Gamma Phi Circus members Thalia Bowen, Danny Less, and Jared Cihlar signed contracts with Holiday World to perform during summer 2021. They had a great experience as professional circus performers at the theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana.

Circus performers onstage at Holiday World

While Less and Cihlar are seniors who are experienced performers, Bowen is a sophomore and had not performed circus for a live audience before her contract at Holiday World. She was a freshman when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit. Because of various event cancellations, she didn’t get to experience exhibitions like a Gamma Phi Circus student performer typically would and only performed for the cameras for the virtual show. This meant that she had a steeper learning curve going into live performances at Holiday World, but she was up for the challenge.

The students shared that working at Holiday World required a professional schedule and more practice than when they are on campus as student performers. Less, who has participated for four years in Gamma Phi Circus and has held a leadership role for two years, said: “We couldn’t really get hurt, because we only had eight performers this year. Usually there are 14 on staff, so it was almost impossible to find a replacement for your role if you got hurt.”

Circus performer pulling a rope onstage

“When we perform with Gamma Phi Circus, someone from the circus stays there with you and watches you the whole time, but at Holiday World, we were on our own after the first week,” Bowen said. Bowen’s first-time performing live started with five shows a day. Even though it was a lot of hard work, the students had a lot of fun and gained experience while performing at Holiday World.

There were challenges to being a performer away from home. Less thought that living with several people who were not relatives or friends would be tricky, but he ended up becoming best friends with his roommates. The heavy schedule is also a key challenge for the performers, as they had to work for six days a week. This was a key difference from their typical Gamma Phi Circus schedule.

a pair of circus performers doing aerial tricks onstage

Thinking of future plans, Bowen said: “I’m just a sophomore, so I still have two more years to stick with Gamma Phi. Hopefully, there will be another opportunity like this for me in the future. Now I have done Holiday World, so I know how it works and it was a good opportunity. I did learn a lot from them, and it helped me grew up a lot. At Holiday World, I learned about how to manage people, and it is something that will help me in my role at Gamma Phi Circus.”

As a senior student, Less is focused on looking for jobs after he graduates. Gamma Phi Circus taught him a lot during his time on campus, and he loves being a Gamma Phi Circus member.

Up next, see Less, Bowen, and Cihlar perform with the Gamma Phi Circus at Illinois State University’s Homecoming: 100 years celebration.