Traveling Rhubarb Circus
Under this big top, the ringmasters are the kids
Lucia Mason, 15, of the Traveling Rhubarb Circus looks like a butterfly hanging from fabric. Recorder/Paul Franz
Lucia Mason, 15, top, and Ivysong Muller, 13. Recorder/Paul Franz
Ivysong Muller, 13, and Lucia Mason, 15, of the Traveling Rhubarb Circus practice in a Montague Center barn. Recorder/Paul Franz
Lucia Mason, 15, is propelled off Ivysong Muller's, 13, foot, doing an an aerial that ended with her landing on her feet. Recorder/Paul Franz
TRC warming up after practice in cold barn. Recorder/Paul Franz
Miette Muller, 16, is the circus’ producer and manager
They’ve traveled to a land of fairies and taken a journey across the ocean floor to battle evil polluters.
They’ve done it on a trapeze, aerial fabric and stilts and by juggling and tumbling their way through those mystical lands.
It all started the summer of 2008, on a hot day in a cozy neighborhood in the center of the Village of Montague Center in Montague. Lucia Mason and a small group of her neighborhood friends were bored and wanted to do something a little more exciting than just hang out.
Lucia, now 15, who lives just off of the Town Common in that small village, had been taking classes at New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vt. for several years and had been teaching her eager-to-learn friends the art of doing a perfect cartwheel, as well as other moves and tricks she had learned while at the circus school.
Lucia had a trapeze her father built in her barn, so she and her friends would go in and “mess around” when they got together.
That wasn’t enough for Lucia, or her friends, though. The next logical step, they thought, was to put what they had learned to good use.
That’s when Traveling Rhubarb Circus was born.
One of Lucia’s neighbors, the Gerard family, had grown rhubarb on Union Street in Montague Center for years and had extended an open invitation to neighbors to pick whatever they could use any time they wanted.
So, on that hot summer day in 2008, Lucia and her friends were “traveling” through the neighborhood and wanted something refreshing to munch on. They went to the rhubarb patch, pulling a little red wagon behind them.
“We had some props in the wagon, so we could stop people along the way and perform for them,” said Lucia. “We filled the rest of the wagon with rhubarb that day and were on our way.”
As they traveled through the neighborhood, they started to think about how what they were doing could become something more fruitful and worth their time.
“We decided to have a meeting and talk about it,” said Lucia, who said her friends were on board to create a circus that performed on the street. “We were all very motivated, ambitious kids.”
Lucia said one of the first things she and her friends decided was that they would pass a hat each time they performed and see what they might be able to collect. They said they’d use whatever money they collected to buy more props.
“We came up with a name next,” said Lucia. “We traveled the neighborhood, we liked to pick rhubarb to snack on when we did, and we had become a circus over time, so it was just natural — Traveling Rhubarb Circus.”
The first time the small group of about a half-dozen children decided to perform, they met on the Town Common dressed in shorts and T-shirts. They juggled and did cartwheels and tumbled for a small crowd of passersby who stoppedsister to watch.
“We passed a hat around and collected a total of $13 that day,” said Lucia. “It was so exciting.”
Miette Muller, 16, who is the circus’ producer and manager, said the group quickly became proactive and started knocking on neighbors’ doors, asking them to come out and watch. They always passed a hat around. They would collect small amounts but it kept adding up.
One performance was in the church yard in the center of the village one early evening.
“Neighbors had either seen us or heard about us and they came with chairs to watch,” she said. “It was becoming a ‘thing’ in Montague Center.”
Each time it gathered, the circus would draw a few more people and collect a little more money.
“People were really excited to give to the ‘circus fund,’” said Miette, whose 13-year-old sister, Ivysong, is one of the circus’ main performers.
Ivysong, who prefers to be called Ivy, had taken gymnastics between the ages of 4 and 9 and had taken professional lessons at the New England Center for Circus Arts with her good friend Lucia.
The group, which grew over the next few years as neighborhood kids heard about it and wanted in on the action, kept performing and raising money until the children decided it was time to go “more professional,” Lucia said.
So, the circus planned a show for the fall of 2012. Members had already decided the circus was going to be a “kid only” group. Titled “SNAP,” the show would be their first attempt at a semi-professional show.
“We’d been dreaming of putting on a big performance,” said Ivy. “We were all a little competitive, so we wanted to do something that would push us to be our best. We knew we’d have to be because people would be paying to watch us.”
The girls said preparing for that first performance was intense, to say the least.
“There were lots of tears and arguments,” said Ivy. “Hey, what would anyone expect? We were a bunch of kids who were going to be performing in front of a large audience, we hoped.”
In the months leading up to the performance of “SNAP,” members chose which sea creature they wanted to be and they collaborated on what music they would use. They wrote the story line and rehearsed, a lot.
“We didn’t have auditions,” said Ivy. “We just talked a lot and did a lot of compromising on who would be doing what.”
The circus members also decided the show should have a theme that raised awareness about some pressing issue. “We finally decided that we wanted people to realize that pollution is doing great damage to our oceans,” Miette said.
“SNAP” drew about 50 people to each of the three shows that September weekend in 2012 and it raised $1,000.
A combination of gymnastics, dance, moves on aerial fabric, trapeze work, partner acrobatics and juggling kept the audience interested and sometimes on the edge of their seats, the girls said.
“We created some cool images and did some cool moves,” Lucia said.
And it was all done by children ages 16 and under — that’s what they are most proud of.
“Parents made baked goods for intermission, but we, the kids, sold them,” said Miette. “We’ve cut out as much parental involvement as possible.”
Lucia said parents also help with equipment, whether building or installing, to make sure all is safe, but that’s where their involvement ends.
The three said there is always at least one parent at rehearsals to ensure everything is as safe as possible for the young performers.
“The dream of such a circus was always that it would be done completely by kids between the ages of 6 to 16,” Lucia said.
The second show, which followed in September 2013, was about a girl blown from her home during a storm and dropped into a mystical world filled with fairies, nymphs, trolls and the Evil Entity leader.
Well, this story, called “Blown Away,” was done using aerial fabric, a static trapeze and acrobatics.
The main character had to fight the Evil Entity and her troll minions to retrieve a black umbrella and find her way home.
“We had a full house of 90 people for each of those three performances,” said Miette. “We raised $1,837 and were all even more thrilled than the year before. Not because of the money, but because people really wanted to see us perform.”
The group recently bought a large mat that Lucia’s father installed under the equipment in the barn where they rehearse.
Lucia said the circus has also bought costumes with some of the money it has collected and has created a wish list, which includes a triple trapeze and more fabric.
Miette said the group would like to stay a “children only” group, which means she may not be able to be part of it for much longer.
She said being a part of Traveling Rhubarb Circus has convinced her she’d like to major in production and theater in college. “I love doing this,” said Miette. “I’m going to continue in some way. This circus has made a huge impact on my life.”
Lucia said the group may decide to extend the age of circus performers and become a “young adult” group, but that will eventually be decided by the younger members as that time approaches. She said another option would be to add an older group of more experienced performers so that everyone can stay involved.
Ivy said she loves that the group is made up of kids who grew up together, know each other well and trust each other. “We have this sisterly-brotherly thing going on,” said Ivy of the group’s about a dozen members. “We’ve got our core group that has been together since the beginning and then we have others who have joined as the circus has evolved.”
Lucia, Ivy and Miette said that the neighborhood kids all used to just hang around as they were growing up, but now when any of them see another member, it turns into a meeting about the circus.
“It has really given us focus,” Lucia said.
“Everyone is really invested in this venture,” said Miette. “We all take this very seriously.”
At 13, 15 and 16, Ivy, Lucia and Miette are the oldest members of the group.
They think it sounds funny to hear them say they are closer to retirement than they’d like to be and that Solena Davidson-Carroll, 7, who is the youngest member of the circus, is headed toward becoming one of its leaders someday.
“This group has been really good for all of us, though, no matter what happens,” said Ivy. “It has taught us patience, because everyone is a different age and so is at a different ability level. It has taught us how to work together and how to resolve conflict.”
The young women agree that having different abilities and skill levels has been good for the group because each member brings something to the circus and teaches others their particular skill or skills.
“We all benefit from each other,” Ivy said.
“What most people who come to see our shows learn is that they aren’t perfect,” said Lucia. “They’re flawed, but they’re real. We’re very professional about everything, so they aren’t terribly flawed, but it’s obvious some are still learning. I think that’s what people actually like about us.”
Lucia, Ivy and Miette said they will continue with Traveling Rhubarb Circus for as long as they can and will stay to help others adjust and reorganize as older members leave.
“We’re not planning on that happening any time soon,” Lucia said.
Traveling Rhubarb Circus plans to put on another performance in September 2014. Lucia, Ivy and Miette said they will announce the new show as soon as they know what it will be.
“We’re hoping it’s even bigger and better,” said Lucia. “We just keep striving for bigger and better each year.”
Lucia and Ivy continue to take classes at NECCA.
Lucia said NECCA teaches the two everything they need to know, but goes no further.
“As far as planning and creating shows goes, it’s all done by us kids,” said Lucia.
For more information about Traveling Rhubarb Circus, visit: www.travelingrhubarb.com.
Staff reporter Anita Fritz worked at The Recorder from 2002 to 2005 and then returned in 2006. She covers Greenfield and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.