HONOLULU (KHON2) — When the 2018 Kīlauea eruption hit lower Puna, hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, and many had to be evacuated, including Hawaii’s Volcano Circus (HVC).

“We live in the jungle and having to let our facility sit, as well as deal with the impacts of the acid rain, really took a toll on equipment and facility,” said Morgan Langham, HVC Executive Director.

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Langham said the rural, low-income district has faced many challenges, but the eruption also created a resilient community — and that’s still the case today even after COVID hit.

“Business really struggled when we had to shut down and even when we had to run at half capacity,” Langham explained. “We are a community-supported nonprofit, and when the community couldn’t use our facility, it was difficult to find the funding to keep the facility operational.”

HVC is a place for circus artists to use for educational, cultural and entertainment purposes. Its aerial program at the Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education (SPACE) aims to build confidence, strength and community in children of all ages.

Langham said it’s vital to preserve circus as a positive outlet for them.

“COVID really took a toll on performance arts and classes,” she said, “but at SPACE, we have come up with a way for people to still gather safely and build community which is so important right now.”

The Hawaii Volcano Circus is a place for circus artists to use for educational, cultural and entertainment purposes. (Courtesy: Morgan Langham)

Langham said HVC is unique because it’s centered around circus arts — and everything falls under the tent. There are people who build sets, design tents and props; visual artists who paint the sets and make the costumes; musicians who play for the performances; electricians who stage lights and fancy props; teachers who share their skills; authors who write the circus shows; directors who bring the shows to life; cooks who feed the hungry performers, acrobats, jugglers, aerialists, clowns and mimes. It’s a place for everyone.

But as the pandemic continues, it’s become harder to keep the tent from caving in.

“We had to shut down all classes when COVID hit our island in spring of 2020,” Langham said. “We’ve been slowly opening and closing as state mandates change. When we are open with social distancing, only one person at a time can use an apparatus and mat, so with the funding to buy more mats and more rigging, we can accommodate more aerialists!”

Langham has set up a GoFundMe account to raise funds to help repair their aerial program. The money will be used to replace the safety aerial/tumbling mats and upgrade equipment at SPACE. In order to safely resume youth circus classes, each student needs their own set of equipment.

It’s important that children have the resources they need to explore their creativity through circus arts, Langham said. The aerial program, specifically, is used by people of all ages. They can learn silks, rope trapeze, aerial yoga, lyra and aerial conditioning.

“Our classes are often by donation, and we have scholarships available to make the classes accessible by all,” said Langham. “We have around 25 people that use our facility as a source of employment and many dedicated volunteers that keep SPACE alive. With so many other community events being shut down, our community has really let us know how much they value our work.”

The Hawaii Volcano Circus is a place for circus artists to use for educational, cultural and entertainment purposes. (Courtesy: Morgan Langham)

Last year, HVC organized a fundraiser for juggling props so that the kids didn’t have to share equipment. Langham said she’s a juggler herself, and her love for circus goes back to the time when she was a child.

“My mom Mary Langham ran a community circus in Alaska when I was a kid. My whole family juggled, did aerials and played in the clown band,” Langham said. “I started performing aerials when I was five years old.”

Langham was raised in Talkeetna, Alaska with 30 dogs and three brothers in a cabin without running water or electricity. With no road access, her family had to use dog teams to get back and forth to where they parked their cars.

“We lived off grid, and it took a lot of work to chop enough wood to stay warm all winter,” Langham said.

At 16, she ran away from the circus and fell in love with surfing, gardening and ceramics. But lucky for HVC, she found her way back to the tent after her family got tired of the cold and moved to Hawaii in 2010.

“We live off grid here, and the first thing we did when we moved here was plant lots of fruit trees,” she said.

Though it’s a long journey from Alaska to Hawaii, it was a pretty easy transition for Langham who said her family naturally became part of HVC when they got there.

“The amazing part about circus is that you can find family anywhere in the world you go — circus people are so welcoming!” she added.

At 35, Langham is grateful for the opportunities Hawaii has to offer, from the ocean to the mountain, and at HVC where its projects and services have helped the community grow.

“Social circus is one of the most profound ways I have found to build community and empower people,” said Langham. “It’s the legacy passed down to me by my family, and creating a place for people to learn and laugh is the way that I can help make the world a better place.”

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HVC has been serving lower Puna as a 501(c)(3) nonproit since 1991 and has been bringing community, education and entertainment to the area since 1987.