Bringing in Bucks for the Big Top: Circus Flora’s Flora Dora Gala

Circus Flora has been entertaining St. Louis audiences for more than three decades. But beyond the big top, Circus Flora has a number of charitable functions, including the Clowns on Call program that cheers up hundreds of hospitalized children every year. To raise money for these endeavors, the Circus is throwing their annual fundraising gala Flora Dora on Friday, September 22nd. We caught up with Circus Flora’s Executive Director, Larry Mabrey.

The Arts STL: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with Circus Flora?

Larry Mabrey: I’ve been the Executive Director for Circus Flora for a little over a year and half, probably about 20 months now. My background has been in theater and performance, also direction and being a producer and running a theater company. I had founded a theater company here in St. Louis, Avalon Theater Company, that we closed in 2012. After that, I worked for about a year and a half with West Virginia Public Theater in Morgantown, West Virginia.

After I came back to St. Louis, the circus was looking for a new executive director, so I interviewed and it seemed like a really cool place to work. It has been, too. That was in January of ’16 and it’s been a great 20 months—lots of interesting and challenging things.

Yeah, I bet. Were you ever involved with circus arts?

I was not, up until I started working for Circus Flora. I mean, I’d seen the circus and I’d tried a little juggling, of course. Most people in acting school do some of that, but I was not really a circus person.

Did you get to visit the circus as kid?

Yes, I grew up in Southern California and I would go to see Ringling Brothers and also Circus Vargas. I had been to see Circus Flora years ago when my son was little. I’ve lived in different cities around the country and I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil in different places and Big Apple Circus, so I’ve always enjoyed circus, but I just was not involved with it.

What we can expect from Flora Dora?

It’s going to be a great event. We are going to be at the Palladium on Friday, September 22nd, starting 7:00 pm. It will start off with a cocktail hour and then fine dining, courtesy of Butler’s Pantry. We’ll have a silent and live auction with mobile bidding by gesture. There will also be circus arts entertainment, with dancing and music. The awesome thing about our entertainment is that the two featured artists we have performing this year have never worked with Circus Flora before. We are very excited to showcase some new talent. There will be other artists that our St. Louis fans have never seen before. Our Clowns on Call, which is one of the outreach programs that Flora Dora helps to support, will be there entertaining and having a lot of fun with the guests.

Clowns on Call is an outreach program with Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and Mercy Hospital. We’ve served over 5,000 kids and families in the first five years. We’re very proud of that program. It’s really, really astonishing the difference that it can make in people’s lives especially as the children and their families are going through difficult times.

Wow, sounds like a great initiative.

We also have a program called Share the Circus where we donate tickets. We usually donate about 3,000 tickets a year to underserved populations and children and families throughout the community each year to our big top show. The funds help to defray the cost of these tickets for these people, so those are the two outreach programs that Flora Dora really goes to help support.

This year the event is sponsored by Edward Jones and SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation. We still have sponsorship opportunities available if people are interested and organizations would like to get involved, can still do that. They can purchase tables and tickets or make donations right through the website,, or they can contact our Director of Development, Karen Shoulders at 314-289-4043.

Great! We heard a little bit about from your publicist about the new location, could you tell us more about that?

Sure. We are very excited about our partnership with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and through that partnership, we are currently in the works to develop a new location, a dedicated space for the big top and for Circus Flora. The target is only maybe 350 feet from where we currently have been performing on that parking lot at Powell Hall…I [should] say, it’s a little bit south and east of there. We’re looking at the corner of Washington and Josephine Baker. We’ve been meeting with architects and designers and getting ready to kind of decide on the final plans, you know, what it’s going to look like in this first year. The plan is for that site to be ready for us to perform our show in the spring instead of the summer, try to move our show a little earlier where the weather’s not quite so inhospitable.

Oh, okay, so it will allow you to do spring shows. That’s a great idea. Anything else that you’ll be able to do it at the new location that’s different?

Just being in this new location allows us flexibility of our schedule and then it also allows the big top to say up longer and the tent may be used for other events and concerts—who knows what, a variety of things. It also gives us the opportunity to perhaps develop some events for later in the year. We’re looking at all sorts of plans and ideas, I think this first year is going to be an interesting experiment to see how this site will actually work. It takes a while to find what’s the best arrangement and the best setup once you have come onto a new site, so we’re very excited to come up with whatever we need to do to maximize the value of that new location for us.

That’s exciting news!

Something else I forgot to mention: when we do our show, we do have a couple of special performances. We do what we call a peanut-free preview before we open where there’s no allergens. The tent is specially cleaned and we keep all of the nuts off-site until after this, so we call it a preview performance. For people with allergies, this is really terrific. Some people couldn’t bring their kids to the circus because of peanut allergies, so that’s one thing that it also helps to support. Then there’s our “sensory friendly performance” for people on the autism spectrum. This year we added a visually impaired adaptation. We partnered with MindsEye Radio to do auditory description of the circus and so we’re expanding this idea also, trying to make it a more inclusive performance. You know, we would like to add other communities, perhaps independent adults with Downs, things like that or those types of communities to really make this a special and all-inclusive performance. So that’s a part of our production run as well.

That’s awesome. Larry, thanks so much for talking with us today. | Karl Beck

The Flora Dora gala fundraiser is Friday, September 22nd at the Palladium. Tickets start at $150 (under age 40) or $250 (over age 40) including cocktails, fine dining, and entertainment. For more information, visit

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