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  • Writer's pictureWorld Half Full

Circus is a lifesaver for vulnerable kids


When the pandemic first hit, Lolly Jar Circus was shut down for four months, sending the members of this small Adelaide community circus into a spiral.

“We have a lot of participants with autism and young people in general, but particularly young people with autism, thrive on routine,” circus founder Judy Bowden told the ABC. “When that’s disrupted, it’s really stressful and it’s very distressing.”

Now the circus is back, although some places remain empty as cautious parents keep more vulnerable kids at home. And Lolly Jar isn’t standing still, having won funding to produce a stage show about the coronavirus and its impact on the tight-knit circus community.

“Bug off, that’s our way of telling the coronavirus to get lost . . . and it’s kind of the way a kid might say it,” Bowden notes, adding one of the teenagers — who has autism and rarely speaks — expressed his anxiety by repeating over and over, “we’ve got to get rid of coronavirus”.

Lolly Jar has become a roaring success since it began seven years ago, providing a lifeline for those with physical and intellectual disabilities and also for those at risk. “Fun’s the first thing and if they pick up any circus skills along the way while they’re having fun, well, that’s a bonus,” Bowden says.

The poster boy for Lolly Jar is 14-year-old Archer Craig, whose weekly class in North Adelaide can never come quickly enough. “I do some flips all the time, spinning plates,” he says.

Craig had little spatial awareness and would run into walls, when he started. He even had to use a broken chair to keep his core working when sitting on the floor at school.

“Now he’ll run 20 metres onto a mini trampoline and do flips and he’s just recently started practising trying to stand on the instructor’s shoulders and getting his body completely upright,” his father, Ian, says.

Lolly Jar isn’t only about the physical, though; it fills a critical social role too. For an hour a week the performers can escape judgement and, more critically, find people to confide in. “They make friends, which is a really big thing for a lot of the people who come here,” Bowden says. “Often we’ve been told by parents in tears that it’s the first time they’ve ever had a friend.”

The circus has been a godsend for Josie Capitano, mother of 10-year-old Charlotte.

“She has social problems at school and when she comes here she just enjoys it immensely because everyone’s the same here, so no one’s picking on anyone,” Capitano says. “Academically, she’s behind, but here it doesn’t matter.”

Like other arts organisations, Lolly Jar has had a tough year, with overall funding shrinking during the pandemic. But the troupe is determined to keep the show going by tapping into grants, attracting donors and charging small fees.

TOP Circus participant Finn

ABOVE Poster boy, Archer Craig

PHOTO Lolly Jar Circus

They make friends, which is a really big thing for a lot of the people who come here. Often we’ve been told by parents in tears that it’s the first time they’ve ever had a friend.

Judy Bowden

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