By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
For many, the circus is a fanciful place often depicted in films like The Greatest Showman, Water for Elephants and Dumbo, to name a few. At the circus, magic comes in the form of magnificent beasts and hypnotizing showmanship. For Christian Toscano, 22, the circus isn’t just a place on the big screen or a weekend event, it’s his whole life.
Toscano grew up living the life people read about in books. He was born into a circus family.
As Toscano put it, his mother was performing in the circus when his father came to a show. They met and fell in love. When they started a family, they continued performing and working at the circus and took their children on the journey with them.
“I grew up in circuses,” Toscano said. “I started performing when I was six-years-old.”
Although Toscano’s parents are retired, his older brother and him are keeping the family tradition alive.
Currently, Toscano performs in the Shrine Circus, which comes to Milwaukee each year. His specialty is the high wire, which he began learning at the age of six. When he turned 10, he began riding the motorcycle in the show too.
Toscano explained that learning how to walk on the high wire and being asked to perform were normal milestones at the circus. It was something he had grown up with and so it came as no surprise the day someone looked at Toscano and said, “Ok, you’re ready.”
“It just seemed like a normal thing to me,” he said.
In other words, Toscano wasn’t afraid to learn how to walk the high wire. He felt excited to hone his skill and perform it in front of hundred of spectators who came to see the show.
For Toscano, one of his favorite parts of the show is engaging with the audience members. He likes hearing the applause after a particularly difficult feat. He added that it’s always nice to meet people after the show and have them compliment his and his teammates performance.
However, his favorite part by far is, “seeing people smile and giving them a good show.”
He said that the elephants’ performance is one of the best. Elephants are the classic image of a circus, he said. In recent years, Toscano has noticed a deeper appreciation for the elephants. The times are always changing, he said and the circus changes with it.
This year, the theme at Shrine Circus is superheroes. Toscano said it’s always looking for ways to engage people and get them excited about seeing the circus. In addition to performing his act, Toscano said he’s in the opening number as superhero, but won’t say which one.
Some things that’ll never change about the circus is its determination to perform in as many towns as possible. Growing up in a circus, meant that for nine or 10 months out of the year, Toscano and his family were moving around.
“It’s good and bad,” Toscano said. Being a part of a circus is a lot of hard work and dedication. It also means time spent away from home. For Toscano, the time spent at home in Dallas, Texas is just enough to rejuvenate his energy and get him psyched for the road. Generally, the performers, animals and crew members tend to travel together in RVs and trailers.
The Shrine Circus goes all over the United States, but it tends to stick closer to the east coast, he said. He added that the cool part about moving around is traveling to different cities throughout the United States and visiting the occasional country.
One of his favorite cities to visit is Milwaukee. Toscano said the UW Milwaukee Panther Arena is one of the best places to perform due to its size and location downtown. Milwaukee also brings in good crowds, he said.
Even though a lot within the circus has changed–it no longer travels by train for example–the magic and talent it displays remains the same. The Shrine Circus will be in town Friday, Feb. 22 through Sunday Feb. 24 and will perform six shows.