Frequently Asked Questions

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How did Tiny Circus start?

Tiny Circus was born out of a desire to create art collaboratively as an interactive and community-based endeavor. A group of friends with backgrounds in the arts decided to work toward this goal by living and working together. They spent their summers living on the family farm of one of the members of the group. During these summers, the infrastructure of the Circus was created (the airstream, work tables, early animations, and early process and best practices). Tiny Circus is currently in its 6th year of operation. The group uses the infrastructure and the refined process that were developed in the early years to collaborate with community partners and create stop-motion animations.

Where does Tiny Circus live? 

Tiny Circus members live everywhere, since everyone who works on a project is considered to be a member of Tiny Circus! Tiny Circus main operations occur at our two home bases, one in Grinnell, Iowa, and the other in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. During the summer, the Circus tends to congregate at the home base in Iowa for our Summer Session (and often RAGBRAI). In the winter, Tiny Circus can be found in New Orleans. Core Circus members are on tour in the spring and fall, traveling to facilitate stop-motion animation workshops at schools and universities, art and film festivals, and museums and galleries.

How is Tiny Circus funded?

Tiny Circus is funded by our spring and fall workshop tour. Hosting institutions (schools, film festivals, organizations, residencies) pay us to come and do workshops. Often, these hosting institutions are able to bring us because they have gotten grants or donations to fund our visit.

Outside of workshop revenue, Circus members try as hard as possible to live cheaply and keep expenses low. We live together in group housing. We share food and groceries (lots of eggs and potatoes). A lot of the Circus equipment that we use has been donated by generous members, and a lot of Circus labor has been donated time. The Summer and Winter sessions do not bring in any extra money – participants pay a daily fee which is just enough for the Summer and Winter sessions to pay for themselves. Even though the Circus barely breaks even on the Summer and Winter sessions, bringing in new members of the community and creating a space in which to develop our process in collaboration with other great people is well worth it.

What’s that silver trailer thing?

Tiny Circus travels with a magic lantern – an airstream trailer outfitted with solar panels, a projector, and a sound system. We started with a 26′ long trailer, originally built in 1965. The body was deconstructed down to the frame and reconfigured in the smaller size. We sometimes sleep in the airstream when we’re traveling or in the backyard at one of our home bases. For our animation screenings, a 5′ wide screen pops out of the side,(or sometimes we whip out our 10-footer) and at dusk we can entertain hundreds!

How do you make an animation? What’s your process like?

Our process starts a brainstorm that leads to a scenario for an animation. Next, we make a storyboard – a sort of step by step plan for how the animation will look and sound. Then we build sets and characters. Shooting the animation is a time-intensive process, best done in a group. Each frame of the film is shot as a photograph, then the characters are manipulated by hand, and another photograph is taken. We make music and record sound effects for the story, or sometimes we do interviews with people and piece their responses together. Afterwards, the photographs are edited together to make the film and the audio is added in. Often, we’ll have a screening at the end of the workshop to show family and friends what we’ve been working on all week.

What kinds of workshops can you do?

Every Tiny Circus workshop and show is different – as different and unique as the local communities we work with. Workshops can last from a few hours to a few weeks; sometimes they involve just a few people and other times they involve a very large group.

How can I get involved with Tiny Circus?

We’re so glad you asked! You should consider Hosting the Circus by bringing a workshop to your location, or Being the Circus by joining in on a Summer or Winter Session.