Circus in Winter is 10 Years Old

Circus in Winter is 10 Years Old

The Circus in Winter

It’s July 5th, P.T. Barnum’s birthday, the 10-year anniversary of the publication of my first book, The Circus in Winter.

I. Circus back then

In 2004, I was teaching at The College of New Jersey. I was 35 years old.

That was the summer my sister got married. The first time I saw the book on a bookstore shelf was on June 17. We were on our way to her wedding rehearsal, which was near a Borders. I asked my dad to stop so I could go inside and see if the book was on the shelf yet. It was! I took a picture.

I wondered why my pub date was July 5th if the book was available in a bookstore on June 17?

My agent called me on July 5 to say congratulations and asked “What are you doing right now?” and the answer was that I was shucking corn.

Me and my sister, June 2004
Me and my sister, June 2004

That was a fantastic summer, full of happiness and starred book reviews and wedding receptions and a book tour.

I didn’t realize at the time how special that summer was, that sometimes a book pops and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s been hard to write my third book with this knowledge in the back of my mind. Here’s something I said to Bryan Furness when he asked me how a writer gets past moments like that.

In late July 2004, during my town’s annual circus festival, I did a signing in my hometown historical museum and many, many people came. Ex-boyfriends. Former teachers. Former circus people. Former babysitters. Childhood friends. It was completely overwhelming in a good way. I sat next to the skull of the elephant that killed my great-great uncle, the artifact that started my writing journey.

July, 2004
July, 2004

The next morning, I got to ride in a convertible in my hometown’s annual circus parade and wave at people. My brother and sister walked alongside the car and threw candy at the crowds lining the streets. The sign on the side of the car said: Guest “Author” Cathy Day.

Ah, the unnecessary quotation marks of the Midwest!

In my life thus far, these are the four greatest moments (in chronological order):

  1. Returning to my hometown as a published author and riding in the parade
  2. The morning a few months later when I was solving the New York Times Magazine acrostic and realized that the answer was a quotation from Circus.
  3. The day I got married.
  4. The day in 2010 when I returned to Peru with a group of students from Ball State who had adapted Circus into a musical. They performed in a circus tent on the same ground where the real circus had performed a hundred years earlier. I wrote about that day here.

II. Circus today

I’m incredibly fortunate that people are still reading The Circus in Winter. It was selected as the 2014 Common Reader at Hanover College. The other day, I got an email from a young woman who had just finished it.

I am attending Hanover College in the fall and I was required to read The Circus In Winter. I just finished reading it. While I was reading I didn’t know how I felt about the book. I kind of liked it and I kind of didn’t until the very end when Jenny talks about hometowns and how no matter what you can always go back. Just those very last paragraphs really got to me and it helped me appreciate the book so much more. Besides that I love the little bits of the book that actually happened. I understand some details were changed and so were names but it’s amazing for me to think something exciting has happened in Indiana.

Back in 2004, I sent a postcard to every county library in the state of Indiana asking them to add Circus to their collection. Someone asked me why I’d done that. Why focus on getting the word out about the book in Indiana rather than New York or Los Angeles? The answer is contained in that email.

III. Circus tomorrow

I’m visiting Hanover College on Aug 25 and 26th.

In September, I’ll be in Connecticut for two events with Ben Clark, who wrote the music for Circus. We’ve actually never done an event together where we trace the evolution of a story into song. I’ll let you know more about those events as details are finalized, but one of them will be at the Mark Twain House and Museum. Very excited about that!

And then from October 23-November 16, Goodspeed Musicals is mounting a full production of Circus. I’ll be there, although I’m not yet sure which date.

Will you do me a favor today? Will you like the Facebook page for The Circus in Winter? If things go well with the musical, I hope that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will reprint Circus, and those likes might help me make my case.

I’m writing this on the porch of my house in Muncie, Indiana. If you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be back home in Indiana or that I’d be blogging  or that there’d be something called “Facebook” or that there would no longer be a thing called “Borders” or that my book would be a musical, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Thank you very much. Today I’m filled with so much gratitude for the blessings this book has brought me.

Top 10 reasons to come see The Circus in Winter on 4/25

The Circus in Winter


Oh man, I'm so excited to hear the "Higher Ground"/Flood sequence again, I can't even tell you.
Oh man, I’m so excited to hear the “Higher Ground”/Flood sequence again, I can’t even tell you.

1. Sutton Foster will be there. Not performing. Just watching. But still…Sutton freaking Foster, people.

2. My parents will be there. They are cute.

3. My sister will be there. She is cute.

4. The President of Ball State University, Jo Ann Gora will be there. Note that I put my family before President Gora but after Sutton Foster…please don’t read too much into this. I need to keep my job and my family relations intact.

5.  Thanks to Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut and to the hard work of Beth Turcotte, Ben Clark, producer Sean Cercone and others, the book (the story, the script) is better. The plot is different from the version you might already be familiar with. There’s a new character!

6.  There’s some new music, new songs by Ben Clark. So yay! new material by Ben! (You’ve probably seen him on teeeee-veeee…)

7. I hear the whole band will be there, too! Yay Joe Young on the mandolin! Yay Nick Rapley on percussion! Will Sean Muzzi be there, too? (He just got a gig playing for the Glenn Miller Orchestra!)

8. It’s a concert reading. And the next morning, they’re taking off for NEW YORK CITY to perform in front of a select group of investor-type folks. So we need to send them off with a bang, like in a pep rally sort of way!

9. WHERE IS IT? It’s taking place at 8 PM, 4/25 at the Cornerstone Center for the Arts, 520 E. Main St., in downtown Muncie, which also happens to be a block from my house, so yay! I can stumble home happily afterwards.

10. It’s free and open to the public, so tell all your friends!


The Circus in Winter
Our first night, we had great seats for Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Unfortunately, we got there 35 minutes late, and yet, they still sat us. Thank you! Afterwards, BSU alum Andy Catron gave us a private backstage tour, which was AWESOME.

Okay, so let me try to explain what this all means.

A few months ago, the National Alliance for Music Theatre (NAMT) selected The Circus in Winter as a finalist in their yearly new work competition.  NAMT’s 24th Annual Festival of New Musicals is a premiere industry event that gathers theatre industry leaders to discover promising new musicals. Hundreds of scripts are considered but only eight are chosen; at the two-day festival, they give two abbreviated, 45-minute performances. Professional, age-appropriate actors are cast in the roles. Basically, it’s a major stepping-stone towards a Broadway production. Ever heard of Thoroughly Modern Millie? The Drowsy Chaperone? Well, they got their start at NAMT.

An imperfect analogy for my readers who know diddly squat about the world of musical theater (myself included until recently): a musical created by college students getting picked for NAMT would be like a high school kid getting a Breadloaf or Sewanee or Stegner fellowship.


All I can really say right now is that Circus was definitely a hit. NAMT rules stipulate a 4-6 week cooling-off period after the festival, which means I’ve got nothing specific to tell you except that many regional theaters expressed interest in Circus. If you follow the link for Millie above and check out its production history, you’ll see that that’s a possible route to Broadway: out-of-town tryouts at regional theaters.

Here are some pictures from the day I went to NAMT.

Me and Beth Turcotte, who has worked tirelessly for three years to get CIRCUS to this point. She's amazing, and I'm so grateful to her.
Me and Beth Turcotte, who has worked tirelessly for three years to get CIRCUS to this point. She’s amazing, and I’m so grateful to her.

Now, at this point, I’ve seen Circus about 10 times, but this time was different. I’ve enjoyed  all the wonderful performances by Ball State students, but this time, the roles were played by professionals, and their voices filled the room.

View down 42nd Street as we walked back to our hotel.

I cried a little bit during the first song. I mean, holy shit, Sutton Foster was up there playing Jennie Dixianna. Seriously, who thinks anything like that will ever happen?

I was so happy that my agent Sarah Burnes and Andrea Schulz from HMH (and whose sister went to Ball State! small world!) were able to come and see the reading.2012-10-12 17.08.29


I was also happy to meet the other cast members and thank them. I told Steel Burkhardt that his character, Wallace Porter, was named partly for the real circus owner from Peru (“Lima”) Indiana, Ben Wallace, and for my hometown’s most famous son, Cole Porter.

Irene was played by Kate Rockwell, Emory by Corey Mach, and Wallace Porter by Steel Burkhardt.
Irene was played by Kate Rockwell, Emory by Corey Mach, and Wallace Porter by Steel Burkhardt.

But I was also incredibly happy to see Emily Behny on stage, playing Catherine. She was in the class that wrote the musical, and she’s gone on to star in the national tour of Beauty and the Beast. And two other students from the class were on stage: the original Wallace Porter, Jonathan Jensen, and percussionist Nick Rapley, joined by Joe Young, who played banjo and mandolin in the BSU production. And of course Bill Jenkins was there. He’s the chair of the BSU Department of Theatre & Dance, someone who understands not only how to make things happen inside a university (which is hard) but outside it as well (which is harder).

Christopher Swader, Nick Rapley, Joe Young, Ben Clark, Beth Turcotte, Justin Swader, and Jonathan Jensen
Christopher Swader, Nick Rapley, Joe Young, Ben Clark, Beth Turcotte, Justin Swader, and Jonathan Jensen

It was strange to see Ben Clark introduce the show and then take a seat instead of grabbing his guitar. In my mind, he’s always been one of the characters. But he has another role to play now, one he still performs beautifully.

Beth and Ben greet their adoring fans.
Beth and Ben greet their adoring fans.

And yes, Perez Hilton really was there. I didn’t see him, but Emma Turcotte did and snapped this picture.


A few people have asked me, “So did Circus win at this festival?” Which is a fair question and certainly one that I asked myself. Even though there aren’t first, second, and third prizes or Palm d’Or’s or anything like that, trust me: things really could not have gone better at NAMT than the way they did. In a month or so, I should be able to tell you what exactly is going to happen next with the musical.

I can’t wait to find out!

I want to thank everyone for making me feel a part of this journey.