Oberlin Blogs

The Family Circus

November 9, 2008

Aries Indenbaum ’09

There's an expectation in circus that you have a life... outside of circus. While theater shows demand hours and hours of presence at rehearsals and such, circus is always a bit more low key.

What do I mean, low key?

Well, the show is a week away and we still haven't choreographed the finale. The set loads in today; the performers use the space on Monday. We go up Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, the next few entries might be pretty circus-heavy. Deep apologies, dear readers.

We're putting up the show in my favorite venue on campus - the Cat in the Cream. The Cat in the Cream is the best coffeehouse / jazz / folk / poetry venue that I could imagine. It's big, yet intimate, seating about 200 people tops. On the stage - which has taken a lot of abuse - there's a Steinway. The back wall is covered by a huge mural of musicians, in a style reminiscent of a more upbeat Orozco. The light and sound operating boards aren't too hard to use, the space gets pretty warm. All the shows are free.

And, they sell cookies. Big, homemade cookies.

The premise for this show is pretty sweet - we're the Johnson Family Circus, a slightly campy vaudeville traveling show. It's got a nice meta quality to it, describing Oberlin (and the circus) to a tee - we may not be blood relations, but we are a family. It's going to be fun - the Mother and Father emcee characters have great chemistry. The acts are solid.

It's a funny bunch - circus always attracts an interesting mix of dance-theater types and math-science types. The folks who bellydance and the folks who juggle share the stage. We've got a nice mix of ages for this show; there were some really talented first years who gravitated towards the circus: Joe is a professional clown, who's traveled from Sri Lanka to South America, doing clowning with Patch Adams; Greg is a relaxed Conservatory student who's a great improviser. We have live musicians - Erika on the piano; Ed on accordion and Jim on drums - all of whom composed music for the show. The leadership is pretty democratic: we determined the show's theme by popular vote, there are 3 directors and a producer who workshop all of the acts. Everyone does their own choreography- the directors and I just clean things up.

Everyone has the same attitude: this is fun.

You need to have a lot of good humor to get through circus, because performances are uncertain. The trick might fail. The jugglers may botch their tricks. The gymnasts might hurt themselves; the acrobalancers might drop each other; Ed might not land his backflip; I might spear myself on my bed of nails... there's a lot of built-in nervousness. That's why folks watch with baited breath for us to fail... and that's why we do it. If you're too serious, the act is dull; if you're too silly, you might hurt yourself.

It's all about balance - sometimes we fall, sometimes we don't. As long as we have fun (and don't fall too hard), everything is okay.

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