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October 28, 2013

'All-Star' circus shows to aid local schools

The Daily Star

---- — If your life is a circus and you need an escape, try the real thing.

Billy Martin’s Cole All-Star Circus will be performing at the Cooperstown High School at 7 p.m. today, and at Worcester Central School at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Hosted by the student council as a fundraiser, the circus will offer a family-friendly performance in the school gym, with all the expected acts, minus the traditional big top. 

The cast of 16 packs plenty of action into 90 minutes. The Bertini family displays unicycle feats, and Roger gets laughs with acrobats on a trampoline, while Franci and Clara awe with their hula hoop skills and aerial tricks, respectively. Billy Martin’s circus includes the Rinny family of jugglers from Argentina, and Sadrak, who performs cirque-style contortions, also from South America. Jonathon brings Las Vegas glamour to his cylinder balance act, and Billy Martin’s wife, Angela, performs a single trapeze act.

“That’s right,” Martin confirms, “the ringmaster fell in love with the trapeze artist.”

Finally, there is “Slinko,” about which, Martin enthuses, “You have to see it — can’t describe it.”

Billy Martin is, of course, the Ringmaster, complete with the necessary magnetic personality and a golden microphone. 

“All these acts are my friends,” Martin elaborates, adding that, “I worked with them in bigger shows, then hand-picked them for this venue. I know what New York state audiences like.”

A veteran of the circus business, Martin’s love of what he does is clear when he proclaims that, “I have the best job in the circus —  I get to be in it and watch it every night!”

The Cole All-Star Circus boasts a 75-year-old history, rich with stories of helping school organizations raise money by entertaining the community and sharing the profits.

James M. Cole started his show business career at age 11 as a “program boy” passing out playbills at the Smith Opera House in Geneva. According to the circus’ website, Cole’s circus career began in 1924 with the Walter L. Main Railroad Circus and went on to span several decades. The Cole All-Star Circus, founded in 1938, was established with a unique mission as a school workshop project. 

Initially, Cole provided the acts and the schools did the rest. Art classes made posters, school bands provided music, and students served as stage hands. After the event, the circus shared the wealth with the school. The details have changed somewhat, but the concept remains the same. Now the circus provides a turnkey event, complete with music, lighting, promotional materials and stagehands, but the school still shares in the proceeds.

“We pride ourselves in offering an affordable family event and virtually risk-free fundraiser,” Martin explained. 

Students ages 12 and younger are admitted free with a paying adult; tickets will be $15 at the door, or $10 in advance from the school office. 

Martin met Cole in 1972 in his hometown school in Olean and was fascinated by the circus. Two year later, Martin was helping Cole book the circus at schools throughout western New York, and by the time Martin graduated high school in 1977, it seemed only natural that he would join the show. 

Martin performed a juggling/balancing act, served as ringmaster, and basically became Cole’s right hand man. In 1987, when 80-year-old Cole retired, Billy took over the show and remains at its helm today. Constantly on the road throughout New York state and Pennsylvania, the persevering troupe performs seven days a week.

“Every year is a new challenge,” Martin said. “Every night is like opening night with this format. It’s always a different school, a different town, a different audience. It keeps us on our toes,” he explains.”

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