PLEASANT VIEW — The experts from Starfish Circus had warned student performers at Weber High School that matinee audiences, even those at Broadway shows, were notoriously quiet.
But when teens performed aerial stunts while suspended from lengths of fabric Saturday, matinee audience gasps were pretty noticeable.
“That just about scared me to death,” said Sara Whitley, up from Provo to see her grandson perform in one of the other acts. “I was sure he was going to hit the floor.”
Students, trained for two weeks by the circus team of five, expertly climbed the “silks,” securing themselves with simple fabric twists around their ankles, thighs, waists and arms. The students then released their grips for a dramatic, flipping descent that stopped just above the stage floor.
Other students climbed into a triple trapeze or into suspended hoops to do complex flips and poses.
“My high school never taught me to do anything like that,” Whitley said.
The show had a junkyard circus theme. Students performed in Starfish Circus T-shirts and stretchy black leggings or sweat pants, some with shirts or accessories. Black “tattoos” and face paint were added as the show progressed. A thin plot involved a pompous rich family, forced to leave home and interact with the homeless.
About 160 students, ages 4 through 18, participated in the show, a project initiated by Weber High drama teacher Mark Daniels.
“We had about 200 at auditions,” Daniels said. “About half the kids I saw there that I have never seen on stage.”
Besides the aerial silks, hoops and trapeze, the show included gymnastics, parkour moves over obstacles, lots of hula hoops tricks, and comedy. All the 4-year-olds played lions, responding to commands by a “trainer” by lining up and taking turns demonstrating somersaults and cartwheels.
In other floor exercises, students balanced on each other’s bodies to form pyramids, or two students lifted a third to form an arch.
The audience of about 150 seemed impressed, cheering and clapping in time with the music. Daniels said the Friday audience filled about three quarters of the 1,100-seat auditorium. An evening show on Saturday was the final performance.
“Safety is our highest priority,” said trainer Marina Petrano, 21, of Florida. Others from the group came from the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and Michigan, where Starfish Circus has its home base.
“It’s a very structured system, and when students audition, we cast them in areas where they can succeed.”
Aerial stunts require the most natural ability, supported by intense training, “but there’s a place for everybody,” Petrano said. All training requires students to follow specific steps.
“We’re not teaching them to be in the circus, we’re teaching them problem solving,” Petrano said.
Each trainer worked with two groups of performers, Daniels said.
“Each group was almost like a family,” the teacher said. “It’s been a learning experience for everyone, and a great cap to the school year. The kids have loved it, and the audience has, too.”