“Foodbank pantries across the country are at an all-time low,” said Ben Johnson, director of operations at UniverSoul Circus. “During these tough economic times, we need people to continue to step up in a big way for those in need.” The current community outreach effort stretches back through history to the circus’ early years. Walker, the brains behind the show, said he had no circus background at all. “I started in 1972-1973 with the Commodores in a nightclub called the Black Forest Club in Tuskegee, Ala. [I] became their production manager,” he explained in a June 15, 2005 interview in the Baltimore City Paper.
“I think what’s important when you talk about background, and you talk about growth and aspiration for young people, [is] to understand that it comes from the desire to [be],” Walker continued. “When we are young, we want to be a policeman. We want to be a fireman. We want to contribute. I held onto that aspiration of wanting to be because I started out very humbly. I mean, I was washing dishes in a nightclub in ’72, ’73 when I was 17 or 18 years old and had a job in a club where the Commodores were the house band,” he explained.
“I volunteered to help them bring their equipment in. I volunteered to help do other things. Even though I was in the kitchen doing the dishes, I was unloading trucks when the band showed up. I volunteered to pass out fliers to help bring people into the club. All of those things I volunteered for paid off. The Commodores asked me to go on the road with them.” Walker aimed to put a new slant on the circus and he succeeded. He envisioned a black variety show, a medley of singing, dancing, and animal acts touring the country. When he discussed the idea with longtime friend and partner Cal Dupree, Dupree jokingly responded, “If you’re going to have all that, you might as well start a circus.”
Walker studied circus history for three years. The outcome was the first black circus since Ephraim Williams developed black traveling shows in the late 1880s. Walker studied Williams’ production. His production honors both Williams and the American circus tradition. UniverSoul Circus brings the largest number of African American performers under the big top. Now in its 19th year, the circus will perform over 500 shows in 28 major markets. It features trapeze artists, high wire acts, dancing horses, wild animals, trained clowns, and more. The 2012 production includes many international acts such as Shaolin Kung Fu acrobats from China, hip hop dancers from the United States, and hilarious acrobatic comedy from South Africa.
Tickets went on sale March 23 and will be available at www.ticketmaster.com or phone 1-800-745-3000. Admission is free for children under 1.
UniverSoul Circus is rated as one of the top three circuses in America along with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey and Cirque du Soleil.