“The Greatest Show on Earth!” FSU’s Flying High Circus

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Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth! A staple of campus, every FSU student recognizes the Big Top tent, sparkling within sight of Doak Campbell Stadium, and excitedly awaits its one-of-a-kind shows.

Founded in 1947 by Jack Haskin as a co-ed extracurricular activity for the newly reformed university for women and men, the Flying High Circus is a proud FSU tradition. Today, the program is one of two collegiate circuses, with the FSU Flying High Circus renowned for its commitment to being an all-student-run endeavor. Students organize everything from setting up the Big Top tent to sewing costumes.

How To Get Involved

Circus auditions are open to everyone pursuing a degree at Florida State, regardless of past athletic or performance experience. Students can audition for a circus act, join the dance troupe or try their hand at being the Ringmaster. “The audition process is a quick way for the coaches to get to know you and your physical abilities,” performer Katie Sokolowski said. “It’s mostly to see how coachable you may be, regardless of experience.”

The coaches first test general strength, flexibility and trampoline skills, and conduct a short interview about your performance history and experience. If you receive a callback for a second round of auditions, your individual skills and specific acts are tested. Some acts require a more intensive test, like the aerial acts. These acts require the demonstration of five to 10 pull-ups, five leg lifts and five L’s. After the second round, the list of performers and their acts is posted and act captains are determined. Performing groups plan their rehearsal schedules with each practice being a minimum of an hour and a half per week with more hours required closer to performances.

Aside from performing, cast members are also responsible for learning and helping with the daily rigging and working at the lot for around two hours every week. “Rigging is not exactly what one would call fun since it’s a lot of hard work,” Sokolowski said. “Having the drive to put something bigger than yourself together is quite a necessity.”


Shows are performed annually with a Parent’s Weekend show, Halloween/Haunted Harvest Performances and the Spring Home Shows. The Parent’s Weekend show is a great way for students to show their families one of FSU’s greatest traditions. But the main draw of the year is the Spring Home Shows, with performances over three weekends. The 2016 theme,“Action!” takes its cues from movie and television genres, including sci-fi and pirates. Tickets are free for FSU students and range from $10 to $29 for guests.

A Quick Look at Some Acts

Lyra (Performed by Katie Sokolowski and Julia Jones)
The Lyra is an aerial acrobatics act that involves a circular steel hoop hung from the top of the tent. Two performers gracefully move around and suspend from the hoop, creating amazingly beautiful shapes. “The act is meant to showcase their strength, flexibility and rhythm together,” Sokolowski said.

Russian Bar (Performed by Katie Sokolowski)
Consisting of a flexible balance beam held by two porters (strong men) on their shoulders, the Russian Bar is one you need to be see to believe. Without any support, a performer stands on top of the bouncing beam, using the beam’s springiness to jump into the air, exhibiting incredible flips and twists before landing perfectly on top of the bar again (still suspended by the porters).

Quartet (Previously performed by Julia Jones)
A floor act with undeniable style, the Quartet act consists of three guys: two tossers and a catcher, who toss and throw around a girl with pizazz. “At one point they even use her as a human jump rope,” performer Julia Jones said.

Tightwire (Performed by Sydney Schack)
This act defies the common idea of “good balance.” The Tightwire act consists of performers walking across a narrow piece of wire and performing tricks including sitting, rolling, turning, juggling and one performer climbing onto the shoulders of another. “You’re about eight feet off the ground walking on a wire that’s a 5/8 of an inch wide,” Schack said. “The tricks build upon one another, but all of them stem from being able to walk well and multitask.”

PEM 1952–Circus Activities

For those who want to try out the circus scene just for fun, FSU offers a one credit hour “Circus Activities” class. PEM 1952 students try out different acts, both ground and aerial, while also learning the behind the scenes aspects of the shows, such as rigging equipment. “We did a mock audition in the class,” said Jones, who previously took the course. “It’s one of the things that helped me join the club as a performer.” While the course isn’t mandatory to audition for the circus performances and doesn’t guarantee a later role as a performer, it’s a good introductory glance into the life of a circus performer.

Lauren Bernasconi is a senior at Florida State University studying Editing, Writing and Media. A self-described history buff, she enjoys reading epic fiction and playing video games. After graduating, she hopes to study at FSU Law and/or pursue a career as an editor.

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