Luverne goes under the big top

By Katrina Vander Kooi

Twelve hundred people came to watch aerialists, African elephants, a clown, and many other acts last Friday at the Culpepper-Merriweather Circus.

"We were very pleased with the event," Dave Smith, Luverne Area Chamber of Commerce director, said. "They put on a very good show."

Barbara, one of the two the African elephants, started off the circus' visit to Luverne by raising the tent Friday morning.

At 5:30 and 7 p.m., the big top was filled with spectators ready to enjoy a night of entertainment. An aerialist, a juggler, a contortionist, a ringmistress, an animal trainer, a clown, a trapeze artist and two balancing artists all had a part in the show.

Life in the circus

Tavana Luvas, the single trapeze artist, is a fourth generation circus performer. Since she was born, she has traveled with the circus. "I thought it was normal," Luvas said. "I learned from my parents just as a carpenter might teach his or her children."

Her family's circus legacy started with her great-grandfather and was passed to her through her father.

In her third season with the Culpepper-Merriweather Circus, Luvas sees her art as one of the last forms of live family entertainment left. "I am very proud of our little show," she said.

Being born into the business isn't the only way to join a circus, though.

Luvas' husband, Danny Kerry, also performs in the Culpepper-Merriweather Circus. "I started at a dancing school," Kerry said.

"It's a lot like being an actor," Luvas said. Kerry was spotted by an agent and has been in the circus ever since.

Kerry's acts in the circus include Rolla Bolla (where he balances on a circular object) and plate spinning. The married couple works together during their performances.

Taking on a character for performing is a part of circus life. Even names aren't quite what they appear to be. "These are just our stage names," Luvas said. "We have a legal married name."

Not 9 to 5

The day starts at 6 a.m. when everyone gets up to drive to the next town. There is a "24-hour crew" that travels about a day ahead of the circus to inspect the circus grounds and decide where everything goes. Once the trucks arrive, setup takes about four hours.

There are typically two shows in the evening, and after the shows the crew takes down the circus in about two hours. The evening is free for the people to do laundry, home schooling and other tasks. Then it's time for bed so they can get up at 6 a.m. the next morning to travel to another town.

The members follow this schedule seven days a week for 32 weeks of the year - from March to October.

This particular circus travels mostly to small towns. The smallest town it's performed in had a population of about 600 people.

Four families perform in the show and there are no understudies. When a performer is sick, the other performers have to add acts.

"We all know how to do other acts," Luvas said. "We are multi-talented and multi-purpose."

In the off season, repairs are made to the equipment, and the performers are free to do independent work such as Christmas parties or other circuses.

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