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Ludlow’s Paul Miller is a genuine clown, but take seriously his social purpose, entrepreneurship

By Ginger Dawson
Special to KyForward

By now, I imagine just about everybody in Northern Kentucky has heard of Circus Mojo, and the Bircus Brewing Company, located in the historic Ludlow Movie Theatre.

Paul Hallinan Miller (Photo by Ginger Dawson)

These two, the circus, with its school, and the brewery, are the brainchildren of Paul Hallinan Miller.

Paul, up to this point (he’s only 44 years old) has had a life path that is remarkably unique. In addition, he has taken this path in directions that are amazing and intertwined in a way that, from the appearance of things, seems fun and effortless. Yet there is a consistent, unified vision focused on accomplishing a great deal of good in a seamless combination of lots of moving parts.

First off, Paul Miller is a clown. Really. An honest-to-God former Ringling Brothers Clown College graduate who performed with “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

A Villa Hills resident who was attending the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, Paul had an independent (dare I say anarchic?) streak that caused him to be somewhat disillusioned with the structure of the college mien. He had an unavoidable urge to run off and join the circus. He did.  Literally.

His years as a clown performing with the circus provided him with some of his most important life lessons and philosophies.

Do you think clowns are scary? Paul is in the middle. (Photo provided)

“Clowns cause trouble,” professed Paul, and in the role of “Everyman,” it is the clown’s power to address that trouble and make it something to laugh at. His own personal faith and spirituality direct this laughter at forgiveness and tolerance, rather than ridicule.  

Another way of putting it -— based on a lesson that he learned in the circus from literally making ubiquitous piles of elephant poo into an asset (you tell an elephant it can’t poop where and when it wants to) -— as a clown, he would step in it, and thereby garner every bit of attention from the audience with this surprising act. In his words, (and I paraphrase) he learned to “Step in the poo and smile.”

The circus, with its huge diversity of peoples and focus on the foibles of human nature provided an invaluable lesson.

But there’s another influence. Paul is the namesake of an uncle, Paul Edward Hallinan. This particular relative happened to be the Archbishop of Atlanta, Georgia in the Roman Catholic Church from 1962 to 1968. That Paul was born on the same day as this particularly illustrious family member has had its effect.

Paul Edward Hallinan (Apr. 8, 1911-Mar. 27, 1968) was very well know for his efforts in the era of the civil rights movement and the integration of the schools in Atlanta, and prior to that, Charleston, S.C.  It is a fact of history that he was one of the sponsors of a banquet honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

Paul teaching acrobatics to a soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. (Photo provided)

This is a substantial role model with some pretty big shoes to fill.  And since Paul wears clown shoes on occasion, it’s an even bigger task.

Paul does have a serious social conscience. It is a huge part of his psyche and I can’t help but think that this uncle must have had some influence.

Always seeing the big picture in all he does, sustainability of this mission to do good is important to Paul and this idea predicates every decision.  

As in a traditional circus business plan, Bircus Brewing Company was established to be the concession arm of Circus Mojo. Bircus has many shareholders and between their support and the proceeds of the brewery, it fulfills this purpose.

And, in a more recent step towards a sustainable business model, the Bircus Events Center is in the works.  Weddings, receptions and all manner of similar events will be booked with an eye towards incorporating the brewery, Circus Mojo, and spurring activity towards other local businesses. Located in the former Doxol Propane Building located at 2 Highway Ave., the rejuvenation of this 1909 building is another step in Paul’s efforts to give new life to a historic structure (as with the theatre), and continue the revitalization of Ludlow.

The school, formally known as the Institute of Social Circus & Vocational Training Center, trains students in the three areas of performance: juggling, acrobatics, and clowning. These students perform in exhibitions held at Bircus, as well as other outside performance gigs or workshops to spread the word that the circus can provide a valuable skill. And, as outreach, it can be a tool for helping students (of all ages) see their own lives in a more productive light.

In Paul’s words, “Focus on what you CAN do, rather than what you can’t.”  He does this with a clown’s sleight of hand that uses fun and wonder to accomplish what another approach may not.

An enraptured audience at John G. Carlisle Elementary School in Covington. (Photo provided)

People from all over the world are welcome to be a part of Circus Mojo, either as performers, teachers or students. In fact, there are relationships with people from thirty-five different countries.

Students from Ludlow High School participate in the program. The initial curiosity and thrill of learning, say for example, to juggle, has lead to experiences in a new work culture, meeting new people, and traveling to other countries for performance opportunities. Lives have been changed.

In Paul’s ongoing, integrated efforts to help revitalize Ludlow, there is work underway to move the school to a new location in the former Durobag Manufacturing facility and Church of the Nazarene located at the corner of Oak and Davies Street.

Circus skills will be taught there, but another part of the move is the establishment of a vocational program to accredit performers as circus wellness specialists. This designation allows circus students to visit hospitals for therapeutic purposes.

Through on-the-job experiences, chiefly in the orthopaedics unit at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital, it has been determined that the fun and joy of interacting with the performers improve the overall patient experience. In fact, Paul was awarded a HOPE (Highest Orthopaedic Patient Experience) award for this effort.

Part of the plan intrinsic to working with health care organizations is the ability to provide students with an RBT (Registered Behavioral Technician) certificate.  Working with patients who have Autism is a focus.

Entertaining a patient at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (Photo provided)

Outreach to the larger circus fraternity is another branch of the school, and one is focused on that most popular of all clowns — Ronald McDonald.

It seems that the McDonald’s folks have decided to cut Ronald loose. Popular attitudes regarding clowns have evolved over the years and it was discovered that a growing number of people are afraid of them.  Apparently, this has impacted advertising decisions. A special thanks to Stephen King for Pennywise!

This move put a whole lot of Ronald McDonalds out of work. Many former professional clowns had enjoyed a very good gig portraying Ronald at all manner of events all over the world. This lucrative gig with benefits ended.

Paul is reaching out to these former Ronalds to engage them in his circus school as mentors to the younger students. He knows that their professional experiences are invaluable in passing on the more subtle skills of the circus arts. He also hopes to provide them with another vocation as licensed Registered Behavioral Technicians if they would like.

In just about everything Paul does, he looks to have more than one benefit from an action. The circus wellness specialist program serves two purposes — patients more at ease in a stressful situation and circus performers with an additional vocation. This is just one example.

Through Bircus Brewing Company, Circus Mojo with its vocational school, and the newly planned Bircus Events Center, Paul Hallinan Miller is on a mission to help people to have better lives. Whether it is helping to jump-start a new beginning for a formerly distressed river town; kids and adults who need a helping hand; nervous patients waiting to see a doctor or former clowns looking for a new job, Paul has taken all of these many moving parts and created a pretty amazing show.  

This clown is a master juggler. 

The proposed new Bircus Events Center (Photo provided)

Ginger Dawson writes about people — the neighbors you need to know and people you need to meet and understand for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. If you have ideas for subjects please share them with Ginger at ginger@fuse.net.

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