Meridian Industrial


9/4/2019 | Allison Litera


When you go to the circus and see a trapeze artist dangling from 50 feet in the air, or a tightrope walker teetering on a cord no thicker than your thumb, do you ever think to yourself “I’d like to try that”? Your first answer might be “NOPE”! Perhaps it’s the height, strength, or flexibility that might intimidate you. But the circus arts are actually much more approachable than you think.

“Our trapeze is only five feet off the ground,” smiles Henry Wheaton, owner of SHOW Circus Studio in Easthampton. He and his former colleague Christopher Oakley formed the circus arts studio ten years ago to teach an array of circus arts to the public. Ground and aerial skills like trapeze, unicycle, lyra (a suspended hoop), stilt walking, juggling, handstands/ inversions, unicycle, Diablo (Chinese yo-yo), partner acrobatics, and tumbling are all practiced at the studio.

Wheaton has always been athletic, but what exactly got him involved in circus arts?

“I didn’t touch a trapeze until my late 30’s,” he explains. “I became interested in the circus when I saw Cirque du Soleil – La Nouba in Orlando. However, I couldn’t find a local gymnastics school that would teach a grown male.”

Wheaton and Oakley met at NECCA (New England Center for Circus Arts) in Brattleboro, VT and graduated from the nine-month intensive training program in 2008. Wheaton (who majored in duo trapeze and minored in partner acrobatics) and Oakley (who majored in trapeze and minored in contortion) both agreed that they wanted and needed a place to train after their time at NECCA. After months of planning, SHOW Circus Studio started in 2009 in a small room at the Easthampton Mills complex. Since then, the studio has absorbed much of its surrounding space and has become a 3,500 square foot facility with wood floors, 15-foot ceilings, and colorful murals. Their presence in the historic mill complex only adds to the culturally rich landscape of western Massachusetts.

“Our intention was originally for a training space for circus arts,” explains Wheaton. “The school is something that grew from it.” The open studio space feels fun, curious, and inviting, while the front desk and waiting area are bright with natural lighting and a TV screen where parents and families can watch what’s happening within the studio space.

But why did they choose Western Massachusetts for the circus studio? Why Easthampton?

“This area is very family-oriented,” says Wheaton. Perhaps the group that benefits the most from SHOW Circus Studio’s programs are the kids. In fact, the majority of the studio’s students are children. “When we were kids, it was instilled in us that sports or dance classes were our only options to keep active. We didn’t have the choice of participating in circus arts then. At SHOW, we want to demonstrate to kids that they can be physically active, have fun, be themselves and express who they are.” The circus arts aim to build confidence, especially in kids. SHOW’s culture enforces safety and most importantly teaches students to respect themselves, the equipment, and others.

“There are so many different disciplines, ages, levels, capabilities, and body shapes, and circus arts are made for all of them,” adds Wheaton. So how is it that a trapeze artist may feel 100% at home 50 feet above the ground?

“There are a lot of preconceived notions about circus arts,” explains Wheaton. “Part of the mystique of the circus is that it looks dangerous, but people who practice the circus arts have progressed through it safely and worked up to their current abilities. Behind the thrill of the circus is a recreational experience. It’s like any other hobby.” Although it may look intimidating, all of SHOW’s beginner classes start from the bare basics. If you’re curious, come try it. The best way to get in shape and build strength for the classes is to take them and learn the ins and outs step-by-step! All participants sign safety waivers and the studio is fully insured.

“Circus arts are difficult, but that is what makes them so appealing,” Wheaton says. “It’s a lot of training, yet it helps focus and drive people. It gives students a purpose and motivation to be their best selves.”

SHOW Circus Studio participates in a wide variety of events, including Easthampton’s Cultural Chaos, Amherst BID’s Block Party, and even at the opening of Springfield’s Dr.
Seuss Museum. Their performers are available for hire. They also have a youth troupe and are developing an adult troupe, which also put on performances.

“When I look back on the past ten years, the thing that is most amazing is the community we’ve created and how we feed off each others’ enthusiasm,” concludes Wheaton. “That’s the
piece that means the most to me.”

To learn more about SHOW or sign up for a class, visit

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