Dangling from the rafters, circus performer Joselynn Engstrom never thought she would be living her childhood in her thirties. Though born in Seattle, Engstrom spent half of her time living with her mom in the city and the other half in Snohomish County with her dad. After graduating Evergreen State College in ’99 with an emphasis in the sciences, she pursued her interest in humanitarian aid and relocated to Bellingham. While juggling the management of a nightclub and work with the YWCA, she stumbled across the homegrown circus, Dream Science Circus.
“I wanted to challenge myself and start doing things that made me a little bit uncomfortable like pushing my own personal boundaries, and performance has always been really scary,” admitted Engstrom. Charmed by the high-flying acts and costume design, she eventually quit her day job and tumbled into the circus routine where she learned to stilt walk among many skills.
Shortly after the disbandment of Dream Science Circus, Engstrom began volunteering with Circus Contraption based in Seattle where she worked simultaneously as a house manager and costume stitcher. Her desire for volunteering remained strong as she worked for a Vietnam non-profit organization, Peace Trees, while continuing to do circus.
“I found in my life that the best way to learn something is to volunteer doing it with people that need the help because no one will turn down a volunteer,” Engstrom revealed. However to focus on her circus career, she soon left Peace Trees.
In order to feel at home in the open air, Engstrom took aerial lessons with Coach Kari Hunter at SANCA, the largest circus school in the United States, located in Georgetown south of Seattle. The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts or SANCA, emphasizes recreational circus where anyone from a two-year-old to an adult can sign up for several weeks of courses designed to introduce the circus environment.
“It’s not too late for anybody to do circus,” Engstrom said, “if they can allow themselves to let go of that preconceived notion that ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I’m too unhealthy,’ or ‘I’m not fit enough for this.’ Because I don’t believe it. I’ve seen it. I’ve personally lived it.”
In November 2012, Engstrom and her creative partner, Terry Crane, founded the Acrobatic Conundrum. In a year, the company managed to headline the first Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival in the United States. In preparation, the company spent a week on Vashon Island working sixteen-hour days for the Chicago show, which lasted ten days last month.
“For me, it was definitely crazy,” Engstrom recalled. Running across stage and working behind the scenes, she managed to balance her duties as business manager and circus performer. The show was a huge success, and the company met other performers from across the country, she said. As for the vision behind the Acrobatic Conundrum, it is open to interpretation by the audience.
“[We’re] interested in telling a story through our show that people can relate to. Like the struggles of being a human being,” Engstrom said. “At times, life is not easy, but it should be fun.”
Her advice for aspiring circus performers is this: “Take a class. Try to stick with it to the point when you can look back on it and say, ‘Okay I’ve gotten past the initial nervousness and the fear and the pain, is this something I want to continue to do? If you don’t, then fine. But if you do, keep doing it.”
Check out Engstrom’s role in a non-circus related show, Seattle Vice, about the seedier side of the city involving gambling and crime, playing at ACT Theatre from March 28 to April 19. Ages 21 and up are welcome. For more information, visit http://goo.gl/iET9E2.