Business Profile

The Business of Clowning Around

While the Ringling Bros. Circus has taken down its big top for the last time, Circus Vargas is still going strong. The traveling show will hoist its tents on Madonna Rd. SLO from June 30 to July 10. Now in its forty-fifth year of entertaining, the roving band of entertainers has managed to increase ticket sales while others flounder in this age of handheld screens and embattled activism. Katya Quiroga who produces and co-owns Circus Vargas with her husband, Nelson, said that the news of Ringling Bros. was a heartfelt loss. “We were shocked and disappointed,” said Katya, “I think when a part of the circus industry goes down and a part of the Americana culture ‘disappears,’ it hurts everybody… I think it’s a great loss for the American people, because [they] don’t get to experience this type of wholesome family entertainment as much anymore.”

The Quirogas has been running the show for 11 years and boast of being the seventh generation in their family to perform under the big top. In recent years, the circus community has been the focus of animal activists and has experienced a drop in sales that could be attributed to the public’s growing disapproval of animals in captivity. The Quirogas removed the use of animal performances in 2009 and noticed an increase in sales.

“Actually, we’ve noticed a slight upswing in sales since we took the animals out,” said Katya adding that they were a little ahead of the curve in that decision.

Katya attributes a large portion of their success to their drive to innovate and evolve with the changing times. “Circus is an old art form,” said Katya. “Circus in itself is retro-futuristic, where you have to all the time reinvent yourself, do new things, create new acts, new ideas.”

She said that the performance is geared toward a more interactive experience. There is a pre-show for kids, audience members are picked from the crowd to participate and there are photo opportunities at the end of the show.

Each year, Circus Vargas creates a new act to dazzle spectators. This year, the show entails uniting the old and the new. Traditional circus acts are confronted by ‘steampunk’ performers. Steampunk is a retro-futuristic science fiction genre that features steam powered machines. Demonstrating that they have their finger on the pulse of the country, the show ends with a message of unity, where the two different acts combine for one big show highlighting the commonality of us all.

“This version shows the two types of circus colliding traditional and steampunk,” said Katya, “We can combine the two.”

Shows last one hour and 45 minutes with a 15-minute break and can easily be considered a show for all ages. “We have all these things going on in our lives,” said Katya, “but at least for 2 hours I got to spend time with my family.”

“Circus Vargas is the largest traveling big top circus in American right now,” said Katya. Though only touring the West Coast, the Quiroga family has hopes to expand the tour nationwide.

General admission tickets begin at $12 for children and $22 for adults. For Circus Vargas performance dates, times and to purchase tickets, visit, call 877-GOTFUN-1 (877-468-3861) or visit the box office at each location. Follow Circus Vargas on Facebook and Twitter for updates, discounts and behind the scenes video.

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