A single mother of a 4½-year-old daughter, Casey VanKuren juggles responsibilities as a Discovery Adviser, founder of the Binghamton Gaming Group, SOS Children’s Shelter volunteer and mentor to a sixth-grader. This fall, add tour guide duties and an elementary school internship.
Casey VanKuren, junior, double major in English and human development
One of the quickest ways to get a child excited is to tell him or her that the circus is coming to town. Kevin O'Keefe '81 (pictured at left) works with that youthful energy, allowing children to be part of the circus and to have a voice in how it's put together.
Since 1985, he has served as the ring master of Circus Minimus, an educational and performing arts company that brings some of the fun of the big top to venues across the Northeast. One of his most popular offerings is "The Circus Kids Create", an artist-in-residence program in which O'Keefe works with children for several weeks on a show they perform for their community.
On Aug. 3-15, O'Keefe will return to Binghamton - for the 17th summer, in fact - to lead local children in the production of their very own circus. Each year, he chooses a different theme, anything from Greek mythology to Harry Potter to the Beatles. For 2009, he's considering a show that includes things uniquely Binghamton, such as Rod Serling, spiedies and balloon rallies.
"I want to take a look at the city through fresh eyes," O'Keefe said. "And, to see what the kids come up with as well. The goal is to create a very specific Binghamton experience."
Last summer, O'Keefe's Binghamton circus was about water in all its forms. Mayor Matthew Ryan '82 (juggling in photo at right) was even a part of Circus H2O; O'Keefe recalled with humor how some of the audience members got wet during a 21-gun salute for the mayor with water guns.
Initially, O'Keefe envisioned the 2008 show with an environmental theme. However, after talking to the students to find out what they wanted to do, he scrapped the idea for a Green Circus. He said the children find it refreshing to be part of an activity that isn't overly structured and where their input is welcomed.
"There are a lot of moments during the day where you could stick your head in, and it looks crazy, and it doesn't look like anyone's in charge," he said. "But, there's a culture that's developed, and that culture is the authority. There's enough structure so the kids don't feel too anxious, but there's enough freedom where the kids know they'll have some time to do exactly what they want to do, whether it's trapeze, tightwire or tumbling."
O'Keefe also gets the parents involved; they get to perform alongside their children in sideshow-type attractions, serving as sword swallowers or snake charmers.
"Parents from my generation see a glimpse of the kid's future," O'Keefe said. "The same kid who can't make his bed in the morning or can't make his lunch can walk across a wire. Parents get this bonding moment with their children when they share the stage."
View the Circus Minimus tour schedule and join the Facebook group.
Last Updated: 11/12/13