Feature Article Vol. V, No. 6

Nik Wallenda Looks Beyond the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls

Talk about a tough act to follow. None is more daunting than a spectacular success of your own.  In a way that is Nik Wallenda’s dilemma.  Not only must he come up with new sensations, to top what he has done in the past,  but he must also find some way of translating the kind of thrills he delivers out doors within the confines of an indoor stage.  There is also, as Nik freely admits, the problem of capitalizing on one’s celebrity without getting an ego.  What it all boils down to is finding ways of expanding the appreciation of his family’s history as well as that of the  circus of which the Wallendas have always been a major part.

NWall016 MS 002As for the first part of this problem, Nik is currently working on developing a new TV special. Like the circus, however, the television world, he  has learned, has change in the last few years.  The people in television are in much the same quandary as circus people,  which amounts to trying to find themselves anew.  As a result, specials, like those Nik has been associated with in the past, have been put on hold.  Nonetheless, Nik is still having meetings with several networks to see what can be made to work within this new world.

In the meantime, his dream, like those so many others hopelessly in love with a world in which canvas (or its modern equivalent) is the most desirable roof, is to tour a tented circus. As work in television, this too, requires meetings and negotiations.  So Nik has been working with various producers with Broadway credentials, all to the point of determining what would be successful.  There have been offers but Nik insists, “failure is not an option,”  so he is being very cautious, weighing all options and possibilities before committing himself to anything.  The caution is a result of recent heartbreaking developments in the world of circus.   “It has been intimidating,” he confesses, and that means “you take a step back and assess the situation.”

But even as he takes that step back Nik has one major advantage that works to his great advantage: he is known around the world.  He has a brand.  His past TV specials have given him an entry and a plausibility of which few performers can boast.

“My dream,” he continues, “is to take circus to the next level, win over the newer generation with whom the circus is not seen in a very positive light.  The challenge is finding a way to change that negative image, or in other words, ‘ How to create the Grand Canyon in a tent.’  That will take a lot of technology, which will take lots of money.”  He says that he does have powerful producers interested in being a part of such a venture.  A tented tour would take a huge investment, so a theatre tour, with a show much like what he has done in Atlantic City and Foxwoods, is a possible alternative.  “We’ll see where that goes.”

In the meantime he supports his family as a motivational speaker. Hearing him talk about his plans for TV specials and  Broadway shows, one can fully appreciate how good he must be at that profession.  He has several corporate events involving this aspect of his talents coming up soon.

But there is always the high wire beckoning him on, just as it has so many others in his illustrious family, He is still working on the seven, attempting to take it to eight.  The eighth member of the troupe will ride on the shoulders of the girl in the chair, so there will be four layers. “ It’s important to me to do it right, as tradition dictates.  In my family you have to do big things; that’s my family history.”  The goal is to take the eight to Monte Carlo

Speaking of family tradition, “We take pride in performing as high as possible. Thirty-two feet is the ideal, the family standard. We also have a longer than usual wire.  It’s not one step on the wire and you’re back on the pedestal.  That’s our family history, too.  Attention to the family name and the traditions established by my great grandfather Karl Wallenda are very important to me.”

There’s a reason for that. “I revere the name. It has opened doors for me.  I want to raise the level of respect we command not just in the industry but around the world and to shed light on that legacy.”

Much of what Nik Wallenda has already accomplished , he has achieved many of those goals. His Grand Canyon walk was seen in 220 countries by 22 million people just in U.S.  The Niagara Falls walk was only shown in the U.S. and Canada, but it was seen by 13  million people, the highest rated live special at the time.  The Chicago walk was carried live in 237 countries.  It is the second highest rated show for the Discovery Channel which happens to be the biggest network world  wide.

In putting Zirkus, his current show, together, Nik explains that he and his wife talked about wanting to pay tribute to both their families’ histories.  They also talked about how to reach the younger generation and make circus cool again and relative to the new generation.  “That’s why I dress the way that I do, in jeans,”  on his TV specials.

When it came to giving the current show a name, and wanting it to be a tribute to his heritage, Nik reasoned that since the French have their Cirque and he was German, why not call it “Zirkus” (the German word for circus.). The title has gotten good feedback.  It is intriguing and different.  “It also sounds slightly like Dr. Seuss.  So we cast the show that way as well.  We wanted people and acts that related to our history, and we decided to use video footage. “

The challenge, Nik acknowledges, is, after the sky walks, what are you going to do in the theatre. Obviously some kind of twist was needed. “We want to be unique.”  Nik’s wife Erendira designs all the costumes, and they have hired technical people from Broadway.  “The difference between us and other shows is that we are willing to spend a little more money to make it look right and different.  We also try to make it a family affair with the cast so they feel connected, by arranging company outings and special events.  We fully realize that we cannot do the seven alone.  We need the other six , and we invest in making them happy and feel connected and knowing  that they are appreciated.  I thank them all after every performance. “

Although Nik Wallenda likes to think big and spectacular, he is genuinely level-headed. “We live in a prideful industry,” he says. “It’s easy to get a big head. I try to be humble.  I know I am no different from other human beings.”  Except for the fact that he tends to walk where angels fear to tread.

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 Photos by Maike Schulz