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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 24, 2001

Circus master wants to build educational center

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Big Island circus director Graham Ellis has filed a special-use permit application to establish a performing arts education center on the rural Puna coast.

A planning commission hearing on the permit request scheduled for today was postponed until Sept. 21 because Ellis is in Sarasota, Fla., as one of 11 circus directors involved in the American Youth Circus Organization's national meeting.

Ellis, a transplanted Briton, has lived in Puna for years and is a familiar sight at Big Island parades as "Uncle Sam" on stilts. In 1984 he created Hawai'i's Volcano Circus, which performs as the Hiccup Circus. Its performers are youngsters ages 7 through 17, many from low-income families. Ellis has taken the troupe to public schools for various performances. The group also was involved in an anti-smoking campaign and has performed on the Mainland and in Japan.

The circus training center would be built on 2.5 acres of the 10-acre agricultural lot at Kalapana Seaview Estates, where Ellis has already been conducting workshops and training sessions, sometimes bringing in guest performers from Europe and elsewhere. Most people know the site as "Bellyacres" because of the circus activities.

Ellis has a long-term lease with landowner Village Green Society, according to documents filed with the planning commission.

He is proposing to build a camping site, a community park and a building in which to conduct classes. The plan has been endorsed by the Puna Community Council.

Most of 19 agencies responding to a request for comment did not object to the proposal, although a state Land Use Commission official raised the question of whether the development should be subdivided from the rest of the parcel, which is largely composed of 'ohi'a forest.

Ellis and his Hiccup Circus are featured in a new book, "Circus for Everyone: Circus Learning Around the World," published by the Mountainside Press in Vermont.