Our Story


Our Mission is to create original, collaborative circus experiences that nurture transformation in people and communities by centering joy, wonder, healing, beauty, and learning.

We Do This By:

  • Presenting high quality world class performances
  • Lifting the diverse cultures, experiences, skills, and work of artists and creators.
  • Creating relevant, high-quality circus arts education programs for youth and adults of all abilities.
  • Serving emerging and established variety artists with funding
    opportunities, technical support, access to residencies, and
    professional development.

The Cirkus on Equity and Inclusion




The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus has been making, producing, and touring original new circus work since 1995. Based in Unceded Lenapehoking (NYC) and Unceded Mu-he-con-ne-ok Lands (Columbia County) The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and Bindlestiff’s Cirkus After School actively cultivate a culture of anti-racism, inclusivity, accessibility, and equity for everyone regardless of age, race, gender expression or identity, life experience, justice-impacted status, immigration status, religion, culture, ability, education level, or preference.

Actions we take and will continue to take are to make space for, encourage, and support artists, educators, and emerging leaders currently under-represented in our sector via bookings, 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,  Two-Spirit, Indigenous, Asian, Latinae, Hawaiian Native and Pacific Islander folx; as well as for individuals who are differently abled.


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. The weekly, virtual, Open Stage Variety Show engaged with thousands of audience members around the world, and paid artists and tech staff for their labor during a time of great loss for entertainment venues and professionals.


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 the American Circus Alliance (ACA) task force on Equity and Inclusion in Circus. As individuals, we add our capital and labor to the work of local and national justice and equity efforts. We are willing to do the work of change; please join us.


Our focus remains on supporting artists through live performances, connecting with youth and family through Cirkus After School, and keeping our staff employed. 


Purpose & Vision

Our Vision: We will continue to be a premier, unique, and beloved circus arts company with a lens on joy, community, healing, opportunity, creating meaningful change for individuals, communities, and artists.

Principles & Values

Our Values:

Land and Labor Acknowledgements

It is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that in Columbia County, we are learning, speaking and gathering on the ancestral homelands of the Muh He Con Ne Ok, who are the indigenous peoples of this land. Despite tremendous hardship in being forced from here, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge- Munsee Community. We pay honor and respect to their ancestors past and present as we commit to building a more inclusive and equitable space for all.

In our work in what is called New York City, we respectfully acknowledge that we are living, learning, and working in Unceded Lenapehoking, the traditional and ancestral homelands of the Delaware, Lenape, and Munsee peoples, who, despite attempted erasure, genocide, and forced removal, thrive and maintain their culture in this area and beyond.

We acknowledge that along with stolen land, the wealth and privilege many of us take for granted was built on stolen lives and labor –  through chattel slavery, the carceral system, discriminatory immigration practices, and embedded systemic racism that keeps equity from taking hold. We commit to reducing our harmful impact as settlers and colonizers by learning to see the truth of our history and working alongside defenders of social, environmental, and economic justice; creating right relationship with the Land and with the stewards of  Indigenous History in our region, and working to dismantle racism and colonialism in ourselves and our community.

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, and vaudeville.  Bindlestiff’s activities fall into three main areas. First, we produce original shows, festivals, and public events. Over the decades, Bindlestiff has presented nearly 600 of the world’s top artists in the circus and variety fields. Shows in  our home regions of NYC and the 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, including 2017’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, celebrating the cultural heritage of the American circus on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The second area of Bindlestiff’s work is support of 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 yearly First of May Award and Residency offers emerging NYC-based artists financial support and mentorship from Bindlestiff. Twice a year, 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 public shows in New York City. 

And third, Bindlestiff provides high-quality circus arts education and enrichment opportunities. Free Out-of-School-Time and Elder programs serve people in the Hudson Valley and New York City by using circus arts training as a medium for social justice, community building, and youth development. Circus skill workshops are also offered with touring productions. Bindlestiff yearly develops and expand its educational programs with new partnerships, greater outreach, and continued professional development for instructors.


Keith Nelson: Executive Director

Stephanie Monseu: Artistic Director

Laura Siegel: Operations Manager

Kenya Welch: Development Director

Rebecca Segal: Grants Manager

Ekaterina Sknarina: Associate Producer

Viveca Gardiner: Cavalcade of Youth Director

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.

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

Paul Binder
Co-Founder, 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

Michael Lesser
Entertainment Lawyer

Michi Jakob
Long time Wall Street Professional turned Independent Consult, Clowns Without Borders USA Treasurer, Clown Lover, Cycling enthusiast and Pyromaniac.

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

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