Step right up, boys and girls — and prepare to be amazed! Circus Vargas is coming to town, and it’s bringing a plethora of death-defying feats, high-flying acts and other attractions to the Ventura County Fairgrounds this weekend.

But this year, audiences can expect something a little bit different.

“Steam Cirque is our new show,” says Katya Quiroga, owner and operator of Circus Vargas with her husband, Nelson. “This year we have added the flavor of a story.”

And that story revolves around the clash of orthodox vs. avant garde in a circus-meets-steampunk extravaganza. The usual suspects — acrobats, trapeze artists, jugglers and clowns — cross paths with “these more modern steampunk performers, who try to convert the circus to a more industrial theme,” Quiroga explains. A “battle” for the big top ensues.

Steam Cirque, with its retro-futuristic vibe, innovation and narrative, demonstrates the ingenuity that has kept the Irvine-based business in the ring while its main competitor, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has had to close shop (the “greatest show on Earth” comes to an end in May). Quiroga says it takes a good year to come up with a new show concept and put it into action: creating storyboards, designing and manufacturing costumes (all in house), composing choreography, selecting music, recruiting performers from across the globe. Not easy to do when the majority of the company is touring 10 months out of the year, throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and Washington (with the occasional stint overseas). But they’ve got the process down to an art. Afterall, for the Quirogas, the circus isn’t just a job — it’s a way of life.

And it always has been: Both grew up under the big top. Nelson, from Argentina, is a fifth-generation circus performer. He first worked with Circus Vargas in 1989 as part of The Flying Tabares, a trapeze act that included his brother Alberto. Katya, from Holland, is the daughter of acrobats and a seventh-generation circus performer. After studying classical music and ballet at Holland’s Royal Conservatory, she started on the European circus circuit, juggling with her parents and later doing acrobatics; she joined Circus Vargas in the late 1980s, where she met Nelson. Katya and Nelson married and continued to perform together, and in 2005 purchased Circus Vargas when the previous owners retired.

Today, the whole family travels with the circus, and many of them play a part in the business. Two of the Quirogas’ three children perform: 19-year-old Mariella does the flying trapeze, and 14-year-old Daniella is a contortionist. Nelson’s parents help run the concession stand and Katya’s 75-year-old father is tent master. Many of the performers are family acts, and some have kids in tow as well. Schooling is provided by a full-time teacher who operates out of a mobile classroom, with tutors for additional instruction and assistance.

This warm, family-friendly atmosphere extends beyond the tent. “Every city we go to, we try to give back to the community,” Quiroga says.

“Circus Vargas loves to partner with at least one organization in each town that we visit,” confirms Marketing Director Emily Lavender White. “We’ve recently worked with the Salvation Army in Burbank and the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission. Over the holidays we like to partner with toy drives, such as Toys for Tots.”

White, a Ventura native, helped select the local beneficiary: FOOD Share. For its very first Community Heroes Night on Thursday, May 25, Circus Vargas will host 200 FOOD Share employees, volunteers and guests. In addition, the circus will sponsor a food drive throughout its entire five-day stay. Bring three nonperishable food items to the box office to save 20 percent off the total ticket price.

“Circus is all about family,” Quiroga says. “There’s no bigger joy than helping other families.”

Circus Vargas performs May 25-29 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, 10 W. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. For tickets and more information, call 877-468-3861 or visit