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A circus for the 21st century

A circus for the 21st century, Cape Cod Art Annual 2016

In addition to its regular shows in Wellfleet and North Truro, Payomet’s circus program—like The Doobie Brothers—takes its act to the streets when inspiration strikes. “We also send our circus performers to Truro, Provincetown, and Wellfleet—all over the Outer Cape—to do impromptu performances,” says Rice. “We set up an aerial rig and do a small, free show, which is good practice. It’s a great way to get a lot of attention for the program, and we hand out information about the shows.”

These performances, known as “stand-outs,” also take place at farmers’ markets in Truro and Wellfleet, and the troupe conducts scheduled shows in the Truro and Wellfleet school systems as well. “Kids respond to the circus in a way that they don’t respond to almost anything else,” says Rice. “It captures their imagination and gets them out of themselves. Kids might not be interested in much, but when I mention the circus, they really get excited.”

With approximately 200 children enrolled, the Payomet program has certainly struck a chord. Whether it’s the children of the region’s working-class fishermen or the kids of Manhattan doctors who have a summer home in Truro, the program appeals to people from all walks of life, Rice says. And given that there’s rarely any speaking involved, the nouveau cirque movement holds cross-cultural appeal for viewers as well.

The venue’s location has played a pivotal role in the circus program’s birth and evolution. “We’re not in a remote area,” Rice says, “but we’re off the beaten path a bit. We originally were running acting classes for kids, but the circus program evolved partly in response to our environment. The circus arts require a lot of room, and our location is perfect for it.”

Located at The Highlands Center, a former military station during the Cold War era, Payomet occupies land in the Cape Cod National Seashore, which is part of the National Park Service. “The Payomet is a little island of culture in the remains of this old Air Force radar station,” says Maureen Burgess, a member of the Truro Board of Selectmen who lives near the center. “My first introduction to Payomet was seeing ‘Hamlet’ and a couple shows back in the early 2000s, and my husband and I have been attending several performances a year ever since.

“The Payomet started out in a small tent on private land across from its current location,” adds Burgess. “But under Kevin’s leadership, Payomet has grown and thrived. I’m amazed at how he’s able to get such diverse talent to the Outer Cape. I’ve always been impressed by Kevin’s enthusiasm, steadfastness to see this through, and desire to provide quality entertainment for the region.”

Learn more about the Payomet Performing Arts Center at

Joe O’Shea is a freelance writer from Bridgewater.

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