|Alan Jones in his Paris Community Theater Office|
The deep gravely voice answering the phone at Paris Community Theater belongs to Alan Jones, his native Canadian accent noticeable only the words about and out. As manager, actor, and general flunky of the theatre, Alan uses skills he’s developed over a lifetime of show-biz, beginning at age 19 when he ran away to the circus for the first time. How he arrived in Paris takes some telling.
In 1972, Alan was studying theater and design when the Garden Brothers Circus came to Burlington, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, as a fund raiser for the local band. Jones liked the family atmosphere, thought the circus a lot like theater, and hopped on board, leaving a note for his mother… “Sorry, Mom, but had to do it.” After a season of grooming and cleaning horses and the big cats, he returned home, only to skip out again the next year.
Alan moved up to popcorn management but soon got into the entertainment side. “I clowned for that show,” he noted. No training was necessary for this new position as Jones was a natural comedian. American clowns like simple slap-stick humor as compared to the more theatrical, mime-like European performers. He began working with a family whose circus traveled to the United States where weather was warmer. In 1984, some friends were opening their own Kelly Miller Circus out of Hugo, Oklahoma and wanted him to run the administrative office. He bought a house and settled down as much as a circus employee can. When Jones retired, the nearby Paris Community Theater drew him back into theater where he had started.
According to Alan, the circus is a “hard life”. For his first job, he slept in a hayloft above the big cat cages, allowing the tigers’ gentle snoring to lull him to sleep. Sleeping quarters evolved over the years. A truck will now contain six dormitories for single employees and professionals have their own trailers. An afternoon nap is still essential, though, between the morning set-up and evening show.
Originally, circuses were made up of families with three generations of performers. Grandfathers could be seen instructing grandchildren. Italians rode horse back, Mexicans or Argentinians tamed the trapezes, and eastern Europeans could juggle and teeterboard. Because of the international presence, Alan loved parties when everyone brought their own ethnic food. Special bonds were formed within the extended circus family although a hierarchy existed depending on the difficulty of your act.
Some stories stand out like the tent that was blown down by a tornado. But one he’ll never forget was 9/11. He was with a circus in Colorado for a Hot Air Balloon festival. The word came of the tragedy as they were watching balloons go up. All rushed to the trailers to watch the event. The circus was cancelled that night but proceeds from the next night’s performance were donated to the Red Cross.
Alan fears the traditional circus is dying. It’s very hard to be profitable with all the required insurance – employee, vehicles, general liability, workman’s comp. The families are no longer tight. “It’s just a job,” he says. Cultural icon, Cirque du Soleil, incorporates many traditional circus acts with a lot more imagination. Gymnastics overshadows other skills. Alan wouldn’t even consider it a circus but it is encroaching on traditional circus crowds.
After 35 years of crossing the country, Jones was happy to stay permanently in Hugo. In retirement, he has combined his two interests – theater and animals. Six days a week Alan volunteers in the mornings at the animal shelter caring for the cats. In the afternoons, he’s managing Paris Community Theater. He believes the talent and energy in Paris is unique for a community this size and he loves it. And he has no plans to run away to the circus a third time.