Cirque de storm: For arty players, the show goes on at Earlewood Park

Tropical Storm Andrea couldn’t stop Alternacirque, Columbia’s circus performing arts collective.

The group’s show went on this weekend, after the storm swept through the state on Friday and soaked the Midlands.

As the weather cleared, two hours before Alternacirque’s opening night performance of “1001 Arabian Nights,” director Natalie Brown was on a ladder rebuilding the fallen backdrop that had been knocked down by wind gusts.

Brown has experience with natural disasters. She moved to Columbia to be near her family after Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, caused her and her then-boyfriend to lose their jobs.

After living in London and New Orleans, she was looking for something to do. So she started a belly dance company, Delirium Tribal. Eventually, a few fire performers were added and Alternacirque began in the parking lot of the Art Bar in the Vista.

This weekend and next, Alternacirque is performing the full-length show “1001 Arabian Nights” in Earlewood Park.

“It’s a big step as we go from this little punk circus in the street to a more legitimate theater company,” Brown said.

The circus is probably best known for its annual Festival of Doom, now in its fifth year and well known on the national alt-circus circuit.

The group has about 16 performers, ranging from fire-eaters to aerialists. They have learned how to incorporate their unusual work as performers into their real lives.

One fire spinner is named Chris Carney.

“Yes, that’s my real last name,” he joked.

He started fire spinning while he was a student at the University of South Carolina and was at a house party.

Carney taught his fiancée, Kendal Turner, whom he met through the circus, the art of fire spinning. Turner is an emcee and scriptwriter – she wrote the Arabian Nights script.

When Carney proposed, he took her to the spot where they first kissed outside of Brown’s former apartment, which they referred to as the “circus house.”

But they keep things professional during the circus show, seeing each other only at the beginning and end and working hard in between.

Outside of the circus they have full-time jobs. But they do have a whole room in their house dedicated to costumes.

Another performer, Cosmo Franz, is a juggler but also eats fire. He says it tastes the way gasoline smells. Franz commutes from Augusta with his brother, Urion Franz, who currently helps with technical details behind the scenes but wants to phase into performing.

The brothers are part of the much larger circus family, with Brown as a matriarch of sorts.

She says she calls everyone her kids, even though half of the cast is older than she.

Tamela Hastie is an aerialist and acrobalance performer with experience in the fitness field.

She takes her fitness skills to a different level with Alternacirque. She also has a large family outside of Alternacirque.

“I run a circus at home because I’m a mother of five,” Hastie said.

Her kids range in age from 5 to 17, and she cooks every meal for them.

Even though Alternacirque is growing, Brown is not focused on goals for the group.

“I try not to make long-term plans because when I do, a hurricane comes to wipe them out,” Brown said.