Throwing yourself onto a slow-moving circus train car headed to Anywhere But Here, U.S.A., with nothing but the idealism of an unscripted future (and maybe a baby elephant) to keep you company at night sometimes seems like a good idea.

Thoughts like those typically turn up during the single-digit ages, when happiness is gained or lost based on the vegetable side served with an evening’s dinner. A circus ringmaster gets to eat what he wants. And no one forces the fire swallower to finish his lima beans and go to bed.

But big-top dreams might return when you’re older, midway through some lethargic office afternoon, when you realize that performing as a mime trapped inside a cubicle-sized invisible box sure beats actually being in a cubicle.

The concept of finding the place where you belong is the theme for Friday’s inaugural performance of Portland’s Smoke and Mirror Circus. The traditional one-ring, European-style circus includes a ringmaster, a lion tamer, a mime, a trapeze artist, a poi performer, a fortune teller, hoop artists and other likely guests. And it’s taking over the stage at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland for a handful of shows this summer.

Smoke and Mirror Circus is the brainchild of performer and Portlander Diana Duane, who says she and some performing friends had been kicking around the idea of a circus for a while.

“We had always wanted to have a small circus,” she said. “A couple of acts and go around town, perform in the parks, get some tips down on the pier.”

Duane, who’s making her directorial debut with the show and also performs as the ringmaster, likes the idea because a circus is “just such a happy, joyful thing.”

“There are so many things that focus on the serious parts of what’s going on in the world. To take people away from that is special,” she said. “People want to be taken away from that.”

Some impromptu lion taming in Post Office Park in the middle of a work day would be a welcome reprieve for locals, but in the process of putting a small show together, Duane kept making discoveries in the people around her. She connected with other local performers with circus-esque talents, and uncovered skills in people she already knew — like cousin Tess MacHugh, who happens to be the circus photographer and a talented balloon artist.

It’s not surprising to find such off-kilter talents in a city like Portland, where the local barista might spin flatware on sticks during her off hours, and the office accountant might also be a contortionist of mind-bending proportions who sleeps in a dresser drawer and always flies first class — in the overhead compartment.

“It turned into this full-blown production before we knew it,” said Duane, so they found a proper venue for it. The show also includes a live band, the Smoke and Mirror Orchestra, playing an original score.

Unlike a traditional circus, with disparate acts performed without any cohesive motif (unless you consider “animals in sequined headdresses” a cohesive motif), the Smoke and Mirror Circus’ multiple acts tell a story.

“There’s a narrative that goes along with the entire show almost like a play with death-defying acts,” Duane joked.

The storyline is one most of us can relate to: An everyman finding where he belongs in the world. “Kind of like a journey to find the city where you belong, your tribe,” said Duane.

“It begins with a hooper in a rural setting. These performers all start gathering together (they) come together to acknowledge they’re all there for the same reason: To find their place in the world.”

It’s an apropos performance for Portland, a “say anything, do anything sort of town,” as Duane called it. Here, office managers and misfits share space at coffee shop counters, artists and eccentrics abound in town, and entertaining things seem to unfold on random street corners.

And this is where many of us thankfully came to rest after journeys of our own.

The lively acts of the Smoke and Mirror Circus substantiate what we already suspected: Portland is a place where a circus doesn’t come to town. It is the town.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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