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Apr 1, 2023

As she prepared to direct their 50th anniversary celebration, Hannah Jeselski found herself thinking back to an earlier Triton Troupers Circus.


As she prepared to direct their 50th anniversary celebration, Hannah Jeselski found herself thinking back to an earlier Triton Troupers Circus,

“I remember when I was four years old, sitting up at the top of the bleachers, watching the trapeze act,” Jeselski said. “And, I remember saying to my mom, ‘I want to do that.’”

Each year, “the minute that those doors open and the lights go up, something changes,” Jeselski said. 

It’s something she calls “circus magic.” Triton Troupers Linda Johnson and Claire Kaczanowski agree there’s something transformative about the circus – something that can have an indelible impact on audience members and performers alike.

Circus Magic: Transformed Relationships

About 12 years after seeing that trapeze artist, “a friend of mine in high school brought a flyer, and he’s like, ‘it’s starting up again,’” Jeselski said. “I went on the trapeze my first night, and it’s all history from there, and I actually met my husband at the circus,” she added.

Indirectly, that’s how Kaczanowski joined. “I met Hannah – the director – and her husband, David, backstage at a gig,” Kaczanowski said. “They told me about the circus, and I was sold in five minutes.”

Through the circus, Kaczanowski found herself “grateful to be part of a group that elevates the community by lifting up the people around them.” Backstage and onstage, “every act is really an amalgamation of a whole team’s effort.”

“From the first day that I came in, everyone welcomed me with open arms, and invited me into the family,” Kaczanowski said. “Everyone’s really willing to share their skills and teach their talents with patience – and also mercilessly tease you with love.”

Johnson found her circus family even before joining the Triton Troupers, through a youth circus summer program she joined at about 10 years old, performing across Illinois. 

Her involvement in the youth circus meant Johnson formed close friendships with people who were a few years older or younger than her. As a high schooler, “I became involved in Triton because of my friends from the youth circus that had gone to college here.” 

Now, Johnson, her husband and their two sons are Triton Troupers. “I love watching them get excited when they  learn something new, and I feel like they’ve made some really great friendships in the circus, as I have,” she said. 

“I love watching it through their eyes,” Johnson added, and it’s “being able to say, when I’m done, they’re still there, so even when I can’t perform anymore, I’ll still be able to help.”

Circus Magic: Physical Transformations

Johnson has done just about everything in the circus, but said she especially enjoys “the three ‘w’s,’” the web, the wire and the wheel. “For the web, I describe it as an aerial ballet, with a helicopter spin at the end.” 

“Because you learn the technique, you know how to do it correctly,” Johnson said. “It makes it look easy to people.” It’s not. “They don’t realize the different muscles you have to build up to be able to get through an act.”

Or, more than one act. “I have different roles because I’m in different acts in the show,” Kaczanowski said. 

Each performer said that learning new skills takes time and effort, and encourages anyone, regardless of their interests, to take the time, and extend kindness both to themselves and others. That’s especially necessary after pandemic-related changes.

“A lot of these people are not full-time circus performers,” Jeselski said. “They don’t have the means to practice these things outside of here. So, you go on a three-year hiatus and you come back, and all of a sudden maybe it’s changed a little.”

Circus Magic: Coming Home

Three weeks before the 2020 circus, the state, and much of the world, shut down. One missed season turned into three. 

This was not only the 50th anniversary show, but a homecoming. Jeselski said each act featured something gold, and something nostalgic. One of Johnson’s acts included a Journey song. 

“I [felt] really honored and excited to be a part of this big year as my first year,” Kaczanowski said, and she hopes audience members experienced some of that excitement, even “exuberance.”

Johnson said some audience members were Triton Trouper alumni, who may have “[flown] in from wherever they live now specifically for the fiftieth because it’s such a big deal,” she said.

Along with excitement and exuberance, this show in particular was “really emotional for us,” Jeselski said. “We do it because we love it, and to not be able to do it has been a missing piece for a lot of us.”

She added, “to finally have the curtain go up, and the ring, and the lights” was “amazing.”

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