(Updated at 10:50 a.m. on 10/15/2021) A new circus coming to Tysons is catering to all people and seeking to eliminate barriers for those with disabilities — both performers and audience members.
From a juggler on the autism spectrum to an aerialist born without legs as well as a deaf clown, Omnium Circus has a diverse staff and a variety of special accommodations for visitors, including a show that prominently incorporates sign language, headsets for those with visual impairments that provide narrated coverage, and a special section for those with autism looking for reduced stimuli.
“Our goal is to make sure that everybody with every need has the access that they need to be able to enjoy the performance with their family,” founder Lisa Lewis told Tysons Reporter.
Named after a Latin word meaning “of all,” Omnium Circus will make its in-person world debut at Lerner’s Tysons III (8025 Galleria Drive), with performances from Nov. 18 through Jan. 9. Tickets are $35, $65, and $95.
Lewis launched the circus with a December 2020 livestream and a nonprofit called CircuSense that supports the circus through donations. She started off as a clown and has experience working with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, schools, and in hospitals with the Big Apple Circus.
She also volunteered with a program that Big Apple Circus created in 1987 called Circus of the Senses, which caters to visual and hearing-impaired audiences. She became an interpreter for the program and, later, served as its head.
Lewis considered creating a unique circus for years before launching it with online shows, partnering with schools from Australia to the U.S., Cambodia, and the U.K. Schools can still access the online show, with tickets costing $10 for each student, and educational materials are available.
For audience members with visual impairments, two speakers narrate the show in a manner similar to a sportscaster paired up with a circus expert to create a verbal version of the excitement that’s happening in the ring.
“The way you guys audio describe blew my mind,” Erik Weihenmayer said of Ominum Circus.
“Yeah, it’s like a world that was completely cut off to me,” he said. “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.'”
He said the narration for Omnium “really made it accessible and an open door for me and so many people.”
Citing a federal contracting goal that seeks to have at least 7% of employees be people with disabilities, Omnium Circus says 26% of the circus’s team of 87 people are differently abled.
While training inexperienced staff can be a huge undertaking, the circumstances of the pandemic also allowed the circus to launch an apprenticeship-like program, furthering its racial diversity, Lewis said.
“From the boardroom to the box office to center ring, Omnium is leading the way in inclusivity and we are proud to announce we have such a high percentage of disabled employees in the Omnium family, especially during National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” Lewis said in a statement. “The circus has traditionally always been a place of diversity and acceptance and all are certainly welcome under our big top.”
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