Cirkus Circus

My family name has been traced back, roughly eight generations, to The Sirkus Family of Galicia. Leib Sirkus, my great great great great grandfather, was from Zloczów in the Lviv Oblast of Ukraine, which was part of the Austrian monarchy until 1918. It wasn’t until his great grandson, my great grandfather Sam, emigrated to Brooklyn in the early 1900’s that our last name’s spelling was changed to Cirkus. Like the word ‘circus’, but with a ‘k’. Growing up with the last name Cirkus was no blessing in public school. Bullies were relentless with their 'dut dut dutta dutta dut dut duh, dut dut dutta dutta dut dut duh’s - doing their best to tease me with their version of my apparent theme song, “Entry of The Gladiators,” a march by Julius Fučík, or as most kids knew it - circus music. In the last class of my Advertising Design curriculum at ArtCenter, the professor (so to speak), was giving every graduating student their own headline to take with them. “When this Cirkus comes to town, everybody hide,” was uniquely mine. It was at that point when the mean kids stopped saying things like “Cirkus! What are you a clown or something?” I was done clowning around. It was time to take this Cirkus seriously.                                  

Immediately after graduation I moved to New York City to begin working as a Junior Art Director at Korey, Kay & Partners (Korey Kay), a boutique advertising agency at Fifth Avenue and 18th Street. It was across the street from the original Barnes & Noble bookstore and it was where all the hip, hot, new agencies were flocking to in the early 1980’s. Madison Avenue was for the slow-moving, old school behemoths, while Lower Fifth was gentrifying into the coolest place in town. When my mentor and agency co-founder Allen Kay saw the newly designed personal business card I had created before leaving Pasadena - complete with the hand-lettered logotype that I had custom printed in glitter thermography - he told me flat out, ‘It was too circusy.’ Apparently trying to make a name for myself didn’t also mean I needed to be so obvious. My work should speak for itself and with that I will build a reputation, and then my name will follow in recognition. I was trying to advertise a brand without a product.

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