Available On:

  • Listen on Apple Podcasts
  • Get it on Google Play
  • Listen on Stitcher
  • Listen on TuneIn
  • Listen on Spotify

No Barriers Podcast Episode 109: An Inclusive Circus with Lisa Lewis

Jeff and Erik speak with the founder of Omnium Circus. With a global pandemic comes essential change. The time is NOW for diversity and inclusion to take center ring. No longer an after-thought, full inclusion and access for performers, audiences, staff, and board members is the Omnium Opportunity to gather the brightest minds and the best talent from across the globe to bring you a Bold New Circus. This episode is brought to you by Arrow Electronics.

Lisa Lewis began her career with Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She earned a master’s degree in Clown/Circus History from NYU. During the same period, she co-founded the Super Scientific Circus, a STEAM-based series of 6 shows which tour the country using Circus Skills to make science fun and accessible for all learning styles.

Lisa received her certification from Marquis Studios as a teaching artist for District 75 specializing in Autism and at-risk youth in NYC where she taught for four years. Lisa performed with the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit and inspired by the efforts to serve new audiences, she became project coordinator for Circus of the Senses, a performance adapted for blind, visually impaired, Deaf, hard of hearing, and those who are neuro-diverse.

Lisa doubled the reach of the program and seeing a need in the community, she created the Embracing Autism performances. Lisa expanded both offerings and audiences, created an inclusive training program for staff, and supported organization-wide inclusive hiring practices.

Now, Lisa is the founder and mastermind behind A Bold New Circus: Omnium.

A special thanks to Arrow Electronics for sponsoring this episode as part of their series highlighting people pioneering inclusive technology.


Learn more about Omnium Circus: https://omniumcircus.org/

Follow Omnium on FacebookInstagram, and YouTube

Write a Review

Download the Episode

View Full Episode List

Episode Transcript

Today's episode is brought you by Arrow Electronics, as part of a series highlighting folks who are pioneering innovation and inclusive technology.

Lisa: Our goal is to unite people, it's not a sideshow, it's not a show for people with different abilities, because at our core, we're all human and we all have that very, very base need to smile, to laugh, to share the laughter of our children, to share a multi-generational experience. And you can share that across all communities, across all demographics, and across all abilities.

Erik: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call, a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means, and part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exists along the way. In that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in and the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers. Today we meet Lisa Lewis, who is the Founder of Omnium Circus. Omnium means of all and belonging to all and it aligns with Lisa's belief that the time is now to for diversity and inclusion to take center ring. No longer an afterthought, full inclusion and access for performers, audiences, staff and board members is the Omnium opportunity to gather the brightest minds and the best talent from across the globe to bring you a bold new circus. Enjoy the conversation.

Erik: Hey, everyone, welcome to the No Barriers podcast. I'm joined here with Jeff Evans, long time climbing partner and no barriers leader. Thanks, Jeff. And then we've got Lisa, Lisa Lewis who we are so excited about. Been listening to your video last night that we're going to dive into and man, I just got so excited. Can I ramble a little bit to start this interview?

Lisa: Go for it.

Erik: Lisa, do you mind?

Jeff : That's the first time you've ever asked to ramble, but go ahead.

Erik: Okay, good. Well, it's my permission now to ramble. She just gave me permission. So one, I listened to your video, to the circus, Omnium video last night, the performance, the circus and there were things that really blew my mind. One was, I don't even know how to break it all down, because I want to go through it step by step. But one, were you one of those audio descriptors? You were with a guy. Was that you?

Lisa: That wasn't me actually. It was one of my closest friends and it was Liz and Carl are our audio describers.

Erik: Okay, so one, the way you guys audio describe, blew my mind. It was so good. It was like Jeff, you remember when in the Olympics where there are two people and they're narrating the figure skating and they're talking about the costumes and all the nuances and the way the light is sparkling in their eyes and the colors of the silks and all this amazing detail that I never had an idea of why people loved circus and Circus de Soleil and all that kind of stuff? And the way you guys described it, it made me realize how nuanced and beautiful visual things were. So that's my first comment. You really brought me back to this full experience of how beautiful the visual world is as people do their performances with all the colors and light and movement. It just, it was so well done. So that's my ramble.

Lisa: You have just totally made my day. Thank you so much, because that's why we do it. Thank you so much. I'm just-

Erik: Yeah, it's like a world that was completely cut off to me. I went to Circus de Soleil with my family and my kids are like, "Dad, I can't even describe what's going on. It's happening too fast. So just sit back and enjoy the music." Okay. So you really made it accessible and inclusive and an open door for me and so many people that I know have enjoyed this and it's brought a lot of meaning and beauty to their lives. And the other thing that I was blown away with, all the performances were amazing, but there was one with the lady who was a leg amputee. And the way the narrators described the choreograph of all the movement.

Erik: So this is a woman who is without legs. She starts out in a wheelchair and then she's with this guy and they're doing acrobatic stuff their tying these silks together and being lifted up off the ground and spinning around. It was like, it wasn't just like movement, it was a love story and that blew my mind away as well. That I never really realized, and maybe just call me stupid, that there is this total passionate love story going on between this woman who is a leg amputee and this guy, the way there were moving back and forth. And I even think they kissed at the end. And I was like, "Wow, that is beautiful." It really made a very powerful impression on me.

Lisa: Do you want to know the fun back story of it?

Erik: Yes.

Lisa: They're actually newlyweds.

Erik: No, way.

Jeff : Oh, cool.

Lisa: They've just been married a year.

Jeff : That's cool.

Erik: Wow.

Lisa: And then, the aerialist was actually born without legs and went into gymnastics. She played volleyball. She's done all sorts of incredible things. And she and Dominik have been married just over a year, I believe, and he's a trombone player and they've just introduced him into the act and Omnium is their world premier of their duo act.

Erik: So how do find somebody like her and her husband? How do you find them and bring them aboard? And how do you know that that kind of talent exists out there with people who are quote unquote disable, or differently abled, whatever you want to say?

Lisa: It's a great question and I have to say the most truthful answer I can give you is that I lead with my heart. That's the most truthful answer I can give you, and it takes me just in incredible places. Knowing that I had this dream and knowing that this is what I wanted to do and that I'm just ... Inclusion is so so very important. It's like someone told me today, "It's just your DNA Lisa. There's nothing you can do about it." So, it kind of is. So I just asked everyone I knew, and the circus community is fairly tightly knit. It's a pretty small community. So I just kept asking, does anyone know, I need everybodys. Who's the best? Who's the best aerialist? Who's the best this? Who's the best that? I need every demographic. I need every ability.

Jeff : You brushed over the name of this really quickly and I just want to make sure, because I think this is really important. Omnium. Can you tell us, Lisa, what Omnium means?

Lisa: So Omnium is the Latin word for of all and belonging to all.

Erik: Beautiful.

Jeff : And part of your logo says that Omnium, A Bold New Circus, and then I want people to see that this logo is amazing by the way. It's under a big top and it's kind of circus and us is highlighted in red. Did you know that E? It's like Circus-

Erik: They described it, yeah.

Jeff : So I mean, I just, I feel like even through your logo you're saying like, "Hey, this isn't about you. This is about me, this is about us," right?

Lisa: It is. It's about us working together to create the world that we want to be in. In the world that I want to live in, people are judged for their hearts and the gift that each of us has to bring.

Jeff : You essentially have this collection of amazing artists/athletes. I mean, there's a crazy amount of athleticism that's involved with a lot of what you're putting together. This coalition of people that are expressive and artistic and yet, committed to their craft, but have this other whole layer. That's the thing that I just keep ... It's like you've got all these things. All this whole quiver of skillsets and now, because of what Lisa has put together, there's this whole nother icing on the cake that brings it into a bigger audience. I'm fascinated with that aspect of it.

Lisa: It's exactly what we're doing. I mean, the circus itself is one of those art forms that it cuts out all the nonsense. There's very similar to what you guys do when you're climbing, the rest of it, the nonsense, the societal nonsense that goes on, there's just no space for it. There's no time for it. We don't have room for that in our world. You have to be able to trust the people you're working with. Somebody's lifting your rigging, you've got to know they're not going to drop you. We have to be able to trust each other. So it brings a very honest and truthful group of people. Not everybody in the world. You can't say everybody about everything. Certainly in my group.

Erik: It must be hard to find such talented people. They're like sprinkled all around the world, right?

Lisa: True. Very true. Our hand balancing act is from Brazil. The contortionist in our show we actually got from Ethiopia, and she's still there, so that's why you didn't see an interview, because she ran out of internet, because there's a war going on.

Erik: And then there's a guy from Russia, if I remember, right?

Lisa: Yes. Our clown is from Russia. He's also deaf.

Erik: Oh, right. Okay. Oh wait, there's a visually impaired juggler, if I remember. Right. Okay.

Lisa: Right. We had a juggler who is on the autism spectrum. He's actually one of our fan favorites. We have our main clown is deaf, so the voice you heard was not his. It was the interpreters voice that you heard.

Erik: Okay.

Lisa: We have everybodys. We had someone at the very beginning, one of our fans who's been coming to shows that I've been adapting since he was a little boy, and he's blind. He's a beautiful beautiful poet. So we have him on. Right now he's in intermission. We're remixing and remastering Omnium, so in a couple of weeks we're going to get the brand new version out and so we've just moved some things around a bit.

Jeff : Well, can we talk about the general pivot that everybody's had to do in the world in the past year and some change? Your whole premise, I'm sure just like so many things, it thrives on that live audience. You've had to make that pivot. You've gone to this virtual setting. How has that been for you and the rest of the crew and the team? And then, what does this summer and this fall look like for you?

Lisa: That's actually a great, great question. So, we just started believe it or not. This has been something that I've been dreaming of for many many years, and with the pandemic when everything shuttered down, we started Omnium as a not-for-profit. So our original intention was to create a virtual showcase, because we couldn't perform live.

Erik: You mean before the pandemic?

Lisa: During the pandemic.

Erik: During. Okay, got it. Because this started during the pandemic.

Lisa: Correct.

Erik: There wasn't a before the pandemic, right. Okay.

Lisa: So before the pandemic I was adapting programs from a different circus, from a New York circus. And I was just incredibly frustrated by the fact that if you were blind you only got one opportunity a year to see the circus, because they only hired an audio describer one day a year. Or if you had autism you could only come with your family one day a year. And to me that felt so wrong, because what if somebody else in your family has a baseball game that day? You know the statistics. One in four has something that requires adaptation nationwide. One in four people own to saying, "I have a disability of some sort." And I hate that word, but I don't have another one. So-

Erik: Yeah, the other words are worse, right?

Lisa: You [inaudible 00:13:00] leave someone at home. Someone is always going to get left out. So to me that was just wrong and I said, "Why can't we have a circus that's completely accessible to everyone every day, every show, all the time? And why is it that when you're watching a circus you're not identifying? Why are circuses only containing one demographic? Whatever demographic that is, why is there only one or two? It doesn't make any sense. So I said, "Listen, that's not what we're going to do." We're going to have a circus that is equally diversified inside the ring and outside the ring and is equally accessible to all people all the time, our staff is going to be diverse, our board is going to be diverse, and we're all going to be inclusive, because this is what needs to be. So we created this as a showcase. Everybody filmed it in their own quarantine. Each person's not-

Erik: You'd never really know that I guess. I wouldn't have known that.

Lisa: Oh, cool. Yeah, we just, we filmed our showcase each in their own spaces during the pandemic. And there was one act we couldn't include because it's a group act and had four people together and you couldn't put four people in a room.

Erik: You also had these split screens, right? Where people are doing things together, but they're not really together in it, right? They were separate.

Lisa: Exactly. So we have our ring master and the character we call the poet, and in the next version they're together, because we could film them together. But in this version we couldn't because of COVID, and so the ring master is obviously ring mastering and he's got this beautiful voice. But I didn't want to have a ASL interpreter off in the side in the corner. I wanted the sign language to be integral to the production, so that people didn't have to look a different way and be watching an interpreter and missing the center action. So all of their conversations are a dialogue where the ring master will say, "Hi, welcome to the show." And the poet would say, "Did you just say welcome to the show?" So that they're integrate, so that everyone feels completely included in the main storyline. Nobody's left off to the side.

Erik: It's not a side thought. You integrate it all together, yeah.

Lisa: Yes.

Erik: But so if you're pre-pandemic, you've set up the thing in New York City, a venue and you have school groups and people with disabilities and families coming from all around the world and this would be a destination that they would go to. I remember even the virtual circus said something like, "Wednesday through Sunday," right? Okay, but then virtually how does that ... It's less sexy to talk about this, but how does the business model work in terms of flourishing under the virtual format?

Lisa: We set it up as close to what we would want and what we hope to achieve post pandemic as possible. Which is why we set our shows Wednesday through Sunday. Could you watch it on a Tuesday? Sure, why not. But we sat it up as more of a ... Because that's the model that we know. That's the model we all know. Eight shows a week from Broadway. Wednesday through Sunday. Six pack weekends. So that's the model we set up on the pandemic. When we were thinking about the business model, most virtual offerings in the beginning of the pandemic were like free things on YouTube, well, we're a brand new not-for-profit. We can't afford to be free. We have bills to pay.

Lisa: So we set it up as a ticketed thing, but that said we also want to be inclusive of those who can afford it and those who can't afford it, and those who don't have jobs and those who can't figure out, who don't have unemployment. We want to be inclusive of often served and under served populations. So we set up a fee structure where it's $25 per family. We are not coming into your house and counting your family members. When we're working with schools, we set up the cost as $10 per student. Teachers, staff, support staff, that's our gift. They're working so hard during the pandemic we don't charge for their tickets.

Erik: Nice.

Lisa: And then if people come to us and say ... There's a place on our website ... "I can't afford a ticket, but I'll happily promote Omnium." So we'll take a trade. If you'll give us a good review and say some nice things, we're happy to comp your ticket.

Erik: Right.

Jeff : I need to back up just a little bit, because I mean, I'm trying to connect the dots from your time with Ringling Brothers and there's got to be a moment in your life where it pivoted. I guess I need to understand first what you did with Ringling Brothers and then where was the moment where you realized there was a space that didn't exist and Lisa Lewis was going to find a way to fill that space?

Erik: I think she was a clown.

Lisa: I was as a matter of fact.

Erik: Now, I got to interject, Jeff, because maybe this is politically incorrect. I'm not sure how to phrase this, but I heard you on an interview and I was like, "She sort of sounds like a clown. She's got a really bubbly voice and really excitable." Sometimes when you would say things you pound your fist on the table and I just pictured you bopping around. And then you have a really infectious laugh that reminds me of a clown.

Jeff : Well, I imagine Lisa that you have, yeah, you have a baseline that's everything. The effervescent baseline, that Eric's talking about. But then you probably have the Spinal Tap 11 that you can probably go to whenever you want to. You can be like, "Oh 11. Finally, it's my time." Is that like you?

Lisa: Totally. Totally. It kind of to answer your question, it happened almost gradually. I was with Ringling Brothers as you know, as a clown, which was great, awesome, and I did what was called advance work. So I went out and I worked schools and I did promotional stuff for the circus. Then one day I was in a show and I was working with another clown who was signing to a group of teenagers. Surly teenagers with their arms crossed, all grumpy and as soon as the clown I was working with started communicating with them in their native language, their faces lit up and I realized I wanted to learn that. So I went and started studying sign language. And then when I came, I was in Boston at the time, I moved to New York and I started working with the Big Apple Circus and with the clown care unit working in hospitals, which I did and enjoyed that very much.

Lisa: And then, I started volunteering, they had a program called Circus of the Senses, which was created in 1987 and I started volunteering, then I became the interpreter, then I slowly took it over. And in taking it over, I realized it was one of those things that had been shoved off to the side where they gave away 2,000 tickets to people that had that four letter word pity in it, which I'm not really great at. And I thought, "You know what, this could be more. This could be so much more." So we added a show for autism, because they were putting people with divergently opposed needs in the same space. If you have someone who's hard of hearing, you need to amplify the sound. If you have someone who's got sensory sensitivities, you need to reduce the sensory contrast. You can't do that in the same production, until now.

Lisa: So that program grew. It flourished. And then it was still only two days a tour. So it was still not as inclusive as I wanted it to be and all audience members are still not welcome at every show. Even though I had brail programs out at ever single production, and I had descriptions out, it's still not the same thing as getting an audio description live or even recorded, as you're watching the show. And the production was never as diversified as I would want it to be. So, it just became ... I fought and fought and fought. My teammates from the circus will tell you that I was constantly bothering them. "You're not diverse enough. You're not diverse enough." So it was finally, I've had this in my heart and it just the opportunity existed. It was like, "Okay, we can do this now." Everybody's shut down. We have the opportunity to be the world we want to see.

Erik: When you build this show. Now one, you're doing for people with disabilities to make things more inclusive and more sensory and more welcoming, but I can envision, and I know ever organization or ever movement has to have a target community, but I envision people with zero disability, just quote unquote every day normal families and so forth, coming and seeing this because they have a lot to learn.

Lisa: And that's the goal. Our goal is to unite people. It's not a sideshow. It's not a show for people with different abilities, for any one particular demographic. Our goal is to bring everyone together. Because at our core we're all human and we all have that very very base need to smile, to laugh to share the laughter of our children. To share a multi-generational experience where grandparents can say, "I remember this from the circus." And kids can experience it new and you can share that across all communities, across all demographics and across all abilities. So our goal is exactly what you said to bring everyone together. The often served and the under served.

Jeff : Well, when you have a performance, Lisa, do you know ... I mean, you showed us a bit of the spectrum on folks who really required a louder sound or a narrative sound, and then folks who maybe need a bit of a subdued ... How do you know, do you know who's coming and how to reach them before they arrive at the event itself? Meaning like, are you screening for each event and you know this group of people, or this particular individual needs this, that one needs that?

Lisa: If there's a particular group, like if we have a more homogenous group that's coming, we'll know in advance. But the idea of the show is that you don't have to tell us in advance. That when you get there we will take care of you. And in our live version the audio description will come through headsets. So you walk in, you put your drivers license down, you pick up your headset, you go in, you enjoy the show. The audio description will just be there. There will be an area for seating where we'll have ... We're still designing it, so I don't know the exact details, but we will have a seating area that reduces the sensory input, so that if you need that, when you buy your tickets you'll say, "I need reduced sensory contrast," and you'll sit in a section that has reduced sensory contrast.

Lisa: Most people that are particularly sound sensitive tend to have their own headphones, just because it's also a tactile thing. But we certainly have plenty of sets, pairs of headsets if you've forgotten yours or if you need one. We have manipulatives. We have an area outside of the tent that we call a chill zone, that's a reduced sensory area where you can just go and you can take a break. You can sit in a beanbag chair. We've got weighted blankets and anything that you might need to feel more comfortable so that you can then come back into the show.

Erik: Well from my humble perspective, don't lose the combo of the narrators, the two narrators, the man and the woman who are talking like figure skater play by play. They're just having this nice natural conversation and it really works. I hope you don't lose that in the formula.

Lisa: We'll not ever lose that in the formula. That's something we've been doing since 1987, we've had two audio describers. And I'm not sure if anybody else does that or not-

Erik: Nobody does that. I've never seen it. You have one audio describer and it's kind of awkward, because they're just talking into the air.

Jeff : Mm-hmm (affirmative). You have a color and an ... you have the person ... It's the dynamic that's coming from that relationship, because with two different people, two different optics and how they see it and then they translate it out very subjectively, right?

Lisa: Exactly. And we've always had our formula was one professional audio describer and one person who really knows circus. Now these two happen to be both at this point, because they've been doing it for a number of years, but-

Jeff : Yeah, they're good.

Erik: So the circus has gotten a little bit beat up over the years. So do you ever get some push back? Like one, obviously there's the elephant controversy, how they treat animals. Then you've got people's fear of clowns, sometimes.

Lisa: Exactly.

Erik: Then you got the people with disabilities who were put into these quote unquote freak shows. Do you have to fight that a little bit or is that really a non-factor these days?

Lisa: No, it's very real. You're absolutely right. It's very, very real. And I guess what I would want people to do is to accept history, because yes, it existed. Everyone I know who has performing animals values them incredibly highly. They're your partner. They're your life. They're your friend. I personally don't know anyone who mistreats animals. I know that has existed in history. I'm not stupid. Obviously it has. And I know sideshows existed too and I know there was a place and I know there's a history for that. But that was then and that doesn't make it right. Slavery existed too, but that doesn't mean I'm a proponent of it. I mean, it's horrible. Just because things happened in the past doesn't mean that I'm going to continue that. That we did have the horse act, which I love and Jenny's rescued most of her horses from a fate of becoming dog food and they live on this gorgeous farm and they're her partners and her friends and her family.

Erik: Yeah, this is really a paradigm shift, because it's highlighting people's abilities and their full sort of potential in life. It's not a sideshow at all. They're totally different animals. But I just thought I'd still ask that question.

Lisa: No, I'm glad you did, because it's a very important question and that is the paradigm we want to change, because that's people's perspective. They'll say, "Oh, I'm scared of clowns." Why are you scared of clowns? Because Stephen King wrote a novel and made you scared. Or because someone took the superficial element of a clown and put it out there as that, as opposed to the heart of a clown, which is a human being who really wants to connect. The clown historically is the everyman character. That's the character with whom everyone can connect. It's your gateway into the world of the circus. That's that role. So to allow people to see that role and to feel that role and not be afraid of trappings of a preconceived notion of what you think the next horror story is going to be.

Erik: And it's fuel efficient, because you can fit like what, 100 clowns in a car, right?

Lisa: Oh, yeah. As long as nobody ate beans.

Erik: All right.

Jeff : Hey, hey, [inaudible 00:28:53] is still around. But I still am curious when you are in person, so maybe this fall, I mean, it's straight up big top. I mean, we're talking about you're bringing a new school version of the circus, but still maintaining the heritage in a way and the tradition making it under a big top. You could go into an arena and do it there, but you're maintaining the traditional authenticity of it. So I mean, obviously that was the point. I'm just interested in just how this whole thing looks and what it's going to look like in a multi city tour and I mean, do you go in with tractor trailers, 18 wheelers and are you setting all it up-

Lisa: Yep.

Jeff : ... and how long does it take to put together the circus? The circus is in town, let's build a big top. What does that look like?

Lisa: It's intense. We have 18 wheelers. Obviously, you scope the site in advance, we come in. It takes about four or five days to set up the tent. It's climate controlled. We've got heat, we've got hot water. We have nice port-a-potties, all accessible. But yeah, we set up the tent, and we deliberately chose to stay in the tent like you said, because an arena's just not the same. I wanted the visceral tactile, the smell of the popcorn. If we had elephants you would smell it, but we don't, so. But yeah, I wanted visceral tactile feeling of the tent with all of the modern inclusion together. So yeah, we come in with 18 wheelers. We set up the tent. Each city will be at least ... We're hoping we'll be at least six weeks, just because it's not cheap to set up a huge tent.

Jeff : Oh, you'll be on location for six weeks with the build up, with all the different events and then the take down.

Erik: Hey, so I'm totally shifting text here. In the audio description, the popcorn maker got in an inordinate amount of attention in the background. Is there something symbolic to this popcorn maker? Because by the end of the performance I was like, "I think I smell popcorn." Maybe that's it. Maybe that's why, right?

Lisa: So the popcorn maker-

Erik: I really wanted some popcorn and maybe some Cracker Jacks or something.

Lisa: I [crosstalk 00:31:21].

Erik: Maybe like a hotdog with sauerkraut. I started getting cravings.

Lisa: Trying to enliven and the rest of your senses. We're virtual, you can't smell the popcorn. If we were in the tent you would have smelled it.

Erik: Yeah. I think I smelled it though.

Lisa: Well, there you go. We described it well enough you could smell it.

Jeff : Well, I mean, I'm old enough to remember and I guess we all are, that very visceral feeling of being in Southwest Virginia. I mean, I was definitely under 10, I imagine and going with friends and my parents and paying the two bucks or whatever and going in and being really excited and you I just remember all of that and you're replicating that. I mean, you're replicating it in a virtual capacity now, but, I mean, that's very cool that you understand that that's part of this whole experience is trying to recreate that for everyone. Because boy, I mean, I've still got it 40 years later. I still remember it.

Lisa: That's exactly, that's it. That's the point. That memory is with you and that memory is something that our entire nation can collectively feel, if you have that experience. You can share that experience with any other 10 year old kid that was in that tent anywhere in the country and you'll all have something in common. And in that way we can really come together with the circus. That's why we chose to stay under the big top, because it is such a multi sensory experience.

Erik: When people come in say in wheelchairs and they're watching a normal circus performance. I kind of feel like, "Hey, I'm on the sidelines. I'm a spectator. I'm seeing things happening that I would never be able to do myself." But with this format, I feel like there are people who see themselves a little bit. They're like, and just a very far out way, they're seeing their own possibilities on the stage. Is that one of the big pictures of what you hope people walk away with after they've seen a show? What do you want them to think and feel?

Lisa: That's exactly it. I want everyone to be able to identify with someone in the show to say, "That person looks like me. I can do that. I can be my best self." And I want them to look at the person next to them and say, "That person looks like you. Wow, you're cooler than I ever thought you were."

Jeff : Nice.

Lisa: Just be able to look at each other and say, "Oh wait. I never realized what potential you have, even though you use a wheelchair. Or even though you're different than me in whatever way we're different." That everyone has someone to identify with so you can feel better ... Not better, but you can feel your own potential. That you can feel the possibilities of yourself and what you can do and see that in others. Our hope is that in November we will be able to open in New York City. Hopeful, hopeful.

Jeff : Yeah, it sounds like that's a good target.

Lisa: We've got our tent ready.

Erik: I'll come visit. I want to see.

Jeff : I'm amazed at your talent acquisition. I mean, you just, you're bringing in some ... I mean, some of the visuals is everybody just needs to at least go on Omnium Circus.org and check it out. I mean, the visuals themselves are stunning, but then just sort of understanding the talent pool that you're pulling from. I'm always just amazed at the extraordinary process of the human condition and what human beings can do that are in this case just like I said artists and athletes. You've got a great sort of combination of artistry and athleticism that comes together. So I'm so excited to see this. So hopefully you'll come to the maybe the Summit and be a part of that.

Lisa: Would love to.

Erik: Maybe Jeff and I could come perform something. Like I could have a hula hoop on fire and Jeff, you could jump through it and stuff. Super cool.

Lisa: Yeah, there you go. And you know-

Erik: Do little dances. You could be in a skin tight outfit and jumping through the fire hoop.

Jeff : Hey, I've got more hair to lose than you, so you should be the one jumping through the fire, because I have more to lose than you do in that [crosstalk 00:35:47]-

Erik: The blind guy jumping through the fire hoop is way cooler than you doing it.

Jeff : Yeah. [crosstalk 00:35:52]. Yes. Shooting you from a canon through a fiery hula hoop.

Lisa: There you go.

Erik: Love that.

Jeff : Straight up. I mean, we've got some work to do, but it could be done.

Erik: Okay. We'll start working on our act.

Lisa: Well, you could start practicing. We've talked a lot about the artist that we have that struggled through ... Not struggled, but that have differentiated physical abilities. But we've also got artists that are sixth generation and have known nothing but circus their entire life. So the bar is pretty high. We've got some really [crosstalk 00:36:25] folks.

Erik: I know. All right. Maybe we won't try then.

Jeff : Forget it dude.

Erik: Well, Lisa, thank you so much. What you're doing is so paradigm shifting, we've said that before, and I know it's going to take off. I just love it when brilliant ideas are ... somebody has the courage and the initiative to bring a brilliant idea to the surface and watch it grow and then No Barriers, we can connect and ride your coattails, because we love this kind of innovation and this kind of cultural shift.

Lisa: I appreciate it. It's funny. I was listening to, in one of your podcasts, and I forget which one you said this, but you were talking about your No Barriers team and it really struck a cord, because everything we're doing, we're so much together and I have such an incredible team of people working on this and hats off to everybody. Hats off to you guys. And teamwork makes the dream work I guess.

Erik: Thanks, yeah.

Jeff : Yeah, you're on a pretty extensive rope team. You've got a lot of members on your rope team.

Lisa: Yes, we are.

Jeff : Yeah, kudos to you guys and just amazing work. You're an alchemist as Eric says. You're a creator. You're an engineer. You're an artist. You're all those things. So thank you for making the world a better place.

Erik: Yeah, everyone who's listening, go out and check out Omnium, it's great and you'll really enjoy it.

Jeff : Yeah, Lisa, I mentioned the omniumcircus.org, I mean, that's obviously you could spend an hour just floating around through there. But where else, I mean, once you put up tour dates and so forth, where else could people hear about you, find out about you and come see you?

Lisa: So by all means, go to omniumcircus.org. We're on @OmniumCircus on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook. We're trying to figure out TikTok, we're working on that one. We haven't gotten there yet, but we're working on that one. But we're all over social media at omniumcircus.org and our tour dates and everything will be up on our website and if you go to our website, join the mailing list and that way you will get our mailings and if you would like to support us, by all means, go right ahead, omniumcircus.org/donate, and we're welcoming to that too.

Jeff : Awesome. Well thanks, Lisa. Much obliged to you.

Erik: Thank you, Lisa. No barriers to everyone. Thanks, Jeff.

Jeff : Thanks Lisa.

Lisa: Thank you guys so much. Speaker 1: We would like to thank our generous sponsors that make our No Barriers podcast possible, Wells Fargo, Prudential, CoBank, Arrow Electronics and Winnebago. Thank you so much for your support, it means everything to us. The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer Pauline Shafer; sound design editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman; and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie DiNardo, Erica Howey and Alex Schaffer. Special thanks to The Dan Ryan band for our entrance song Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodast.com. (singing)

No Barriers

No Barriers

Get Involved. Be Forever Changed.

Stay up-to-date on new opportunities & community stories.