Monday, May 16, 2011


I was standing in line for concessions when the show started.  I craned to see what little I could of the opening number through a slit in the curtain.  Futile.  Looking around at the other patrons queueing up for nachos and hot dogs, I wasn't the only one desperate to see what was happening.  One guy ahead of me in line smiled at the rest of us and returned to his seat, his concession chore unfinished.

Rather than a straight review of the show, a few observations and lessons learned:
  • So much of what you see is about trust. When the catcher releases the flyer, and the flyer turns to grab the trapeze, he or she must trust the trapeze will be there. These people trust each other with their lives. Twice nightly, plus matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Circus clowns are more effective at directing large numbers of people than anyone else. FEMA should hire guys like Matti Esqueda and Jon Weiss to run relief efforts on the ground. Things would run much smoother.
  • If you look close enough, you can see the moment to moment adjustments these artists make. They are fully in the moment, fully responsive to the audience and their environment.  When something unexpected (for them) happens, they adjust and keep going.
  • Step back and the performances are seamless, as if these moment to moment adjustments never happened or were planned from the beginning.  Consummate performers.
  • Watch the audience. If you’re in the business of entertaining people and you find yourself at a show (of any stripe) take the time to look around.  Remeber what it is all about.
  • Gestures aren’t wasted. Feet are pointed, fingers extended, posture straight. Even when standing to the side, waiting for the next trick to happen the performers are ON.
  • The circus is Expectation + Uncertainty x Stakes. Or something like that. Or put another way, dramatic tension is the play between expectation and uncertainty. The stakes elevate the dramatic tension to ... to what? I could do graduate work on this one point and be a happy man.
  • Circus kids are incredible. Natural show people, capable of the most amazing feats; unpretentious and humble offstage.
  • The performer who runs the Wheel of Fortune can’t have an "off night."
Note:  This is not the Wheel of Destiny performer from Circus Vargas. Rather, it is the only photo I could find that I could use under a limted Creative Commons license.

In my college theatre program, there was an internship requirement. I hated it then, but I see the wisdom of it now. I think it would be beneficial to a young student of theatre to see how it’s down at the level of pure entertainment, to see the nuts and bolts of a practical, workaday troupe of performers. I believe an internship requirement is a good thing, provided it’s an internship working for the circus. (Or as a stand-up comedian, magician, burlesque dancer, variety artist, etc.)

I highly recommend Circus Vargas. If you haven’t been to the circus in a while – or ever – go. Just go.

Check them out at their website, and "like" them on Facebook!


Circus Mojo said...

I am a student of Jon Weiss from Ringling Clown College in 1996~ Yes back in the 19 hundreds. Wonderful observations. I have one student a Musical Theatre Major interning with CIRCUS MOJO
Thanks for sharing your point of view! I will be taking a second round of interns in September.... perhaps a follow-up?

Andrew Moore said...

That's fantastic!