Gusty Berger-Brown, aka “Gutsy Gusty the Magician,” closed out Friday’s performance with card and coin tricks.  PHOTO BY JERRY BALDOCK
Gusty Berger-Brown, aka “Gutsy Gusty the Magician,” closed out Friday’s performance with card and coin tricks. PHOTO BY JERRY BALDOCK
It’s just before showtime. In blue bat wings and a feather mask, 5-year-old Olive Van Buren gets ready for her circus act with Marley Menasco, who wears a white ensemble with tiara and electric-blue cape. Marley is 5 years old too. Or, as the girls put it, they’re both “five and a half.”

They were among a dozen or so kids participating in the Starshine circus camp. In a shady grove of trees near Suttle Lodge, they gathered around a wooden stage last Friday.

Asked about their upcoming act, Van Buren explained, “I’m pretending to be the bat that flies through the water-hoop, and she’s the princess.”

“No,” responded Menasco, “I’m the queen!”

“You’re the queen,” Van Buren agreed.

What was their act called? They didn’t remember. “Bat Flying & Queen Showing,” they decided.

Adults gathered around, forming an audience on benches and leaning on trees. Then camp founder Jennie Sharp took to the stage and introduced the emcee for the afternoon’s circus delights. In a top hat and red tuxedo, it was 11-year-old ringleader Gusty Berger-Brown.

With comedic flourish, Berger-Brown announced acts throughout, beginning with: “The Dazzling Dancers!” (the act’s official name). Olive Van Buren and Marley Menasco hit the stage. The girls rolled hoops and the queen danced with the wily bat.

Then the Amazing Desmond did a magic trick and told a joke. Next, out came Emma the Mouse and her trainer, 7-year-old Elliot Ennis. The Mouse — sometimes meek, sometimes glowering — obeyed her imperious trainer’s commands, walking a dangerous tightrope across the stage.

The danger was all in the playing; the rope actually lay on the boards, not above them.

Said Ennis’ mom, Melinda Ennis, “This is our second year at Starshine. They’re enjoying being outside and playing simple, imaginative things.”

Starshine represents the kind of small-town, outdoor activities for kids unique to Sisters Country.

“I think it’s great,” said Melinda Ennis. The family moved to the area about five years ago. “That’s part of why we wanted to be here.... it’s a small, local community thing.”

Of camp teacher Sharp, Ennis said, “She’s awesome, she’s super-cool, she’s great. We’ll do it again next year.”

The circus continued with magic, clowning, and comedy, as performed by the Incredible Alex, Arlo the Firefighting Clown, the Awesome Asher, Zany Zephyr, and Camden the Clever.

Silas Witmore and Zephyr Sharp, aka the tiger and the cheetah, performed acrobatic feats through a “flaming” hoop, to vigorous applause.

Gutsy Gusty the Magician closed out the acts with card and coin tricks. Then it was time for a rousing curtain call.

Audience members chatted a while. Marley Menasco’s parents, Britney and Justin Menasco, said this was Marley’s second time at a Starshine camp.

“Getting out and meeting new kids — at this age, that’s kind of the big one,” Justin Menasco said. “We saw this as a good opportunity to have a lot of fun and get amongst peers, learn to follow directions. Great reviews from Marley this week.”

Camden Davis is 8 years old and goes to Sisters Elementary School.

“I loved it,” said Camden. He especially enjoyed “all the games we did.”

How did it feel to get onstage?

“I was a little nervous,” he said. But performing ended up being fun.

Several performers said they will attend Sisters Elementary School in the fall. But Sharp invites a large span of ages to Starshine. Some are destined to attend a Waldorf-influenced school in Sisters called Pine Siskin, Redmond Proficiency Academy’s middle school, and even a kindergarten in Israel.

The week unrolled with time to play and explore the different areas of nature around Suttle Lodge: lakeside, creekside, on the beach, in the forest. Each day, students learned about a different kind of circus performance, starting with comedy and joke-telling.

“The next day we focused on animals — the menagerie acts, the animal acts that used to be very common in circuses. Now we pretend to be the animals,” said Sharp. Clowning and magic tricks came next. One day they learned hooping, juggling, and “pretend tightrope-walking.”

Sharp left plenty of room for kids to evolve their own creativity.

“We came up with the mouse trainer and the mouse idea, we practiced it for two days,” said Elliot Ennis, the trainer.

Emma Deutmeyer thought it felt good to be a mouse. To get in character, “I pictured a mouse jumping through a hoop of fire. A real mouse. Gray.”

Starshine’s game-based training helped them come up with their act.

“We played animal tag games,” said Ennis, “and we pretended to be animals.”

The camp included nature-based creativity and wading time in the lake, along with games and circus fun. What was the best part of the week for the Mouse and Mouse Trainer? Ennis and Deutmeyer had the same answer: “The performance!”