September 6, 2001
Steamboat Springs — Dropping everything to join the circus sounds like a B-rated Hollywood script that may or may not make the big screen. But as a rancher in Mexico’s Yucatan, Walter Chimal’s grandfather knew his meager life of a farmer could never compare to a life traveling with the circus.
Two generations later, Chimal assumed a circus lifestyle that took him out of school at the age of 9 and had him flying in the air by age 11.
Chimal’s parents gave him options for his future, but he was bound to end up juggling fire, walking on a bed of nails or flying on a trapeze with an extended family traveling around the world performing.
His dreams of being a boxer were put aside when Chimal began performing in the circus. At age 11, Chimal met Jim Judkins, founder of Circus Chimera four years ago.
Chimal grew up under Judkins’ wings and now, at 24, Chimal knows his home and career belong to the circus.
In a thick Spanish accent, Chimal said his family joined the other two families that began Circus Chimera. His family owns a circus in the Yucatan but travels around North America, Asia and Europe to show off with other traveling circuses.
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“The show is kind of like magical. My brother is the magician and I appear as a mummy in a coffin. We mix the circus with magic,” Chimal said of his act.
Similar to the gymnastics rings that males compete in, Chimal will hang and fly around the circus with two silk pieces of fabric. The name of his act is Egyptian Straps.
“The fabric is kind of slippery. People like it a lot,” Chimal said.
Circus Chimera started four years ago when Judkins was performing under a different circus that was falling apart. He wanted to continue his circus life and recruited people to his circus.
“I was with another show for 20 years, and this one started in Steamboat,” Judkins said of his more than 100 traveling performers.
Judkins said he was at a cookout in Steamboat Springs July 13, 1997, and had the idea to start his own circus, which is based out of Hugo, Okla.
“I’m not this big king who started it. We’re the same, we work together like a family,” Judkins said.
Considered the “world’s tallest big top,” Circus Chimera is a creation of the imagination presenting “Enchanted,” this season’s theme.
Enchanted features Xiao Hong Wu and Guennadi Tregoub from the Moscow Circus to show patrons the circus of the future.
You won’t find lions, tigers and bears at Circus Chimera. San Francisco newspapers have referred to Chimera as a “Cirque du Soleil without an attitude.”
It’s family entertainment, but not as serious as Cirque du Soleil, Judkins said.
“We tried to put in a show all the good things we liked about a circus,” Judkins said of the acts, costumes and props.
Judkins said Europe and Asia circuses are filled with genuine creativity and talent, but those in the United States seem boring and conventional. Judkins said he’s changed that idea with the start of Circus Chimera.
Chimera will not provide multiple rings with separate acts or make any announcements while the crew is performing.
“It’s more tough for performers because we have no animals and we have to show more for the people,” Chimal said.
Nor will anyone see animals. But they will see some of the same performers in various acts, showing the audience an array of talent.
“If the act isn’t good enough to sell on its own, then it shouldn’t be in the show,” Judkins said. “I wouldn’t spend a dime to go see the circus (in the United States). It’s not a very interesting show.”
Performers come from nine different countries and range in age from 3 to 60.
Although Judkins wouldn’t reveal his act in the show, he said he hopes people can see this circus as a classy performance for the entire family.
Chimera has lured parents with 3-year-olds to 80-year-old grandmothers who say they haven’t seen a circus like this is America, Judkins said.
Circus Chimera is a substance-free event, and a percentage of the proceeds will benefit Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.
The substance-abuse prevention agency will receive 25 to 50 percent of the proceeds on advance-sold tickets, while 10 percent will be from tickets sold at the door.
Angela Kimmes, director of Grand Futures, said the agency has used one of the Assets of Routt County to promote circus.
“The circus promotes a good family life and family activities doing things together,” Kimmes said.
Assets of Routt County is a list of 40 assets originating from a researcher in Minneapolis, Minn., who studied children’s behavior with and without these assets. The Grand Futures task force has implemented the nationwide initiative to build the assets and promote a healthy community, Kimmes said. Some assets include constructive use of time, a commitment to learning and positive values.
Grand Futures is an educational agency that publicizes information in schools and initiates substance prevention campaigns throughout Routt County.
The circus provides entertainment for the family in an un-intoxicating environment and can teach children what dedication it takes to work in a circus.
Although the show changes every day they perform, Chimal said the overall ideas and performances for the acts only change every three years.
“This way they can practice, be innovative and experiment with the same people working on the same stunts,” Judkins said.
Practicing time and again will allow performers the chance to push through personal obstacles and develop new ideas for the circus.
While attending college at Hanover University in Pennsylvania, Judkins and a friend applied to work in the circus. When the friend left, Judkins stayed and learned the intricacies of fire eating, sword swallowing and walking on a bed of nails.
He finally moved up (in the circus world anyway) from elephant dung scooper to a man with talent and skill.
“I was broke, tired and hungry and shoveling elephant manure and hay for 20 years,” Judkins said.
He soon took over management of the show and traveled with the circus to South America, Mexico, Asia and Europe, picking up new ideas here and there.
Chimal said the third generation of circus performers has changed since the days when his grandfather dropped his hoe and jumped on the circus wagon.
“He started performing the same day as a clown, then trapeze and juggling,” Chimal said.
When Chimal learned his acts, Judkins gave him a chance to improve but thinks of everyone as part of the circus family he’s created to travel into the 21st century.