I’m a weirdo. I’ll admit it. I like magic and juggling. Stand-up comedy and unicycles. If it weren’t already too late, I would run away and join the circus. One day, hoping to find some like-minded individuals in the area, I ran across Flow Circus. It’s an organization based out of Wake Forest that offers circus arts-related performances and education. It’s run by Paul Miller: a man who wanted to be an accountant.
That’s right. Miller studied accounting in college, and his career track was laid out before him. Until his senior year. He started interviewing with accounting firms, and that’s when he realized his mistake. He knew he couldn’t do THAT for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he had a fallback.
Miller learned to juggle while he was in high school. It could have been just a passing phase. But it became something more.
“It was sort of like transformational for me in a way I didn’t quite realize at the moment,” he said.
He continued to juggle throughout college, just for fun, but when he nixed accounting as a viable career option, he found a way to incorporate his passion with his work.
He became a waiter, but not just any waiter – one who combined magic, juggling and food. He was an entertainer and a server, all wrapped in one.
All the while, he was hanging out with “artsy types.” He fit in perfectly with the writers, musicians, poets, etc.
“I was the juggling guy,” he said.
And he kept improving.
“After a couple of years, you get to the point where you’re better than all your friends,” he said.
So he decided to take it to the next level: birthday parties. It was a disaster.
“My first show, I pretty much threw in every magic trick I thought I could do,” he said. “That’s definitely the wrong way to start.”
He was disheartened and stayed away from the birthdays for a while. But gradually, he did another. Then a festival. Then a few other things.
“I think, luckily in my case, when starting out we can’t fully assess just how bad we are,” he said.
That delusional thinking gave him the motivation to keep going. And he got better. And better. Much better. And he began to realize that he might actually be able to make a living doing this.
In 1999, he founded Flow Circus, though at the time it was little more than the name of his act. He got the name from a book he was reading called “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and an offhand statement by a spectator.
“After one of the shows, somebody came up and said, ‘Oh that was great. It was like a circus.’ ”
A name was born. He was living in Massachusetts at the time, but in 2002 he moved to North Carolina with his wife Dawn Daria. She was a teacher and he continued performing, but he started trying to figure out other ways to make money. He came up with the idea of specialty camps for children. And then one week he invited his wife to check out his program
“My approach to doing camps … my goal was to basically just perform and make everybody laugh for three hours,” he said. “That’s my measure of success.”
But Daria thought it was a lot of wasted energy and began to draw up actual education lesson plans on the circus arts.
“By the end of the week, he was saying, ‘Wow this is a lot easier,’ ”Daria said.
She saw how the circus arts were a natural fit for kids. While that might not seem immediately obvious to you or me, from the educator’s perspective there is something special about learning these skills.
“I … saw how teaching the skills provided kids with the confidence and social skills that were going to be beneficial,” she said.
She became the education director in 2007, and Flow Circus has been going full force ever since.
Though Daria is now an active participant in Miller’s passion, she wasn’t always as enthusiastic as he was.
She recalled one exhausted night in graduate school when she was trying to go to bed. Miller burst into the room with a new magic trick to show her. She was less than amused.
“His excitement and passion for the art form, both magic and juggling, weren’t always mirrored,” she said.
But she also saw the value of what he had to offer.
“I got to see from the early phases of his development that he brought joy to people,” she said. “That was very powerful to watch.”
Miller loves what he does. If you see him perform, you will see what I mean. And one of his favorite things is to meet his students years down the line and see them still keeping their skills fresh.
“You give them something that they have for the rest of their life,” he said.
If you want that, you can check out flowcircus.com. And if you want some juggling gear for this upcoming Christmas, Miller and Daria also sell some of the necessary tools. You can find those at skoyz.com.
Every week I find a new reason to love the North Raleigh and Wake Forest area. This is yet another. Stay weird, guys. Stay weird.
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.