CINCINNATI – The nearly windowless, concrete-and-steel warehouse at the corner of Walnut and McMicken streets may not look like much from the outside, but on the inside you may be surprised to find the greatest show on earth. At least all the makings for it.
The Over-the-Rhine warehouse is the U.S. hub for international circus supply distributor Firetoys, and on its tall shelves sit everything one could possibly need for a big-top extravaganza.
Multicolored rows of day-glo hula hoops, boxes of trapezes and stacks of vibrant silks all wait to be purchased and shipped. A shelving unit running the length of the outside wall contains all manner of juggling balls, rings, knives and clubs. Looking for unicycles? Far corner, top shelf.
Firetoys’ American ambassador in charge of fulfilling shipments of these circus props around the country is Matt Ferguson, who has headed Firetoys’ stateside distribution location since its inception in January.
“We lovingly refer to this as the Outpost,” said Ferguson, who almost single-handedly turned the ex-parking garage into a circus emporium by building the racks and stocking the inventory himself only a few months ago. “It’s temporary, but we’re hoping to move into something larger in the near future. We’re eventually going to need more space.”
More space, of course, to meet more demand. “The circus industry is definitely growing right now,” says Ferguson. “There’s almost no way it’s not a growth market, and we know from seeing it more nationally that it’s something that’s going to continue to expand.”
This expansion is noticeable nationwide as more major cities are seeing the growth of circus activity, and Cincinnati is no exception. The Queen City is home to an increasing number of performers and troupes, including the Cincinnati Circus Company, Circus Mojo and the nonprofit organization My Nose Turns Red.
In addition to supply from performance groups, Ferguson says he’s shipping a growing amount of circus equipment to summer camps and school physical education departments as teachers and instructors begin to realize the benefits of incorporating circus skills into an active program for children.
“Americans are just now figuring out how useful these skills can be to kids, which is something Europeans have known about for years,” says Ferguson. “In addition to developing physical ability and getting exercise, circus performance is also a mental challenge and a self-esteem booster which gives kids a special set of skills others may not have.”
It’s a skill set Ferguson himself knows well, as he’s both a certified fire performer safety instructor and a performer himself. Under the moniker Master Pokes, Ferguson performs locally as a fire-eater with the troupe Doctor Degauss’ Circus Calamitus and Ballyhoo Bizarre, which performs across the region. He also teaches fire-eating and, with a partner, is currently developing a curriculum to create art with torches and fire.
“The circus is a community; it’s a collaborative environment,” says Paul Miller, who heads the Ludlow, Ky.-based troupe Circus Mojo and often brings international performers and partners into the warehouse to find props and tools for their acts. “It’s awesome that it’s here and it’s such a resource. It’s great for performers to be able to come in and test new equipment.”
“The circus crosses a lot of boundaries,” says Miller. “It’s both a sport and an art, and we’re so fortunate to have these opportunities in our community.”
For both local ensembles and circuses across the nation, Ferguson will dutifully continue to pack and ship the swords, torches and swings necessary for the most daring performances.
“I think people are often really shocked that we’re in Cincinnati, and our customers around here are always surprised,” says Ferguson. “I think a lot of people don’t truly realize what kind of demand is out there for the circus.”