Correction: A caption in the photos of the fire dancing contained factual errors. The photos were not of the circus group. The people shown in the photos were actually part of the Maine Fire Dancing Collective. The captions have been corrected.

Have you ever thought to yourself that the only thing you wanted out of a Friday night was to see someone swallow a sword? Or walk on a bed of broken glass? How about someone juggling flaming clubs? Last Friday all of these unlikely acts and many more were put on in Tommy’s Park by the Chew and Swallow Circus, a traveling gastrointestinal themed circus troupe of some 10 performers.

The festivities got underway with several carnival attractions as a crowd began to gather on the corner of Exchange Street and Middle Street, some no doubt drawn by the group’s merrily painted school bus. One performer invited passersby to have “inner beauty portraits” drawn of them, which consisted of sketching a rotting, skeletal caricature of the volunteer. Not far away, another member of the circus encouraged those on-lookers brave enough to “grasp for stuff in a murky pool.” After grasping in said murky pool, one person came up with a grapefruit. Others found plastic medallions, buttons, and other small prizes.

As it got dark, the band struck up a song and the performance began. Via giant speech bubbles we were told that a wolf, suffering from stomach cramps, had made the mistake of swallowing a circus. We were invited inside his stomach to witness just what he had consumed. What followed was an hour or so of a humorous, very skilled, and at times endearingly disjointed circus routine, with everything from bawdy, yet family-friendly burlesque, to a juggler balancing on his chin a stick attached to a flaming wheel. A bed of nails was laid upon, a light bulb was chewed, and throughout it all, the troupe encouraged crowd participation.

For Matias, the performer juggling the flaming clubs, the show was a homecoming of kinds. “During high school I taught myself to juggle,” he said, “and I came down to Tommy’s Park to juggle for tourists in the Old Port. I did that every week.”

Ariel, the light bulb chewing swallower of swords, who, in the show boasted that at 19 she was the youngest sword-swallower in the world, defended her title. “I talked to another sword-swallower last week who’s been doing it for ten or fifteen years, and he said that nineteen is the youngest that he knows of in the world.” As for chewing lightbulbs? “I need to find someone else who can do it, because it’s really bad for you.”

The Chew and Swallow Circus brought a wide variety of performance styles to the streets of Portland, lighting up the night with their flaming clubs and their absurdist take on many classic circus routines. Their next performance will be in Upstate New York, and from there they head west, planning on eventually ending the tour in Portland, Oregon.


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