Shared from the 11/5/2018 The Columbus Dispatch eEdition


Stilt walkers stand tall among members of local troupe


Jessica Minshall, founder of the Amazing Giants, demonstrates part of her act involving fire. [BROOKE LAVALLEY/DISPATCH ]


Performers with the Amazing Giants play with fire during the Presidents Cup Opening Ceremony and Celebration at Columbus Commons in 2013. [JONATHAN QUILTER/DISPATCH]


Members of the Amazing Giants march on stilts during the Dublin St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2015. [DISPATCH FILE PHOTO]


Victoria Woods, left, and Jessica Minshall, right, pose at the Hilliard branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library that opened in June.


The days of traveling, big top circus exhibitions are part of a fading era, but the spellbinding charm associated with them is alive and well.

In central Ohio, that’s due in part to the work of Jessica Minshall and her band of merry performers known as the Amazing Giants. Anyone who has attended one of the region’s premier festivals and fairs probably has been treated to their stilt walking, fire swallowing and other feats of derring-do.

Formed in Columbus in 2011 by Minshall, 35, a self-taught stilt walker from the Milo-Grogan neighborhood, the circus troupe performs at county fairs, art festivals, ribbon-cuttings and more.

“It’s very magical,” Minshall said of the shows put on by her assortment of 25 part-time performers and 100 freelancers. “It’s always that ambience in the background, and we bring smiles and joy to events.”

The group’s name is a nod to its beginnings, when Minshall took to great heights and began stilt walking at events with a group of friends. Now performers offer a much wider range of skill sets: There are aerial acrobats, jugglers, unicyclists, clowns, dancers and fortune tellers, just to name a few.

Minshall recently rebranded the parent company as “TAGUS Entertainment,” but she insisted the performers themselves will always be known as the Amazing Giants.

Recently, locals may have seen some of the group at HighBall Halloween in the Short North, where there were stilt walkers and a performer on a 19-foot-tall sway pole.

In October, members of the Amazing Giants also stopped at the Westerville Public Library’s Wizards and Wands Festival, the Dublin Spooktacular and the grand opening of the Martin Luther King branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

The Amazing Giants perform mostly in the Midwest — both Ohio and neighboring states — but they’ve also traveled to Florida and, earlier this year, they made their first international foray to India.

“This is providing people with outlets to be creative and use their talents,” said Minshall, who previously worked in therapy and care for adults with disabilities. “It’s also giving something to Columbus that they maybe didn’t know was accessible.”

The performers practice every Tuesday at an old gym in the Milo Arts Center. Though the sessions aren't mandatory, Minshall said, it's the perfect setting for the performers to hone their crafts and learn new skills from one another.

At a recent Tuesday practice, Minshall was joined by fellow stilt walkers Eli Patrick and Ross Leighner.

The trio mounted 3-foot stilts and jaunted around the empty gymnasium. And Minshall, while on the stilts, demonstrated the delicate art of fire eating — the secret: don't be afraid of the fire, she said — and fire hula hooping.

Patrick and Leighner, who are married, have been stilt walkers with the troupe for three years. Circus performing was a natural choice for the couple, who both have backgrounds as gymnasts.

Though they've always lived in the Columbus area — the South Hudson neighborhood near the University District right now — they began circus performing six years ago with the Safety Crew in Chicago because a friend of theirs founded the group. Minshall recruited the pair a couple years later.

Leighner, a behavioral specialist at Ohio State University, said he enjoys the smiles he’s able to spread to those who see him perform.

“Being a part of (Minshall’s) crew has been phenomenal,” Leighner, 29, said. “A lot of what we do is built around bringing joy to everyone’s experience.”

The opportunities to go to a circus are few and far between, so 30-year-old Patrick, who works in real estate, said he revels in the chance to bring such thrills to events across the region.“

It’s one of the art forms people know about but don’t see very often." @EricLagatta

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