75 Years Under the Big Top with the FSU Flying High Circus

By Cristie Chase, Melissa Powell and Chelsea Shackelford

For over 75 years, The Flying High Circus has remained a special tradition at Florida State University. Introduced as an extracurricular activity to integrate men and women during FSU’s transition to a coeducational institution, W4FSU celebrates and reflects on the university’s work to preserve the history and legacy of the circus.

Student Spotlight: Alyssa Lee

Alyssa Lee is a senior behavioral neuroscience major and an FSU Flying High Circus cast member. Each year, student performers produce a championship show that features 20 circus aerial and stage acts.

“Each act has three 30-minute weekly practices where we work with a coach and other students to learn new skills and create a routine,” Lee said. “Every cast member is responsible for the rigging of their act, so we also set aside time before and after practice to set up or take down any apparatus used in our acts.”

In addition to rigging their equipment, student performers sew their costumes, produce lights and sound and set up the Big Top tent on campus. On top of preparing for their annual performances, they also serve as summer camp counselors for Circus Camp Tallahassee, an opportunity for children ages 7-17 to receive a real-life circus experience.

The Flying High Circus exudes a culture of teamwork, cooperation and community, which is seen in the collaborative effort of their creations throughout the year.

“I’ve found that the FSU Circus truly is a place where you get out what you put in, so if you do the work and make the connections, then you see the effects in both the amazing performances and lifelong friendships you create,” Lee shared. “Not only have I met some of my best friends through the Circus, but I’ve also learned so much about what it means to be a part of a community that emphasizes supporting each other and encouraging everyone to be their own personal best, and I am so excited to continue to build that culture of care and support.”

Staff Spotlight: Celina Dezzuto

A photo of Celina Dezutto

FSU Flying High Circus Creative Director Celina Dezzuto.

The FSU Flying High Circus has a resolute team of staff employees contributing to the program’s success. Celina Dezzuto (BFA ’05, M.S. ’21) has been the student program manager and creative director for 14 years.

“As creative director, I am responsible for the aesthetic presentation of the FSU Circus,” Dezzuto shared. “I take the selected major theme and expand it to create the overall look and feel of the show. It involves story building, character development, costume design and construction. I am also responsible for communications: managing the social media, designing logos and collateral pieces.”

A two-time FSU graduate, Dezzuto received her bachelor’s in fine arts and graphic design and a master’s in communication and digital media studies. She shares that the FSU Circus thrives on developing community, enhancing culture and creating traditions.

“What keeps me engaged with FSU is the diversity of this community,” she said. “I am lucky to work with students in a university setting because I am exposed to so many perspectives. I am surrounded by people from different backgrounds, pursuing degrees in varying fields and holding various beliefs. Year after year, I am taken aback by how these divergent groups can come together under the umbrella of Florida State. I am so grateful for this environment that taught me to withhold judgment, be receptive to new ideas and be more empathetic in my overall approach.”

Dezzuto noted that the 75th anniversary of the circus, which was celebrated in 2022, was a significant milestone for Florida State. “You could see it in how people came together to celebrate it,” she said. “Between the 2022 troupe that overcame a two-year gap in training to put on a top-quality show, the outpouring of support from alumni, the events hosted by the FSU Museum of Fine Arts and University Archives, the local business partnerships and the record attendance numbers, it was undeniable how much this program means to the Florida State community.”

At 75, FSU Flying High Circus is thriving, says Dezzuto. “With the support of the Division of Student Affairs, we recently launched a capital fundraising campaign for a new, permanent facility. We are thrilled to share the FSU Circus experience with a broader audience and take it to the next level.”

The new facility will feature an upgraded entrance pavilion and a new circus training and support building. Dr. Amy Hecht, vice president for student affairs, said, “This expansion will ensure that our circus facilities finally match the excellence of our students in the Flying High Circus. We cannot wait to see the circus use these new spaces to develop its programs and reach more students than ever.”

To learn more about the Circus Expansion Project, visit new.circus.fsu.edu. To learn more about the FSU Flying High Circus, visit circus.fsu.edu.