Clowns, acrobats, trapeze artists and more perform in Santa Barbara
Clifford E. Vargas fell in love with circuses as a little boy.
He told his mom he wanted to join a circus. He grew up and did just that and more. Not only did he succeed as a marketing director for a circus, he started his own circus in 1969, and it continues to go on the road from its headquarters in San Bernardino County’s Lucerne Valley.
Mr. Vargas’ dream lives on: Circus Vargas.
And it’s back in Santa Barbara for a run through July 19 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real. The first show is 7:30 tonight. After that, the performances will take place during the afternoons and evenings. (See the FYI box.)
The animal-free circus features trapeze artists, acrobats, clowns, contortionists, stunt motorcyclists and more. The acts are all part of a big show, which this year is a semi-biographical salute to Mr. Vargas, who died in 1989 at age 64.
The performances will be tied together by a narrative featuring a little boy playing Mr. Vargas as a child and another actor portraying him in his adult years, said Katya Quiroga, the circus producer along with her husband, Nelson Quiroga. They’ve owned the circus since 2005.
“I was 10 when my parents joined Circus Vargas. My husband was 19 when he joined Circus Vargas. We met at the circus,” Mrs. Quiroga, a seventh-generation circus professional since she was 16, told the News-Press.
Mrs. Quiroga said the Circus Vargas staff is excited to be on the road again. The circus opened June 17 and is presenting its first shows since 2019, before the pandemic suspended live performances. Circus Vargas recently wrapped up a run in its tent at Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, and now it’s in Santa Barbara, where it has performed previously.
During the pandemic, performers in music and theater have presented virtual programs. But Mrs. Quiroga said the circus is something that needs to be experienced in person.
“Our vocation is to perform, to give people joy, and we want people to come and see us,” Mrs. Quiroga said. “It’s the live feeling of real people, live music, people you can interact with, and buying cotton candy, nachos, popcorn.”
In other words, it’s the roar of the crowd, laughing at the clowns or applauding at amazing feats. And it’s the audience’s silence as it holds its collective breath right before a trapeze artist, acrobat or other performer does something out of this world. Drum roll, please!
It’s easy to understand Mrs. Quiroga’s and her husband’s passion for circuses, and it’s a passion being passed on to their family’s eighth generation of circus enthusiasts. Their three daughters — the youngest, Graciella, is 13; the others are young adults — work at Circus Vargas. Daniella, 18, is a contortionist who uses her foot to shoot with a bow and arrow, and the other, Mariella, in her early 20s, is in a flying trapeze act with her husband, who happens to be a clown, Mrs. Quiroga said.
“I love the flying trapeze artists because they’re from all walks of life,” Mrs. Quiroga said. “Some are in the eighth generation of performers, like my daughter and her husband. Some people just came out of school and joined us for the first time.
“I used to be a trapeze artist for 25 years,” Mrs. Quiroga said.
She grew up in Amsterdam and attended the Conservatorium for Ballet and Music in the Netherlands before deciding to follow in her family’s footsteps and make the circus her career.
“The circus is in your blood. You can’t leave the circus,” she said.
Mrs. Quiroga said she loves Circus Vargas because of the people — the workers, performers and audience members.
“We know that when our customers are happy, that’s what makes us happy,” Mrs. Quiroga said. “That keeps us going, working to create a new show every year — a better show every year.”