Our Story

Mission

The mission of Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc. is to bring joy and wonder into the world. We cultivate, develop, and sustain the circus and variety arts. We celebrate tradition while maintaining an irreverent spirit, keeping the circus arts current, accessible, and relevant.

The Cirkus on Equity and Inclusion

WE, THE FOUNDERS, BOARDS OF DIRECTORS AND ADVISORS, AND STAFF OF THE BINDLESTIFF FAMILY CIRKUS CONDEMN BIAS, RACISM AND THE UNDERLYING STRUCTURE OF WHITE SUPREMACY EMBODIED IN OUR CURRENT SOCIAL, POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND JUDICIAL SYSTEMS.

 

WE UNDERSTAND THAT BLACK LIVES MATTER AND WILL CONTINUE TO STAND ALONGSIDE THE BLACK COMMUNITY IN SUPPORT.

 

Additional actions we take and will continue to take are to make space for, encourage, and support artists, educators, and emerging leaders in our sector through bookings, via professional mentorship, and leadership training opportunities. We continue to seek diversity, equity and inclusion in our Board, Artists, and Staff.
 
Through Cirkus After School, we partner with youth and community development organizations with the shared goals of social and economic justice and empowerment for Black, Queer, Non-binary, and Indigenous folk, and People of Color.
 
Our immediate action in light of COVID-19 has been to provide support for youth and families who are disproportionately affected by loss of income, displacement due to gentrification, and lack of access to childcare as jobs re-open. And the weekly, virtual, Open Stage Variety Show engages with thousands of audience members around the world, and pays artists and tech staff for their labor.
 
Going forward, we are actively working to identify and dismantle bias and structural racism as it has effected us as individuals and in our organizational practices. We are partnered with over a dozen other members of the North American Circus sector in a task force on Equity and Inclusion in Circus. As founders, we add our capital and labor to the work of BIPOC leaders in local and national justice and equity efforts. 
 
Our focus remains on supporting artists through live performances, connecting with youth and family through Cirkus After School, and keeping our staff employed. As community members, we are listening to Black leadership for what’s next.
 
White Family, we are willing to do the work of change; please join us. Black Family, we are listening. And when you want us, we are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with you.

Purpose & Vision

Bindlestiff is developing a vibrant future for the American variety arts. We produce sophisticated performances, teach classes, reach out in our community, and support artists to increase the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the circus, sideshow, vaudeville, and related variety arts. Bindlestiff is a vital force in the new American circus movement.

Principles & Values

We are founded upon a respect for circus tradition and a drive to create new work that speaks to contemporary American culture. The tension of this duality is our hallmark.

We believe in a collaborative model that brings artists together based on mutual respect for the creative process.

Our sense of humor and direct connection with our community of performers, instructors, students, and audience members allows us to cultivate a vision of circus that is inclusive, collective, and current.

Organizational Overview

Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc., founded by Keith Nelson and Stephanie Monseu in 1995, prides itself on being an integral part of America’s outstanding folk traditions of circus, sideshow, vaudeville, storytelling, and burlesque. The first Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cabaret took place in 1995 in Brooklyn, New York. Each year since then, Bindlestiff has produced original Cirkus shows, festivals, and other public events. Bindlestiff has presented hundreds of the world’s top artists in the circus and variety fields. Performance seasons in NYC and New York’s Hudson Valley, as well as national touring in the United States, have engaged audiences in the hundreds of thousands, with performances in theaters, spiegeltents, big tops, cruise ships, fairs and festivals, and beyond. In 2017 Bindlestiff was invited to represent the art of circus at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, celebrating the cultural heritage of the American circus on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Bindlestiff provides a wide array of opportunities to emerging and professional variety artists. The Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show is the premiere circus “open mic” night of New York City, presenting acts by over 100 artists every year. Bindlestiff’s First of May Award offers emerging NYC-based circus and variety artists an opportunity to obtain financial support and mentorship from Bindlestiff. Since 2003, Bindlestiff’s Cavalcade of Youth, produced in collaboration with Playful Productions, pairs young artists from diverse backgrounds interested in learning the craft and skills of circus and variety with professional mentors in the field, presenting these emerging artists in twice-yearly public shows in New York City. 

Bindlestiff is also committed to providing education and enrichment opportunities. Free after-school and summer camp programs serve young people in the Hudson Valley and New York City by utilizing social circus theory, an international approach to circus arts instruction that uses circus training as a medium for social justice and youth development. Circus skill workshops are offered with touring productions. Bindlestiff continues to develop and expand its educational programs with new partnerships, greater outreach, and continued professional development for its instructors.

Staff

Executive Director: Keith Nelson
Artistic Director: Stephanie Monseu
Operations Manager: Laura Siegel
Social Media Manager: Danielle Feder
Cavalcade of Youth Director: Viveca Gardiner

Board of Directors

Chairman of the Board:  Hovey Burgess 2003 – present
Professor (NYU Tisch School of the Arts) Author (Circus Techniques) & Circus Historian

Chairman Emeritus:  Andy Davis 1999 – 2002
Author (Baggy Pants Comedy: Burlesque and the Oral Tradition) Adjunct Assistant Professor, Otis College of Art and Design and California Polytechnic Pomona; Producer and Performer, Baggy Pants Productions

Secretary:  Jim Fleming
Founder, Editor and Publisher (Autonomedia)

Treasurer:  Sara Valentine
Independent Performing Arts Curator, Event Producer, Performer, Bookkeeper, and Tax Preparer.

Keith Nelson
Executive Director and Co-founder, BFVA, Inc., Performing artist

Stephanie Monseu
Artistic Director and Co-founder, BFVA, Inc.; Performing Artist; Youth Circus Educator

Michael Bongar – Entertainment Industry Professional
CEO and President, BONGARBIZ; Performing Artist, Ringling
Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus (retired)

Paul Binder
Founder of Big Apple Circus

Kim Anthony Jones
Marketing and Entertainment Professional, King Charles Unicycle Troupe

Michelle Matlock
Clown, Writer, Producer, Teacher, Actor, Creator, Culture-Builder, and Entrepreneur

Andre Gouvea
Financial Investor and Real Estate Developer

Advisory Board

Havona Madama – Attorney
CEO Kid Klass, Tot Yoga;
Founding partner, Madama Griffits O’Hara LLP

Michael Connor – Interactive Telecommunications specialist
Founder/ CEO Cloud Swing,Inc.

Anita Durst – Performing Artist; Producer
Founder, chashama

Viveca Gardiner – Circus Industry Professional
President,  Playful Productions; co-founder and editor, Circus
NYC and Juggle NYC; Program Consultant, Big Apple Circus;
Coach, Circus of the Kids; co-producer, Bindlestiff Cavalcade of Youth

Ellia Bisker – Arts Administration Professional
Performing Artist, Producer (Charming Disaster, Sweet Soubrette, Super Fun Variety Show)

Maike Schulz – Photographer
Founder, Maike Schulz Photography; Photographer, Spectacle:  A Quarterly Journal of the Circus Arts and Big Apple Circus

Laura Siegel – Non-profit management and program development professional
Administrative Assistant and Office Manager, BFVA, Inc.

Josh Bisker – Communications, Social Media, and Marketing professional
Co-founder, Producer, and Performing Artist, Superfun Variety Show

Tina Volz – Entertainment Industry Professional
Creative Director, BONGARBIZ

Woody Keppel – Entertainer, Producer
Performing Artist, Waldo and Woodhead; Artistic Director, Vermont Festival of Fools