Performers Fall From High Wire During Rehearsal

Circus

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY FEB 9, 2017

A fall from a high wire sent five circus performers to the hospital Wednesday, leaving two in critical condition. But Circus Sarasota still plans to open its 2017 Winter Performance as scheduled this Friday.

Ashley Lusby, emergency services media relations officer for Sarasota County, says five individuals fell from a high wire on Thursday, with four of the the five quickly listed as “trauma alerts” and transported to area hospitals. No names were released. Three went to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, two of whom were listed in critical condition Tuesday afternoon with at least one requiring surgery. A fourth patient was transported to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, and a fifth went to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton. 

The injured were all part of the headlining act for this year’s Circus Sarasota show, where world-famous skywalker Nik Wallenda would be part of a show which included an eight-person pyramid. The show was to be the first to feature a pyramid with that many individuals at a height greater than 25 feet off the ground. Lusby says that the injured performers all fell from heights ranging from 25 to 30 feet off the ground.

Wallenda has won national attention for stunts such as crossing Niagara Falls and traversing the Chicago skyline on a high wire, and last year he performed at Circus Sarasota with a seven-man pyramid show. He has held rehearsals the last several years at a facility near The Mall at University Town Center, which is also where the big top for Circus Sarasota now sets up for its annual winter performance.

The Flying Wallendas famously practice without netting. In The Show Must Go On, a documentary about the Wallendas screened at the 2012 Sarasota Film Festival, filmmaker Paula Froehle showed how the family at a young age starts on low wires and then moves to a higher wire. During promotion for that film, the Wallendas defended that practice in an interview with SRQ Backlot. “When you have a net, you are prone to take chances further than what you are capable of,” Alex Wallenda said then. “What we do is a very calculated risk. We’ve done it 100 out of 100 times. Also, we don’t train to fall.”

The Circus Sarasota show wasn’t just a spotlight on the Wallenda family but on Sarasota’s circus heritage all around. The nonprofit operating both the education programs and Circus Sarasota rebranded four years ago as the Circus Arts Conservatory after the circus took over the Sailor Circus program. Jennifer Mitchell, managing director for the Circus Arts Conservatory in Sarasota, noted to SRQ a couple weeks ago that five of the seven individuals performing with Nik Wallenda in the pyramid this year are Sailor Circus alumni.

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