Over his career, self-proclaimed "natural-born freak" Rush Hicks has performed or trained with the Coney Island Sideshow and Squidling Brother Circus, placing him among the elite of the world's circus and sideshow performers. In the past year alone, Hicks has logged almost 15,000 miles of travel all over the world with the aforementioned troupes, and on his own.
So what brings him to Phoenix?
Founded in Brooklyn, Hicks has brought the Mystic Circus to downtown Phoenix's Alwun House, where it performs every second Saturday following a successful trial show in May. But even that pales to the project currently occupying most of his time: founding the Mystic Circus school.
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"I lived [in Phoenix] before. I love Phoenix very much. And I hate New York City. It was going to cost me about 10 times more to open my school in New York City than it would here."
Sounds like a no-brainer then, eh?
"Phoenix is a really, really great place, first to bring art, and especially this version of art," Hicks says. "In New York, there is a guild of 1400 fire performers in the city, and they are competing against each other. What I'm doing is not being done in Phoenix right now."
While one might argue on the Valley's presence of circus arts with the Circus School of Arizona, Hicks emphatically explains the difference in his programming.
"We have performance arts circus shows... with the lyras and the aerialists, but they are not the stage shows. There's not a comedy show, there's not a mixture of sideshow, burlesque, and circus [all together]. I moved here with absolutely no competition; it's great for me business-wise."
In formulating the school's offerings, Hicks is aiming for a similar mixture.
"It's going to be a circus school, but it's also going to be a multi-arts school. We're going to do performance arts classes, where we just teach general performance art outside of the circus world. There will be sideshow classes [and also] traditional [circus] like lyra, trapeze..."
And echoing his prior community-based work, Hicks notes the school's future offerings of after-school and at-risk youth programs, alongside the more cutting-edge work he has become known for in his performances.
With such grand plans, Hicks' timeline is short: Mystic Circus school is planning to move into an industrial space in Tempe in early July, after months of searching for a location. The biggest hurdle? Even circus performers have to deal with insurance and legal proceedings in opening a school.
To keep things running smoothly as the school opens, Hicks and the Mystic Circus crew will continue their monthly shows at Alwun House for the foreseeable future. As for that family-friendly, community-based performance we mentioned earlier?
"We are a really gnarly, grimy show that is super technical, but super raunchy. If you're easily offended, [don't] come to my shows," says Hicks.
Not afraid to play into his freak-show past, Hicks is a sideshow performer at heart.
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"What to look forward to? Something you've never seen before. That I can guarantee."
Spoken like a true circus man.
Mystic Circus performs every second Saturday at Alwun House in downtown Phoenix, and tickets are always $12 in advance, $15 at the door. The next performance is Saturday, July 12 doors at 9 p.m, and curtain at 9:30 p.m. More information and advance tickets are available at the alwunhouse.org/circus.