Have you ever dreamed of running off and joining the circus?
Paul Miller dreamed of joining the circus. And actually did it. Stop and think about that for a minute. This guy ran off and joined the circus!
I was standing in a bar in Ludlow, Kentucky, waiting to meet a group of strangers for the Travel Massive Happy Hour event at Bircus Brewing Company. All I knew was that the bar was circus-themed and was under the roof of what was once Ludlow Theater. The former theatre was converted into a brewery and bar in the front overlooking open space for performances. I saw gigantic balls, a huge stepladder, silk ropes and cables hanging from the ceiling, and a human wheel known in Germany as Rhönrad. This promised to be fun!
I ordered a sour lager from the bartender. I was a few minutes early and asked if there was a certain place where the group would meet? He said we’d probably gather at one of the tables down on the floor where a group of elementary/middle school students were juggling rings, riding unicycles, and playing with other equipment. Paul Miller was there, teaching them and coaching them while they practiced juggling skills and other clownish stunts.
The next thing I knew, he brought out a huge stepladder and tried to coax one of the kids into sitting on top of the ladder while he balanced it on his chin. Not surprisingly, most of the kids shook their heads and backed away. I think they all knew he meant it; he wouldn’t actually do it, but they knew enough to realize that he probably could.
Some of the kids climbed the ladder to see how high it was. One kid guessed 25 feet high, though it was really about half that. Still high enough to make some kids nervous. Two or three rungs would have done it for me.
I nursed my beer — which was nice and tart, by the way — and watched as Paul picked up the ladder and started hoisting it up to head-level. The next thing I knew, he really was balancing it on his chin as he triumphantly spread his arms out to his sides. No hands! He really was balancing the ladder on his chin!
I was so glad I’d come to the happy hour event. I’d debated; I’d never been to Ludlow before.
I thought I knew most of the neighborhoods of Greater Cincinnati, but I wasn’t sure where Ludlow, Kentucky was. It turned out to be just across the Ohio River; an old neighborhood like so many other Kentucky neighborhoods along the River. It was charming, but unknown. No one ever really mentions Ludlow, Kentucky. I didn’t know much about the neighborhood at all.
Which made me wonder — why Ludlow? Why was there a brewery/circus place in Ludlow, Kentucky, of all places? What brought it here?
It was Paul, of course. I learned that after the kids and their parents went home and the Travel Massive Happy Hour kicked off. A group of other travel enthusiasts and I ordered beers and talked with Paul Miller about the hidden gem we were visiting that night: Bircus Brewing Company.
Bircus (BEERCUS), a Flemish pronunciation as if spelled with a tricked out Ï)
BIRCUS, where the surreal world of circus meets the simple love of beer, will deliver a jaw-dropping, thirst-defying brewery experience. Our performers will juggle clubs, breathe fire, hula hoop, walk on kegs and amaze on the trapeze and aerial silks at the Ludlow Theatre and area venues serving our brew. Raise a glass, see a circus and toast to all.
As described on their website, Bircus is the collaborative brainstorm and clever invention of Circusplaneet, a youth circus in Ghent, Belgium. As many of you know, I travel to Brussels quite often and loved to learn that there was another Belgian tie to the Cincinnati area. I’ve come to match surrealism to Belgium and couldn’t wait to see how it tied into my hometown through a circus atmosphere, of all things. And then it made perfect sense: a surrealist place tied with beers. Cincinnati is a brewery town at its heart.
Clowning Around at Bircus
As part of the Travel Massive Happy Hour, the coordinator for our local chapter had arranged for us to meet with Paul and try our hands at spinning plates. He brought out a box of bright plastic discs and a plastic stick to spin them atop. He gave us quick instruction of how we should hold the stick, turn our wrists, and keep the plate spinning. We watched him do it with ease and then we tried.
Most of us dropped our plates before we got a good spin going. Paul was ready with new plates and coaching tips. He worked his way around our group, as enthusiastic as we were to master this trick. One woman in our group was so good at it that she actually attempted spinning plates with both hands and succeeded almost immediately! A future circus act in the making!
Paul’s children were part of the youth group practicing tricks before the rest of the Travel Massive group came. You can tell that they have the knack like their dad. They displayed all kinds of skills for us and shared that they’ve performed in circus acts in France and Italy.
Which lead to me learning more about Paul Miller’s background.
Being a Circus Clown
Paul left college at the University of Cincinnati to join Ringling Brothers circus and spent 1996-97 touring with them. His circus antics took him all over the world. He spent quite a bit of time in Japan, performing in a cabaret there, but eventually, he returned to the Cincinnati area in 2008 with his wife and two children.
Being a clown is so much more to Miller than simply putting on a red nose and juggling rings on a unicycle (though I’m sure that would be child’s play to him). He’s used his entertaining talents to children all over the world. It’s a healing art to make people laugh and Miller has made people all over the world laugh with his antics. “Pauly the Clown” helped put children at ease in Israel as they were being prepped for surgery. The clown school there was housed with a nursing unit. What an incredible combo!
Miller has also taken his show on the road to juvenile detention centers. He tells the teens there that, “If you’re good at stealing cars, you’d be good in the circus.” Why is that? Well, because being a clown requires being focused and fearless. Who else would balance a 10-foot stepladder on his chin?
The Future of Clowning
Now, with Bircus Brewing Company open and running, Miller plans to expand the clowning arena in Ludlow, Kentucky and beyond. He has purchased an old church in Ludlow that he plans to convert into a circus training school, much like Circus Mojo, the company he and his wife run next door to Bircus Brewing. Circus skills will be taught there, but Paul will also incorporate training the performers to serve as circus wellness specialists.
It’s going to be nothing short of a 3-ring circus in Ludlow, Kentucky: a training school, a performance center, and a microbrewery for people like me who want to sit and watch all the antics unfold as I imbibe in a nice, cold beer. There’s something for everyone at this Bircus circus. Come one, come all, and see Ludlow’s greatest show on earth!
Are you as amazed by Paul Miller and Bircus as I am?