March 3, 2024

A Rags to Circus Story

Flying boy wonder Alyk Fuller reaching for the stars via the trapeze
By Ross Boissoneau | Sept. 7, 2019

For most kids, saying “I’m going to run away and join the circus” is an empty threat.
Alyk Fuller isn’t most kids. In fact, at 23, he’s not a kid at all. But he is running away to join the circus.
By the time you read this, the Traverse City resident will be attending his first days of a three-year professional track training at the New England Center for Circus Arts, in Brattleboro, Vermont— one of the most prestigious circus schools in the country and, some say, the world.
His future career choice is unique, but even more so, perhaps, is the story of Fuller himself, a kid who, by most statistics, wouldn’t seem destined to fly, whether in a circus or life.
His childhood was difficult. His father was diagnosed with MS, he lost two stepfathers, his family was impacted by drug and alcohol addiction, and he often moved from home to home. His mom passed away, after a long fight with addiction, three years ago. Fuller said he felt pretty alone.
A turning point arrived when he was 15. The folks at Water's Edge Gymnastics in Traverse City made a deal with Fuller. In exchange for cleaning the gym, he could take free lessons. Gradually, he gained skills in gymnastics, parkour, and eventually began teaching.
He said he found solace and joy in working with youngsters, teaching them some of the same things he’s learned to do with his body and his life.

“Teaching others is huge. I wanted to bring positivity, turn that negative 180 degrees,” he said. Providing for others, teaching and sharing, giving them a sense of accomplishment and friendship helped him as well.
“I was lucky enough to find a community of friends and family who have encouraged me to work hard toward my goals, and [that] helped me serve as a role model to my little sister,” he said.
Also lucky: finding a partner who shared similar dreams and values. “My girlfriend [Michelle Mazzarella] has been a dancer her whole life,” Fuller said. “She moved to Traverse City to work at Interlochen.” They met at the gym and got to know one another. “We finally went out on a date. Now we push each other,” he said.
They’ve pushed each other all the way to Vermont. Both Fuller and Mazzarella were accepted into and are attending NECCA this fall. But it’s not cheap. That’s why, in addition to saving money from his three jobs, Fuller this summer launched a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

“It’s a three-year program, and there’s no financial aid through the government. With no parents to help, it seemed like a pretty improbable goal. I never dreamed I’d be able to do it,” he said.

But as of press time, Fuller had raised $8,285 of the $10,7500 required for the first year’s tuition. He announced the completion of the fundraiser online, saying “I WILL BE ATTENDING CIRCUS SCHOOL IN THE FALL." Thank you all for this amazing opportunity. It is incredible that I will be attending my dream school, working hard toward my dream job, and making my life become the best I can make it.”
Although he’ll need to earn and raise money for the next years, he said the achievement of being able to pay for one year is something for which he’s extraordinarily thankful and grateful.
Fuller said he anticipates a challenging environment at NECCA, learning skills including dance, theatre, trapeze, trampoline, and more. “One thing I do is a lot of flips. I do flips on the ground well, but I’ve had no proper training. I’m in shape and flexible.” So flexible that his audition tape included his landing a splits, which he said is an important skill and demonstration of what he’s capable of.
So after NECCA, what then? He said there are opportunities with professional circus organizations such as Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Italia, and Cirque Mecanics, as well as other industries, including theatre, film and television. “The professional industry is hard to get into,” he said, adding it is important to have good training and multiple skills.
Down the road he envisions using those skills and his entrepreneurial spirit. “My five- or 10-year goal — I’d like to have a street show. Private events — that’s another place you can take circus [skills]. Stunts for film or theater is possible, after you gain acrobatic skills and have air experience.”
He also doesn’t intend to leave his hometown permanently in his rear view mirror. “I want to bring something awesome back to the community. My first goal is to bring something back to the National Cherry Festival,” he said.
Watch ’Em Fly
Interested in seeing Mazarella and Fuller’s NECCA audition video — or boosting Fuller to his fundraising finish line? Click here.


Building the Party

In a recent opinion column, small business ownership expert Mary Keyes Rogers adeptly diagnoses several problems in our Un... Read More >>

Film Review: Bob Marley: One Love

Perhaps the first sign that Bob Marley: One Love might be a suspiciously polished and glowing take on the pop culture icon... Read More >>

The M-22 Chili Challenge

Chill(i) out at the 2nd annual M-22 Chili Challenge at Leelanau Sands Casino on Saturday, March 9, from noon-4pm. This coo... Read More >>

Just Keep Skiing

Don’t let the intermittent snow fool you—there is still plenty of ski hill fun to be had! Crystal Mountain in ... Read More >>