Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus flies through the air on KQED

Jack StockLynn and his circus describe what it would be like if Portland could dance

Gentrification is pushing performers to the outer limits of the cities they call home, and local performers are no exception. A new web-based video series called If Cities Could Dance, produced by Bay Area PBS affiliate KQED, zooms in on eight urban areas—San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Detroit, Los Angeles, Baltimore, New Orleans and Portland—where performers are fighting to maintain their spaces, their voices and their cultural identities.

Sir Cupcake is the subject of an episode of KQED’s “If Cities Could Dance” series./M.Fayre Photography

On May 8, the series will profile Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus, a Portland-based troupe of clowns, aerialists, dancers, jugglers and contortionists, led by the self-described “bumbling trickster” character Sir Cupcake, aka Jack StockLynn.

“Our shows are glittery, campy and full of love and positivity,” StockLynn says of the company, which is composed of queer and transgender performers and their allies. “We are seeking to uplift our community and ourselves by working together to tell queer stories in a fantastical way.” In this dance-centered series, the circus occupies a special niche: although its eight core members aren’t dancers per se, some have trained in contemporary and underground dance styles, as well as the specialized performance movements circus arts require.

StockLynn, a Portland kid, ran off to Seattle in the early 2000s to study with a clown master at Cornish College of the Arts. He moved back in 2006 to train as an aerialist and acrobat before joining physical theater company Do Jump! in 2010. It was about that time he noticed something was missing in the circus world. Although Portland has a large circus community—“four big studios that teach, and a number of smaller ones,” StockLynn says—“there are a lot of queer circus artists, but not a lot of queer circus content.”

Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus, which debuted in 2015 after he had first produced a handful of circus shows and cabarets, became an outlet for that content. (StockLynn’s alter ego was borne of his search for a gender-neutral term he could use to address his circus students. “I just started calling people cupcakes,” he explains.)

Skyrocketing rents are the number-one issue that StockLynn and his compatriots face these days as they attempt to create and perform circus work in a gentrifying Portland. “I used to rent a space in Southeast Portland; that’s gone now,” he says. “I’m seeing options disappear. We rehearse at a circus space at 10 at night, because that’s when the space is free.” High rents don’t just affect the rehearsal space, either: as performers move further out from the city’s center, the longer their commute time to rehearsal becomes. “Time and space are limited,” StockLynn says, which in turn limits how much time he has to put together a show.

Sir Cupcake, founder of Sir Cupcake’s Queer Circus/Photo Courtesy of KQED

But he’s willing to do what it takes to keep going. When he isn’t running his the circus, he still performs with Do Jump!, works as a solo aerialist/ambient performer/stilt performer and does freelance costume and alteration work. He perseveres because he feels the company serves a need. “A lot of the queer theater you see is awful coming-out stories; not necessarily a love story or a queer-people-being-in-the-world story,” he says. The circus “is about being human together with our community. We don’t just have to do coming-out stories; that’s boring to me. I want to know what’s next after you come out.”

StockLynn’s vision of Portland, if the city itself could dance, is equally broad-minded. “Every neighborhood crosswalk would have stereos on the corner; people in each neighborhood would get together, dance together, learn together, share a sunny or soggy time together,” he says. “I think it would look a little homemade and a lot fun.”

The Portland episode of KQED’s “If Cities Could Dance” series premieres Tuesday, May 8.

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