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Westword
Best of Denver Issue
June 25, 1998
Corner Market
By Susan Froyd

Karen Quest does tricks with ropes and whips, wears leather and yeah, lives 
in San Francisco, but what she ultimately does is really a family act.  
Quest, a kind of career graduate of circus arts, is concentrating these days 
on Wild West rope tricks and cowgirl humor.  She'll be bringing her show to 
the 16th Street Mall this weekend for the sixth annual US West Buskerfest.

Quest's history in vaudeville unravels slowly and colorfully in conversation
like a Morris Louis painting.  A theater major in college, she first learned
how to juggle at age nineteen.  "I learned from a woman who was a mime," she
says.  "I was a really bad clown at the time."

She also mastered fire-eating, which she says is something "you have to have 
a burning desire to want to learn."  She studied at the Ringling Brothers' 
clown school and was once a member of the Pickle Family Circus.  Quest now 
teaches at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts, which was started by the 
Pickles and is the only academy of its kind in the country.  "I teach Circus 
101 - the smorgasbord of circus skills," Quest says.  True to her life-
student status, Quest also studies Chinese acrobatics with Mr. Lu Yi, a
Beijing transplant she calls a "master trainer ingenious Chinese God-man."

But Quest's solo schtick, for the moment, has her decked out in suede and
fringe and, like most street performers, in a constant state of learning new
tricks.  She picked up her first rope tricks at a juggling convention in
Akron, Ohio.  "After that, I stopped going to juggling conventions and 
started doing to the Wild West arts conventions," she says.  Of rope 
trickery, she adds, "I haven't mastered it yet.  I've been doing it on and 
off but have only gotten serious in the last couple of years."  She insists 
she can't do most of her favorite tricks yet - the ones the old pros do at 
the conventions, with romantic names like Texas Skip and Ocean Wave.  "I'd 
sure like to be 55 or 60 years old," she says admiringly.  "Those guys are 
great.  They don't make 'em like that anymore."

If it seems like she's had a wildly varied career, it's all in a life's work
for Quest.  "It all adds up," she says.  "I couldn't isolate one thing.  
Every experience I ever had adds to my ability to perform.  The beauty 
of live performance is that you keep finding new stuff."


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