When Ben Holland was eight years old, the Washington, D.C. native remembered seeing the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town.
"I loved it," the now 24-year-old said. "They put on a great show."
Little did Holland know that he would someday become both the unit manager and resident rubber man for a very different sort of traveling circus.
At Paranormal Cirque, you won't see silly clowns doing schtick. Nope, this European-inspired circus is a thrilling, wickedly sexy theater of macabre that is part "Moulin Rouge" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street."
Performing underneath the big tent at the entrance to the former Sears store at Southern Hills Mall, Paranormal Cirque will be entertaining -- and terrifying -- audiences for six shows between Thursday and Sunday.
COME FOR MONSTROUS CREATURES, STAY FOR CIRCUS ACTS
However, don't bring any young kids to this circus because it is rated R and isn't intended for audiences under the age of 17.
"A person must be 17 and have a photo in order to purchase a ticket," Holland explained. "Audience members, age 13 - 17, are welcome but only at a parent's discretion."
In large part, that's due to Paranormal Cirque's preshow entertainment which is definitely not for the faint of heart.
"Audiences will need to survive a haunted house that will send them into a parallel universe," Holland said. "If they come through that, they'll be amazed by many monstrous creatures with hidden talents."
Haunted houses? Monstrous creatures? Um, this doesn't like any circus we've ever been to before.
CIRCUS, ITALIAN STYLE
Well, that was what founder Manuel Rebecchi always wanted. A Milan, Italy native, he spent his early years, traveling throughout Europe with his late aunt, Moira Orfei, creator and impresario of the famous Moira Orfei circus.
Armed with European showmanship and American entrepreneurship, Rebecchi created a unique concept for a traveling road show. In 2012, he started a Cirque Italia Water Circus and, in 2018, Paranormal Cirque.
"We travel constantly," Holland explained. "With the exception of a two-month break, we even performed in 2020. When other circuses had to go on hiatus, we were able to keep on going."
That was due to the fact Paranormal Cirque is performed in a big tent as opposed to an arena. Also Cirque Italia adheres to vigorous recommendations set forth by both local municipalities as well as the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Since joining the circus seven years ago, Holland has been to nearly every state in America.
"With the exception of a couple east coast and west states, plus Alaska and Hawaii, I've seen a big chunk of America," he noted. "If you like travel, join a circus."
TWIST OF FATE FOR A BUDDING CONTORTIONIST
Having said that, Holland's reasons for hitching his wagon to the big top were strictly financial in nature.
"After high school, I wanted to study computer science in college," he said. "Unfortunately, I was broke."
Instead, Holland fell back onto a skill he learned as a kid.
"I had seen a contortionist on TV and was intrigued by how he could manipulate his body," he said. "I taught myself to contort my own body, which was enough to get me hired with the circus."
"When my dad's friends ask about me, he'll say Ben has run away and joined the circus," Holland said with a laugh. "In this case, it is true and I've been able to make a career out of it."
CAREER BENEFITS OF RUNNING AWAY TO JOIN THE CIRCUS
Eventually, he has been joined by high-wired aerial performers who are able to swing by their hair, as well as intriguing illusionists who are brave enough to take a spin on the jaw-dropping Wheel of Death.
Which is quite different than the life Holland had originally envisioned for himself.
"Not to take anything away from web designer, but I think my job is more fun," he noted.
Plus Holland is becoming bilingual and, perhaps, trilingual.
"Well, actually, I'm presently bilingual-and-a-half," he said. "I speak English but some of our performers speak Spanish, which I am now fluent. We also have Russian speakers. I'd like to learn Russian and have so far mastered many of the swear words."
This is a good talent, we guess.
THE SQUEALS, THE LAUGHS, THE SCREAMS
A few days prior to Paranormal Cirque's Sioux City shows, Holland said it will always be fulfilling to see the reaction of audiences.
"You never get tired of the laughs or the screams," he explained. "When you see people smiling from ear to ear? That never gets old."
Once you think about it, there is nothing more exciting than a circus. Add an element of horror to it simply amps up the fun factor, right?
Um, don't ask Holland about any of that.
"I've never been into horror movies and avoid things that are frightening," he said. "I may cover myself in fake blood as a part of Paranormal Cirque but I'm just a scaredy cat at heart."