The Uncle Junior Project is a sharing of research on the African-American circus community sparked by respect for the work of circus animal trainer Emmanuel Ruffin (aka Uncle Junior), who was instrumental in the development of UniverSoul Circus as well as a role model to artists of color. Describing her regard for the figure of Uncle Junior, the project founder and circus artist Veronica Blair says, “In a lot of ways, he is my uncle, and the uncle of all of us who defy cultural and social stereotypes by stepping into the circus ring. I am honored and privileged to tell Junior’s story, and the story of other performers like him.” Blair is now celebrating 10 years of the Uncle Junior Project (UJP) and she describes launching her documentary series as “a rebranding / re-launching to celebrate this milestone.”
Speaking of her series objectives, Blair says she aims to “capture their stories through interview-based documentaries to provide first-hand accounts of their experiences while traveling and performing throughout the United States.”
In this episode, Blair features Danise Payne, the first Black female clown to work in Europe and whose career with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spans 25 years.
Related content: In Center Ring – Episode 9: Veronica Blair: “I Can Push This Further.”