aerial stunts with the guild since 2011.

 “It’s definitely the most fun place in Bellingham. No matter what’s going on in the week anywhere else, you’re able to come here and forget about all that,” said Bersos.

“There are some people that do a little bit of lots of things, but there’s no one that really does everything here,” Bersos said. “There’s a lot of people that bring different things to the table.”

The Circus Guild extends open arms to any and all performers, regardless of how “off-the-wall” they may be, Chipps said.

“I had an act where I drank a bunch of juice and stuck a tube down my nose and then would have my friends drink it out of my stomach,” Chipps said.

He added that these more bizarre acts, which can be found at any Circus Guild performance around town, can all fall under the circus term “sideshow.”

“Sideshow is kind of like the back side of the circus,” Chipps said. “It’s everything from sword swallowing, ‘block-head’ [which consists of the performer hammering a nail or other sharp object such as a screwdriver into the nasal cavity via the nostril], walking glass, and bed of nails,” he continued. “You know, just kind of freaky stuff that test human endurance and is shocking.”

One of the more notably bizarre performers associated with the guild goes by the name “Justincredible,” Chipps said.

“Justincredible travels around with a tent he calls the Justincredible Sideshow,” Chipps said. “He currently holds the Guinness World Record for most string placed into the nose and pulled out of the mouth in a minute.” 

Students who are taking lessons at the guild have the opportunity to perform at any Circus Guild event.

  Vaudevillingham, one of the biggest shows the guild puts on, is held the 15th of every month and takes place in the Circus Guild building across the street from the Fairhaven Greyhound Bus Station.

Vaudevillingham has only one cardinal rule when it comes to performances, Chipps said.

“No performer can do the same routine twice … to make sure everyone is constantly evolving and continuing to get better,” Chipps said.

The Guild represents more than just a place to practice and perform, Chipps said. “To me, the guild is the closest thing I’ve ever had to family. I love being around people who are inspiring, dedicated, and willing to take a risk.”

Bersos said the guild is a place for team-building and community. “Everyone here constantly makes each other better. When you’re performing, especially when you’re doing a group performance, the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

The Circus Guild has experienced its share of hardship along the way, Chipps said. “A couple years back, during Ski to Sea weekend, members of the guild were kicked off sidewalks for doing various street performances,” Chipps said.

Since the Dream Science Circus, the Guild has moved around to five different locations. Each location required various permits and needs that had to be met. “The building we’re in now is the first one that has all the official permits,” Chipps said. “They’re framed on the wall . . . We’re slowly evolving into becoming legit.”

The Circus Guild is a non-profit organization with twenty percent of all proceeds from classes and performances going directly back into the guild. The cost of classes varies depending on the type of class and the instructor.

“Our numbers continue to grow in both our classes and our performances,” Chipps said. “We’re definitely growing in the right direction.”


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