Martin Taylor’s email is said in jest, but sums up life in his Chandler family’s home very well: “Sorry we haven’t been in touch. It’s a circus around here.”
He’s joking, but he’s not. It is a circus at the Taylor home.
Martin and his wife, Barbara, are performers.
“My mom ran away with the circus,” daughter Elia said while standing in the family’s home one morning during breakfast.
That’s not just a saying around the Taylor home. When Barbara was a teen, one of her younger siblings wanted to watch auditions for the Ringling Bros. when the group came to the Valley. But to do so, he had to go with someone actually trying out since he was too young. So Barbara took the bait and at 17 was selected to train as a clown.
Along the way, she and Martin met. And when he asked her father for permission to marry her, he was given one requirement: He had to learn to juggle.
He did that and much more.
The Taylor parents passed their love of performing to their children: Elia, 17; Ian, 15; Aubrey, 15 and Liam, 6.
“We got tired of sitting on the sidelines,” Aubrey said of the children’s request while watching their parents practice.
Over time, each child developed his or her own set of skills. They’ve worked for Ringling Bros., as well as done advance work for Cirque du Soleil.
Then Aubrey challenged the family to create its own show.
“For a while we’ve been wanting to do our own show,” he said. “It’s been almost a year in the making.”
Through Aubrey’s writing and Barbara’s set and costume design, Circus Americana was born.
With the December premiere of the show, Aubrey created a storyline that centers on Santa and Christmas, complete with toy dolls (Elia as a ballerina) and pirates (Ian and a cast of several ASU athletes).
Because it’s all new, it took some creative work to develop the show, Martin said.
“The biggest challenge, when you’re doing a skill that is not mainstream, is there’s not material you can use,” he said. “Everything we do is from the ground up.”
“It’s always exciting and challenging,” Elia adds.
Martin and Aubrey provide a comedy/illusion act to the show. Elia is a trained ballerina with the Royal Academy of Dance and performs on the tightrope. Ian and Liam perform on the trampoline.
And, of course, Barbara is a show clown.
They’ve also brought a visiting family friend into the act with them. Jasmyn Napier, 13, is living with the Taylors while her mom is deployed. She joins the cast as a juggler. Combined with an animal trainer and other professional dancers and world-class gymnasts, there are more than 25 cast members in Circus Americana
“A lot of performers don’t build their own acts,” Martin said. “But everything we do is original. We’re even making our own music.”
Even Barbara’s clowning skills differ from many clowns today, Elia points out.
“She’s a doll-faced clown. Her clowning is tender. There’s that Charlie Chaplin-esque play,” she said.
For the Taylor children, growing up in a performing family is a way of life as they each discovered what they could do.
Aubrey and Ian were adopted as infants. Both were born with several birth defects, but have grown into talented young men. Aubrey’s undergone 15 major surgeries, while Ian once was fed through a gestational tube.
In fact, a speech therapist suggested gymnastics for the boy, who leapt off the top bunk as soon as he could master the ladder.
Barbara recalls that the therapist told the Taylors, “For some reason, children with these feeding issues do better with gymnastics.” Sure enough, it was a good fit.
“He could do a full flip off the top bunk at 2,” Barbara said.
Aubrey joins his dad in his comedy act, but also manages the family’s show and serves as a spokesman with media.
Young Liam found his own talent flipping and balancing on a ball while the rest of the family practiced at the gym.
“He’s amazing. He has no formal training. He just plays,” Martin said.
Today, both Ian and Liam flip, turn and twist around the family’s backyard trampoline, the same apparatus they’ll perform on during the December show.
The Taylor home provides nearly everything the family needs for training.
There’s a swimming pool, the trampoline and, not one, but two tight wires.
“Dad saw a portable tight wire online and bought it,” Elia recalls. She remembers him saying, “We’ll all learn it.”
“Who has a tightrope?” Elia thought.
Barbara challenged each of them to walk across it 10 times before dinner.
Elia flourished at it. With her dancer training, she can do an arabesque on pointe while on a tightrope.
“My parents have always taught us, ‘If you can dream it, you can believe it,’” Elia said.
With that in mind, a few years ago Elia decided she wanted to try contortion after watching someone perform. She asked her parents about it, but they explained that it wasn’t something someone could just learn, but that most contortionists had the physical flexibility at birth.
Elia didn’t believe them, so in true Taylor fashion, she taught herself a few moves. When she showed her parents, they were amazed, but also concerned.
“Don’t do that again,” her dad, Martin, said he told her. “Wait until I research this.”
Once Martin realized Elia wouldn’t harm her body, she got permission to keep training.
Self-training must be a Taylor family motto. So it naturally fit, Barbara and Martin said, to home-school the children from a young age. Both parents have a background in education.
“We are fortunate the kids were responsive to it. The kids go at their own pace,” Barbara said.
The morning starts after 8, when the children begin their schoolwork. Not that Barbara has to guide them much. Aubrey and Elia are already taking college courses.
With the busy schedule preparing for the debut of Circus Americana at The Herberger Theater in December, homeschooling fits in well as the family tries to bring back a traditional circus to the Valley.
“The level of the production is top-notch,” said Aubrey. “A lot of parents miss the circus. We wanted to make sure we kept the level of professionalism and kept it geared toward everyone.”
“It’s a very clean, wholesome, apple-pie circus,” Elia said.
Martin gives a nod to the cast.
“People don’t realize there’s so much talent in Phoenix,” he said. “We have amazing performers. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things that most people’s bodies can’t do.”
When: Dec. 12-23
Where: Herberger Theater, Phoenix
Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or firstname.lastname@example.org