Part 1 Australian Circus Fan’s American Adventure

An Australian Circus Fan’s American Adventure
Part 1 

To call 18 year old Michael Riley a “circus fan” is only partly true.  Michael, who lives in New Lambton in Australia is also a circus performer and a manager of “Circus Avalon, circus school and performance company” which is a traveling youth circus.   He also runs the circus website and is a pretty serious collector of circus posters, programs, and photos.


Circus Avalon, based out of Newcastle, Australia


Performers with Circus Avalon


Michael on a unicycle in Australia.


Michael Riley became aware of the upcoming World Circus Summit that was held this past summer in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  He set it as his goal to attend, and began communicating with the event’s primary organizer Gary Payne, who is also the President of the Circus Fans Association of America.   Gary then referred the project of coordinating Michael’s trip to the USA to the Youth Chairman of the CFA, your’s truly, Jim Cole.

We began talking on Facebook and started to make plans for the trip.  I told Michael that I would first be going to Peru, Indiana for the youth circus, then fly out of there to the World Circus Summit.  I suggested that Michael meet me in Peru, to which he agreed.   I set about to find him a place to stay in Peru with circus kids his age.  Enter Cyndi Williams via Facebook.  She has two kids of her own in the Peru Circus, and offered to host Michel during his visit!


On July 9, 2015, Michael took a 20 hour flight from Sydney, Australia all the way to Indianapolis, Indiana. The first leg of his American circus adventure.

He was welcomed at the Indianapolis Airport by the Williams family, and instantly knew what American youth circus hospitality was all about!


Greeted at the Indianapolis Airport by Performers with the Peru Amateur Circus, Carley Williams, Conner Williams, Josh Conrad, and Michael.



His first order of business was to try some American food…at Taco Bell!


Michael was welcomed into the Williams home. Circus friends Chayse and Bailey had to stop by to say hello!

Cyndi Lee Hamilton Williams:  “In June of 2015, Jim Cole contacted me in regards to an 18-year-old Australian performer who would be coming to visit our circus in Peru, IN. On July 9, I made the trek from Peru to the Indianapolis airport. Along for the ride were three Peru circus performers; my son and daughter Carley (20) & Connor (18), and Joshua Conrad (19). Michael and I had chatted many times on Facebook, so I knew who he was when he walked off the plane. The trip home was a blast as Michael marveled at everything from the size of American mailboxes, stoplights that aren’t on poles, and that yes, school buses are truly yellow in the USA, not just in the movies. What I immediately noticed about Michael is that he was not a typical 18-year-old kid; he is wiser than his years with an unstoppable work ethic, and an enormous desire to make circus his life’s career. He fit right into our home and circus family. Carley and Michael were two circus peas-in-a-pod from the moment they met. I think our personal favorite circus moment of 2015 was when Michael was permitted to perform a trick in our show with Carley. In one evening he had taught her to balance him on her head (he is a great trainer, too). The knowledge and passion these kids share is immense. Circus is circus, no matter what country you are from; they all speak the same language. Five short days after arrival, Michal had to leave for the rest of his American adventure. We kept in contact throughout his trip because I was now his American mom… he knew like a typical mom; I was worried about him. We even drove out of state twice to visit him before he returned to Australia. Our only regret about hosting Michael is that he could not stay longer, but next year he will. We still talk to him several times a week, and cannot wait to see him again. We are great fans of the “circus exchange” program and thank James Cole for initiating these interactions. Between Michael visiting us, and Carley visiting Wenatchee Youth Circus, 2015 was a circus season we will never forget.”




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Michael, who is a very talented juggler in his own youth circus, was welcomed by the Peru juggling team to “warm up” with them in pre-show.

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It didn’t take long for Michael to make new friends in America!

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…Not long at all!


One of the things that Michael REALLY wanted to do, was to get close to a circus elephant! (there are no circuses with elephants in Australia)   He asked me if this might be possible, and I told him very likely.   What happened in Peru, was totally beyond both our expectations!  For the past 3 years, the Circus City Festival, which hosts the youth circus, has hired an elephant act from the George Cardin Circus.  The elephants were camped out just a couple of blocks from the circus building, and I began talking to the trainer Ramon Esqueda.  I explained to him that Micheal would like to learn a little bit about how circus elephants are cared for.  Well, Ramon was more than willing to accommodate!  He invited Michael to come into the elephant stable area and handed him a shovel, saying “this is lesson #1” and had Michael cleaning up some elephant poop!

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When working with elephants,  skills with a large scoop shovel is the first thing you learn!


Then a lesson from Elephant Trainer Ramon Esqueda on the correct use of the elephant guide tool.


Then a little one on one bonding with a REAL LIVE CIRCUS ELEPHANT!



Then the real work started, giving a bath to an elephant!



Using a pressure washer for the final rinse.

…And Michael wanted to know if “He could get CLOSE to an elephant” !


After a morning with the elephants (and a hot shower with lots of soap), Michael is taken out to lunch by some of the Peru Circus girls!


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Michael was AMAZED at the circus skill level that his new friends had!


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A visit to Brian Miser’s place and chance to try flying trapeze.

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A side trip to the Circus Hall of Fame, also located in Peru, Indiana

On Tuesday evening, which was Michael’s last show in Peru, it was decided to ad him as a special guest performer.  He had been practicing some adagio routines with Carley, and with approval of the show directors, he was in!

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The routine was explained to the adagio trainer, who gave it her approval!

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The routine worked flawlesly!


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And a final walk around to end the show!


Now off to the World Circus Summit on Wednesday July 15!  This involved a trip back to the Indy Airport, then a flight to Detroit, then a connecting flight to Hartford, CT.


The Circus Event of a Lifetime!

The Worldwide Circus Summit was truly the circus event of a lifetime. It brought together traditional circus, contemporary new age circus, circus fans, historians, model builders, youth circuses, circus musicians, performers, and a multitude of circus folk from 15 different countries!  It was held July 15 – 18 at the Eastern States Exposition Grounds in West Springfield, MA. It was the result of years of planning, which included two traveling circuses, under the big top!  First was Cole Bros. Circus of the Stars, then as an extra bonus, Circus Smirkus which was only a short distance away.


Michael with special opening guest speaker Jonathan Lee Iverson, who is Ringmaster on Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. Circus Fan Sarah Gordon also in the photo.


Michael with Circus4Youth Co-Chairman Ed Limbach, and holding a classic piece of American circus artwork.

Ed Limbach:  “Before I personally met Michael, I contacted circus fans in Australia and asked, “Who is this guy?” and their response was that he was best thing to happen to Australian Circus Fans organization in many years.” They added that he is the real deal.

Meeting Michael for the first time at the World Circus Summit it took ten minutes for me to realize that he was the real deal. For a fan not yet 20 years old he has his head screwed on correctly. First he had done his homework and was knowledgeable about the American Circus Industry but was eager to learn more. His personality makes it easy for him to meet people which make them gravitate to him. He was a big hit at the Summit.”


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An early morning on Cole Bros Circus, hosted by Marketing Director Bill Carter.


Watching the giant Cole Bros. Circus big top being set up at the Worldwide Circus Summit.


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An Elephant ride just prior to the evening show.


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Circus Elephants got a standing ovation from circus fans of all ages!


Michael with circus side show legend Ward Hall.


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Juggling 5 at the youth circus area.



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Speaking on a discussion panel with other youth circus kids “The Circus Tomorrow!”


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With Jessica Hentoff from Circus Harmony in St. Louis, MO

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The AYCO Showcase, with kids from the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts.

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An inter-faith church service with circus acts from Circus Harmony.

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Circus models on display


With Circus poster collector Chris Berry

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The icing on the cake! Two shows at Circus Smirkus in nearby East Windsor, CT

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Unbelievable youth circus talent!

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Michael talking to some of the Smirkus kids.

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Gary Payne, President of the Circus Fans Association of America with Michael on the Smirkus lot.

Gary Payne:   “Michael Riley, a young Australian circus performer and fan, proof positive that the circus and fandom have a future. Michael was one of the first to register to attend the Worldwide Circus Summit 2015. The WCS2015 demonstrated that circus does not draw lines between age groups and has earned the phrase “children of all ages”. There is no difference between, Michael Riley, at barely 18, and myself, at age 60. Where else can you find that kind of experience. We’ve got to make lots more of this happen!”




Please join us! We would love to have you as a member of America’s #1 Circus support organization.


And now, hop on the Greyhound Bus and join us for Michael’s further American Adventures in Part 2…coming soon!