Oroville’s Kent Family Magic Circus tours the world
Princess Olivia’s ball python, Buttercup, wasn’t going to be at the 5 p.m. Saturday performance of the Kent Family Circus, one in a string of shows on the Garden Court Stage over the six days of the 2009 Silver Dollar Fair. Ringleader Victor Kent informed the audience of this fact and then proceeded to hammer a 20-penny nail deep into his nostril and then move it in and out like a slide whistle without sound (eww!).
Especially in contrast to my experience of nearly getting hit by gobs of spit dropped down about 35 feet from the mouth of some teenager on a carnival thrill ride called 1001 Nachts, the show presented by Oroville’s Kent family during last week’s Silver Dollar Fair was pure pleasure. The 45-minute act put on by The Seven Wonders of the World—as father Victor Kent and his six circus-performer offspring are also billed—made me and my 8-year-old daughter very happy.
Bullwhip tricks, Houdini-like escapes, fire-eating, dove and rabbit magic tricks, mind-reading, and the swallowing of a roughly 3-foot-long, skinny, inflated, pink balloon (that never reappeared!) were some of the many impressive offerings in the Kents’ “illusion-based variety show,” as it’s called on their Web site (kentfamilymagiccircus.com). This year was the Kents’ seventh performing at the Silver Dollar Fair.
Victor Kent and his six kids, ranging in age from 3-year-old Princess Olivia to 19-year-old Jugglin’ Jim (a seventh Kent child, who is disabled, remains at home with mother Mami), take their highly professional show on the road year-round—to fairs, corporate functions, churches (where, according to their Web site, the evangelical family offers the option of a Christian-themed version of the act), all over the United States and Canada, and Japan, where Mami Kent is from.
At one point during the Garden Court performance, the 5-year-old mentalist Princess Amelia came on stage in a long, fancy, red princess dress and proceeded to concentrate intently on a sandwich bag containing a light bulb until the bulb exploded without her ever touching the bag. An illusion that looked utterly real—I have no idea how she did that.
Ditto for 17-year-old Princess Cynthia’s “Modern Art meets Circus meets Samurai” act, which looked convincingly like her body was separated into two halves after she was put into a Cubist-style box, and then put back together again—all with a smile on her face.
After the show, the Kent family relaxed on the Garden Court lawn, in the shade of the 15-passenger Ford van and large metal box trailer the family travels with.
“This is how we pay the mortgage,” offered Victor, surrounded by his kids, including cute 7-year-old Victor Jr., the escape artist, and “Indiana Miles,” his 14-year-old expert bullwhip-cracking son.
Kent, a bright-eyed 42-year-old with huge, silver, mutton-chop sideburns, has been practicing circus magic since he was 7, and professionally since he was 16. After getting “burned out” on performing at age 19, he got a degree in Japanese at San Francisco State, where he met his wife, who was an exchange student from Japan.
Kent got back into the circus profession, joined now by his wife, who had become his on-stage assistant. By the time James (Jugglin’ Jim) and Cynthia were 5 and 3, respectively, they joined their parents on stage.
“They would stand and hold stuff at first,” explained Kent.
By age 10 (which seems to be the magic age), each Kent kid has evolved from “holding stuff” to deciding what character he or she wants to be in the family circus. After traveling the country and beyond year after year, seeing numerous other performers, the children have had lots of ideas to choose from.
From famous circus artist Jean-Paul Valjean, for instance, whom he met while working at the Tehama District Fair when he was 10, the young juggler James learned the Diabolo, or Chinese yo-yo, and how to juggle balls. He has taken his Jugglin’ Jim character many steps further, perfecting such things as balancing a huge metal aluminum ladder on his chin, stilt-walking and juggling fire sticks while riding a unicycle.
Miles, the bullwhip artist, also walks on broken glass, eats fire and lies down on a bed of nails. He joined the family circus at age 2 (and a half).
Victor Jr. became an escape artist after his parents realized he was allergic to the doves and rabbits he had been handling during the show. In his “100-foot Rope Challenge,” Victor Jr. escapes from his constraints “in less time than it takes the audience to tie him up,” said his dad.
“I’m crazy! I’m really crazy!” blurted an animated Victor Jr., as his older brothers mimed that an empty box they were lifting into the back of the trailer was very heavy.
“That’s how new tricks are born,” said Kent, smiling.