The Shoestring Circus to Make Its Olympia Debut This Summer

by Molly Walsh

Shoestring’s The Bunion Sisters, photo by Savatgy Photography

This summer, between Olympia’s Marine Drive and Market Street, passersby can catch a glimpse of the Shoestring Circus tent towering tall over Swantown Marina. Complete with the nostalgia of primary hues, geometric patterns and star-adorned entrance, interested spectators are invited to explore the dazzling performance that awaits inside. Established in 2022, the Shoestring Circus is a one-of-a-kind, all-human circus experience and during the 2024 season, audience members can expect family-friendly humor and acrobatics all set to a “medieval fantasy” storyline.

The Shoestring Circus, headquartered in Bellingham, will debut in Olympia with more than a dozen local performances from June 28 to July 7.

The Shoestring Circus is co-owned by four longtime performers, Nicole “Nikki” Laumb, Matthew “Poki” McCorkle, Sadye Osterloh and Justin Therrien, each bringing a decade or more of experience in the circus arts. Laumb, marketing and ticketing director for Shoestring Circus, said from the outset a primary goal for the co-owners has been to combine elements of the old-school circus experience, including the smell of fresh-popped popcorn, twinkling lights and swirls of cotton candy, with a more modern, narrative-based performance that is suitable for any age.

“We just kind of reached a point in our careers as circus artists that we were really interested in seeing what it would be like to kind of take on a tent of our own,” said Laumb. “And see what kind of…new magic or kind of new style of circus we could bring into that.”

Shoestring Circus chose Olympia as a performance destination for their 2024 season, based on personal recommendations, as well as the city’s vibrant arts scene and established circus arts community. And the group is looking forward to incorporating local elements into the show, including puppets rented from Olympia’s String and Shadow Puppet Theater.

Shoestring’s Colin Creveling, photo by Rae Candent

“We’re a community in and of ourselves,” said Laumb. “So we’re just trying to find other communities to connect with that might enjoy what we do and just want to come out for a show. And Olympia really sparked that interest.”

An unmistakable icon for the Shoestring Circus is the vintage tent, which houses a rich legacy of performances in European and American circus traditions, first across Denmark and California, and now in Washington State. The Shoestring Circus tent was bought from the Northern California-based Flynn Creek Circus, a company that Laumb had worked with for almost a decade. Laumb describes the tent’s interior as evoking memories of the past through a striped ceiling, cozy atmosphere and seating for 370 that surround the stage, attributes which Laumb said can be difficult to find in more modern style tents.

Shoestring’s The Dahlias, photo by Josh Lacunha

“It’s a really special tent to me because, just my personal connection to it,” said Laumb. “It’s where I really was…starting to become a full-time emcee and do full-time circus, was with this specific tent. So now that this is actually like, my own tent along with my friends and partners, is really special to me. I think when people come in, you can kind of…feel the history of the tent.”

Shoestring Circus performances tend to be immersive, inviting audience members into the story crafted from the onstage acts. Laumb is the artistic director for the 2024 season, and found inspiration from fantasy fiction, and “bardcore” covers of popular music, reminiscent of a more antiquated sound. These cover songs were played during the intermission of previous Shoestring Circus shows, and quickly became a crowd favorite.

Shoestring Circus 2023, photo by David Vitz

Laumb describes the show as an “epic medieval fantasy” that follows a pair of princes who embark on a quest to defend the “Stringdom,” and throughout the journey, they encounter a colorful cast of performers. Audience members can look forward to guest artists from across the United States, including Las Vegas and the San Francisco Bay, who perform the spectrum of circus arts, including diabolo juggling, tightrope dancing and duo lyra, according to Laumb.

“This is a show everyone can enjoy,” said Laumb. “Like, we really work to make the humor pop for different people, and then also, the circus acts are entertaining to everyone.”

Two co-owners of the Shoestring Circus, Therrien and McCorkle, have long performed together, and for this season they will be revisiting an older performance of theirs, each acting as the other’s imaginary friend. Laumb said the pair will bring together their knowledge of mime and object manipulation for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Ahead of the Olympia performance series, Laumb is excited to showcase the expertise of each performer, which can take years to hone, and craft an audience experience where viewers feel as if they are the ones towering overhead on the trapeze.

“There’s really no bad seat in the place and you’re very much…in the show, in the action with us the whole time,” said Laumb. “So I want it to feel like a bit more of a personal experience when people come.”

Shoestring Circus in Olympia

8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday, June 28 to Sunday, July 7

Marine Drive NE and Market Street NE near Swantown Marina

$16 – Kids, ages 3-12, $32 – Adult, ages 13 and up, $48 – Front Row, all ages


Shoestring Big Top Tent, photo by David Vitz
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