East Side History Madison’s Blog

By and for the East Side History Club, a project of the Goodman Community Center

Madison Circus Space Continues East Side’s Circus Tradition

Posted by eastsidehistorymadison on June 30, 2013

Madison’s East Side has welcomed circuses and their performers for more than 100 years. But locals who wanted to learn circus arts never had a permanent home until now. Madison Circus Space has opened at 2100 Winnebago Street, in a space that was occupied by Anderson Thomas, a lawn equipment sales and repair shop, until it closed in June 2010. A more recent tenant was Sector 67, a nonprofit, collaborative “makerspace.”

When the Goodman Community Center opened in 2008, its gymnasium became a “meeting of minds” as well as bodies of locals interested in circus skills. Clubs of jugglers, unicyclists, aerial dancers, and fans of circles from Hula Hoops to German Wheels came together on Sundays to jam and learn new skills. But competition for space grew as the Goodman Community Center hosted more and more activities.

“There just wasn’t enough available practice time,” said Marcia Miquelon, Aerial Rigging Coordinator and instructor at Wild Rumpus Circus Camps, one of the founding members of the Madison Circus Space.

Kickstarter campaign provided much of the financing for the Madison Circus Space, raising $13,485. Carly Schuna, German Wheel instructor and secretary of the Madison Circus Space board described pledge rewards ranging from “t-shirts to circus performances in your own back yard to bathroom naming rights.”  “Everybody’s jazzed about how the campaign turned out,” Marcia Miquelon said.

This video was featured on the Kickstarter campaign page:

Madison Circus Space’s 4,500-sq. ft. interior features 22-foot-high ceilings and a floor transformed from engine bay to a floating wooden floor suitable for dancing. Tumbling mats add to the comfort. Additional bathrooms and exits were installed and the electrical system improved.

The East Side History Club’s roving reporter attended the Open House on June 29. Anyone interested in volunteering or supporting the Madison Circus Space financially can find more information on its website.

Exterior, 2100 Winnebago St.

Exterior, 2100 Winnebago St.

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Carly Schuna, German Wheel Instructor

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Aerialist Jess Bruch Clark

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Jugglers Nick Aikens and Graham Paasch

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The East Side’s circus connection is a long one. In the early 20th century “Circus Hill” was the name for the property where Lowell School now stands, because traveling circus troupes would pitch their tents there to thrill “children of all ages” with their performances and menagerie. A giraffe was once spotted hitched to the corner lamp post at Atwood and Elmside Boulevard while its master presumably shopped at the Hess Store next door, recalled Merrillyn Leigh Hartridge in the East Side Album.

As the size of the traveling circuses grew, other East Side locations hosted the performances, including Burr Jones Field and vacant lots near Oscar Mayer and the Dane County Regional Airport. The numerous railroad tracks crossing the east side permitted the circus trains to unload near the circus grounds. Older people who grew up on the East Side  remember watching the circus animals parading from the tracks to the circus grounds, and arriving early to help set up the circus tents in exchange for  free tickets to the show. Circuses were the topic of the East Side History Club’s February 2011 meeting. A list of circus locations by year was posted on this blog.

-Sarah White

Circus parade passing Frederick and Mary Mark’s confectionary. This view is north-northeast beyond the intersection of Williamson and Dickinson Streets ca. 1909. Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society, WHi- 3152

Circus parade passing Frederick and Mary Mark’s confectionary. This view is north-northeast beyond the intersection of Williamson and Dickinson Streets ca. 1909. Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society, WHi-3152

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One Response to “Madison Circus Space Continues East Side’s Circus Tradition”

  1. […] Circus Space (please, view exhibits A and B), “meant to foster appreciation for the variety of circus-related talent and creativity […]

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