Saturday, December 6, 2008

Señor Wences! and Joining the Circus

Remember Ed Sullivan, the Richard Nixon "twin" (but better, and with the Beatles)? You'll find a gem below from his frequent guest Señor Wences...with perhaps a little lesson or two about performance. It is charming and fun, and he is so skillful.

I took afternoon classes in high school at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis, but never learned to juggle or perform as a ventriloquist. We spent Fridays watching classic films like Nanook of the North, studying master performers. It was enormously enriching, and many fellow students from that era went on to pursue successful careers in the arts, including musician Peter Ostroushko. I was charmed by this story at Peter's website about his childhood fantasy of running off to join the circus:

When I was a kid, one of my many daydreams of how to cross over into adulthood was to run away and become a carny — you know, one of those guys who work in the shadowy seamy underbelly of a touring carnival. Better yet, I’d run off and join the circus. I would picture myself in tights and a long flowing cape, climbing up to the highest point of the big top and doing death-defying stunts as an aerialist, just like Burt Lancaster in the film Trapeze.

At some point, the reverie ended. Real life intervened. I grew up to be a mandolin player. But some 45 years later, that childhood daydream became a reality. My daughter, Anna, went to see a show at Circus Juventas, an all-youth circus school in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was hooked. She didn’t need to run away and join the circus. She got mom and dad to drive her. Willingly. Five days a week!

Before I knew what was happening, I became a “circus dad” - chauffeuring my child all over town and sitting on the sidelines with other circus dads and moms. We cheer and moan and shut our eyes as our kids learn to do daring tricks.
In the process of becoming circus dad, I found out what a special school Circus Juventas is. I’d never seen such a wholesome atmosphere for youth. Toddlers to kids in their late teens work together in a noncompetitive way for one seemingly simple goal: to support each other and to do the best they can do in whatever circus art they’ve chosen.

Part of being a circus dad is, of course, volunteering to help with whatever talents you might have. When Dan and Betty Butler, founders and directors of Circus Juventas, learned that I play the mandolin and fiddle, they asked if I might perform for their summer production of Dyrnwych.

On the outside, I was cool as a cucumber, the hard-to-get sensitive artist. But on the inside, that part of me that was once a kid was jumping up and down screaming, “Yes, run away and join the circus!” That was in 2005, and I’ve joined the circus every summer since. I get to play my mandolin under the big top, and though I’ve been given the option of wearing tights and a cape, I’ve had to relinquish that part of the daydream. Some things are better left to the young.

My friend Sheff Otis, the Dadiator, wrote a piece about kids and circuses for Minnesota Parent. He mentions Circus Juventas and other big (and small) top options up there in the Twin Cities. You can also find a wonderful blog entry called "Dancy Pants" at his site Seven Sidekicks, with this photo of his kids John and Annie. Sheff (and Peter) are Master Dads, recognizing the value of children, the arts, performance, and a lifelong Señor Wences fascination. (Love the way Ed pronounced that name, by the way: "...and now, the Senior Wenches!")


Daughter Number 3 said...

It's so neat to hear Peter O's thoughts on Circus Juventas. And I just have to say how much in general I enjoy the everyday poetics of your blog.

elena said...

ahhh...that makes me so happy – thank you!