Stage & Dance

For human-cannonball couple, marriage is a blast

A date led to a cannonball career for Tina Miser, right, flying with Ekaterina Borzikova.
A date led to a cannonball career for Tina Miser, right, flying with Ekaterina Borzikova.

Tina and Brian Miser have what you might call an explosive relationship.

"I always say I have to be extra nice to him because he literally has my life in his hands," said Tina, who about 10 times a week shimmies into a shiny blue-and-pink catsuit and slides into the barrel of an enormous cannon.

Her husband then lights the fuse.

"It's every husband's dream to be able to shoot his wife out of a cannon," Brian said with a chuckle. The couple are part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Zing Zang Zoom" show, which comes to Rupp Arena this weekend.

Being a human cannonball is deep-daredevil stuff.

"There is no joking around with it. A loaded cannon is nothing to play with," Brian said.

In fact, he was recovering from several broken bones caused by a human cannonball-related accident when the two met 11 years ago. He was a trapeze artist turned cannonball. She was working as a clerk in the Air Force Reserves. Both lived in Peru, Ind., a longtime winter quarters for circus folks. Their paths crossed when both volunteered to work at an amateur circus.

Shortly after they started dating, Tina started pestering her new boyfriend for a cannon ride. But he wanted to wait.

Brian had gotten into the cannonball business because of the retirement of a longtime cannon man. (There is only so much demand for human cannonballs.)

Largely self-taught, he constructed his own cannon and started to fly.

Unfortunately, he said, you really can't practice.

Other high flyers might be able to hone routines with a wire and a net, but with the cannon, "there is really no way to put a safety mechanism on," he said.

Through trial and error, you work out the correct speed and trajectory.

He won't divulge just how the trick works. No human cannonball worth his (or her) powder would.

"The cannon has been around for more than 100 years" as a circus staple, he said. "It's always been a trade secret. Everybody has their own technique."

After about six months of dating, Tina finally got her way. By then, she said, she knew she had met her match. Brian said his future wife told him they were destined to blast through the rest of their lives together.

Her first time in the cannon was more bust than boom.

"My first shot was probably my worst shot," Tina said. "I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. My arms where flailing. My knees were everywhere."

Brian said he witnessed that first attempt and thought: "There is no future in this for this woman."

But they started to work as a team. "I would tell her everything that she needed to do and put her in the cannon and get her into position before shooting," Brian said. "You don't just climb in there and go ... 'OK!'"

"I started to practice and learn from my past mistakes," she said. "The more experience I got, the better my form became."

Soon they were an official human cannonball couple and got an offer to join the Ringling Bros. family.

For 50 weeks of the year, they travel the country, doing about 10 shows a week. Tina Miser flies parallel to Ekaterina Borzikova as part of the act.

Brian said they go from zero to 65 mph in half a second and land on a giant air bag 90 feet away. Inches count.

"If you are not physically fit and if you are not 100 percent in the moment, it can be dangerous," he said.

Tina said they are not really a daredevil couple outside of work. On a day off in a new town, they are likely to look for a really great park for their daughter, Skyler, 6.

"I think I am pushing my luck the way that it is, being shot from a cannon. I don't need to be jumping out of a plane," she said.

Still, there is something about being shot out of a cannon that gets in your blood, Brian said.

He has been largely retired from flying for a while, filling in only when his wife or Borzikova is sick or injured.

He realized that when he does get that huge adrenaline rush that goes with being shot out of a cannon, "I am in such a good mood," he said.

He's ready again to rocket as part of the family business. Only the next act will be bigger and better.

This time he's going to create a huge crossbow. He's going to be the arrow. And when he flies, he'll be on fire.

As for a second generation of Misers joining the crew. Tina said, she wouldn't want to deny her child a chance to fly, but she would worry.

Brian, however, said, "I'm pretty sure she'll shoot out of a cannon at some part of her life."