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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Acting Up

At age 6, Tepa Hall, now a resident of northeast Texas, climbed a 20-foot pole that was no more than two inches in diameter. That pole stood precariously balanced on the right shoulder of her father, who was in the center of a three-ring circus. Hall flipped, twisted, did handstands, and more for the crowd of thousands.

Now, Hall has children who dazzle the audience in the circus, and, like her father, she hasn’t stopped performing, either. At the Evansville Hadi Shrine Circus, which starts on Thanksgiving, Hall won’t be defying gravity anymore — but she will be taming a wild beast — a bear.

These flips and things were what we had watched our parents do, so it became commonplace.

Yet I am scared before every performance. But that’s what keeps me safe. It keeps me on my toes.

When I hit the ring and perform, the importance of the performance and how it comes across to an audience overrides the fear.

Everyone sees the completed professional show, and everything just runs smoothly. But the performers in the back might watch an act while holding their breaths. Like if we’re seeing the high-wire act performers and there’s no net beneath them, it’s just beautiful. The audience might not get the seriousness of the risks involved because it’s performed so flawlessly.

This is not something we do with strangers. That’s why we considered ourselves family. You have to get to that level of trust with another performer.

It’s familiarity. It’s knowing without thinking what the other person is going to do.

My husband James and I will be the ones with the performing bears. These bears ride bicycles and walk on balls.

Because we grew up in and were surrounded by the circus environment, my husband fell in love with bears. If you’re a child in the circus and an act interests you, you ask the performer how you can help. It’s a great teaching environment.

We had to get the bears when they were cubs. That’s how we fostered a relationship with them. Again, it’s all about trust.

They are European brown bears, Zuzu and Putter.

My first year at the Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville was 1981. And I’ve performed in Evansville many, many times, including the 75th anniversary of the Hadi Shrine Circus in Evansville and in 2011 when the circus moved from Roberts Stadium to the Ford Center. But this is the 80th anniversary of the circus in the city, and we knew we wanted to be a part of it.

For more information about the Hadi Shrine Circus, visit hadishrinecircus.com.

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