Illusionist assistant Julia Jacobs Barreda presents the next trick by throwing her arms up in the air, indicating that she will fit herself inside the small, octagonal box in which she is standing — to the eye, an improbable and unlikely feat.
But that’s the point, and with the wave of a red sheet, she disappears inside the box. The magician, Rafael Palacios, covers her with the box’s lid and begins to stab through the box with four swords. He dramatically pulls each of the swords out, waves his red sheet, and out pops Barreda in a new outfit. She’s not suffering from any apparent stab wounds.
Following the Circus Sarasota Summer Circus Spectacular performance at the Historic Asolo Theater, which runs Tuesday through Saturday until Aug. 3, Barreda skirts the burning “How did you do it?” questions with a smile.
“To be the person to make the audience forget about everything else and just be mesmerized by something so unreal is a great honor,” she says.
Barreda won’t budge, and Sarasota will never know if there’s a trap door, mirrors or if she’s just that flexible. Either way, the veteran performer makes it look easy.
Barreda doesn’t remember it, but there’s photographic evidence the Sarasota native has been performing since she was 8 months old, when she sat atop an elephant in her parents’, Louann and Jorge Barreda, specialty act. Her parents and their three African elephants are currently touring with UniverSoul Circus, while Barreda performs in Circus Sarasota show alongside her aunt, aerialist Dolly Jacobs.
Barreda was also too young to remember much about her late grandfather, the famed clown Lou Jacobs — he died when she was 1-and-a-half years old. But she has photos of him holding her with “his giant hands,” and she’s seen a lot of video footage.
“He made such an impression on people and was so memorable,” she says. “To make audiences laugh like that, and for people to still remember and come up to me to say they were so touched by my grandfather, is amazing.”
Barreda says she wasn’t blessed with the funny bone but has spent her entire life on the road performing just like her legacy. Barreda was homeschooled until her senior year of high school, when she opted for traditional schooling. Now, Barreda is studying hospitality and technology leadership at University of Florida, but it’s just as a backup plan.
“I definitely want to graduate college and have a degree,” she says. “And as soon as I finish, I have a love and passion for the circus and I hope to return to it.”
Barreda has also been the marketing assistant at Circus Sarasota for three years. When she’s not performing or assisting in event planning and programming, she’s practicing at the Sailor Circus Arena, where she takes and teaches classes or uses the space to practice hula-hoop tricks, her specialty. She’s up to spinning 35 hula-hoops at a time. Barreda is interested in pursuing even greater heights. She’s been studying the aerial arts this summer with her aunt.
“I’ll be (at Sailor Circus Arena) from morning to night finishing my work inside,” she says. “Answering emails, checking calendars, making sure classes are going on time, and then I’ll be able to transfer into the actual ring and stretch with my aunt.”
Performing illusions are new for Barreda, and she’s been really enjoying the art form. She’d hate it if the circus disappeared. Keeping her family’s legacy and the circus heritage alive is important to her — it’s who she is.
“It’s such a big part of our community in Sarasota, and being here at the Ringling Museum shows both sides of it,” she says. “On one side it’s the history, and on the other is the present, how we’re maintaining the circus legacy.”
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