This Week — 30 July 2021

As we approach the last vestiges of summer, let’s look forward to some local circus shows and high-caliber online productions!


PRIDE ALL YEAR

August 1


IN-PERSON SHOWS

August 21

  • UpSpring Studio presents Summertime, an outdoor celebration of beach vibes set to an upbeat summer soundtrack at Joe’s Movement Emporium. Featuring new aerial choreography from local artists. Masks are required, and guests will be socially distant during the show. Get tickets at this link.

GATHERINGS

July 29

  • The Fairfax Jugglers will are meeting on Thursdays from 7:30-10 p.m. at the Key Intermediate School Cafeteria (6402 Franconia Rd., Springfield, VA). All are welcome to join this fun and casual juggling meet-up, happening every Thursday that Fairfax County Schools are hosting evening activities. They will likely start the evening outdoors in nice weather, then migrate indoors to the school gym. Check out this map for specific location information.

July 30


TOURING SHOWS

July 10 – August 8

July 30 – August 16

  • Circus Hermanos Vazquez is celebrating its 50th Anniversary with a tour that will appear at Tysons through August 16. Get tickets at this link.

VIRTUAL FESTIVALS

July 30-August 7

  • Enjoy the Virtual Aerial Dance Festival, with workshops in aerial theory, dance, juggling, flexibility, creativity, pilates, improvisation, burlesque and more. There will also be panel discussions on a variety of topics including aging in aerial arts, implicit bias of BIPOCs in entertainment, intersectionality in aerial dance and circus, and aerial and motherhood. Register at this link.

The Circus Ship: Review

The Circus Ship

By Chris Van Dusen

Published 2009 by Candlewick Press

This copy is from Christian’s collection.


In many children’s books on the topic, ‘circus’ becomes synonymous with ‘a gaggle of animals.’

Fortunately, due to Chris Van Dusen’s marvelous illustrations in The Circus Ship, we can forgive him for this egregious generalization.

As a review on the back of the book states, ‘the pictures are the true stunners.’ In each of his illustrations, Van Dusen depicts the vivid story of an ill-fated ship, its determined animal survivors, and the momentarily skeptical townspeople who receive these unexpected guests.

The story was inspired by a real event. In 1836, a vessel described as a ‘steamer and a sailing vessel with the advantages and disadvantages of each’ experienced a devastating fire about a mile off the coast of Maine. On board were more than 90 passengers and crew, as well as a variety of circus animals, who had just finished a three-month tour of the Maritimes in Canada1.

In Van Dusen’s version, the steamboat hits a ledge with a ‘CRASH’ and a ‘BASH.’ As the vessel sinks, the domineering circus boss Mr. Paine demands that his sole crewman Mr. Carrington row him to safety — with no regard for the animals’ welfare.

Luckily, in this completely non-tragic retelling, all of the animals can swim!

I applaud Van Dusen for incorporating vocabulary like ‘bedraggled’ into his description of the wild creatures’ state upon arriving to shore. Many authors limit the sophistication of their prose when writing for ages 4-8, when that age group has much to gain from ‘challenge’ words enveloped by strong visuals.

The town that receives the animals is based on the island of Vinalhaven, from whose coast residents witnessed the real-life steamboat catastrophe. It’s unsurprising that despite the event’s serious casualties (31 people drowned, while all of the animals were lost), rumors persisted about the animals’ true fate.

Van Dusen embraces this adventurous notion of townspeople suddenly finding ostriches, monkeys and elephants in their midst. The accompanying pictures capture incredible perspective and depth as the animals work their way into the town’s heart — making this a great book for young readers to get lost in.

For a read-aloud, I find some of the book’s four-line poems to be clunky and lazy, in keeping with its convenient plot devices (see: tiger rescuing a child from a burning shed to earn the town’s trust).

The predictable story nonetheless bears fruit in a splendidly illustrated spread featuring 15 cleverly hidden animals evading their red-faced owner’s retrieval (like any good villain, Mr. Paine charts a furious rowboat into the horizon).

BOTTOM LINE:

While I loved the colorful illustrations and the spirit of the book, I wouldn’t recommend it as a stellar read-aloud on the topic of circus. Kids who love animals will adore the detailed drawings. The human characters have very little depth, but for those who love seeing a mean-spirited man get what’s due, this is a cathartic read.

CITATIONS
  1. Harry Gratwick (2010, June 15). ‘The Tragedy of the Royal Tar: Maine’s 1836 Circus Steamboat Disaster.’ The Working Waterfront Archives. http://www.workingwaterfrontarchives.org/2010/06/15/the-tragedy-of-the-royal-tar-maines-1836-circus-steamboat-disaster/

How do we decide which books to review? These book reviews are not paid by either the authors or publishers. We do sometimes receive a free book though, which is pretty great. We love books. We are not obligated to post any review, positive or otherwise; we post reviews because few others seem to be doing so and we wanted to read circus book reviews. We hope they’re helpful to you as well. Some books were already part of our collection and we wanted to show them off. Some books we found in a small free library or the thrift store or bought for ourselves like capable adults. If you’d like us to review your book, or a book of your choosing, email us at circusdistrict@gmail.com.

Dispatch from Seattle, Part Four

Note: This is the final article in a four-part series. Read part one, part two and part three here.

LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE:

This series will explore how circus communities are navigating a future fraught with unanswered questions, using collaboration and determination to draw their own road map through immense obstacles. Like every other U.S. city, Seattle saw its circus events, workshops and performances grind to a halt in March, as the pandemic forced almost all circus artists to put their usual social and professional activities on hold.

We’ve seen how important [circus] is to so many people. I feel a huge responsibility. I can’t just walk away from this.

BEVERLY SOBELMAN
Versatile arts, photographed prior to the pandemic by David Inman.

Beverly Sobelman is the executive director of Versatile Arts, an aerial studio she founded in northern Seattle in 2007.

Getting through the pandemic has been a trying experience, but Sobelman said her peers in the circus community have been there to collaborate, commiserate and overcome the unimaginable circumstances.

“I’ve worked hard to try to get the Seattle community to be very cooperative as opposed to competitive, because it’s a huge market,” Sobelman said. “There’s no reason for us to see each other as competition.”

In the wake of the shutdown in March, Sobelman worked with the American Circus Educators’ safety committee to develop a Covid resource kit for circus schools. This industry-specific document aimed to provide much-needed guidance for spaces like Versatile Arts, which was able to reopen its doors in the summer.

With many circus schools struggling to adapt the guidelines for fitness centers and climbing gyms to their unique spaces, Sobelman said she had to blaze her own trail in lieu of specific governmental recommendations and enforcement.

“I feel like we did an amazing job, because our students said our studio was one of the only places they felt safe outside of their own homes,” Sobelman said. “It makes sense, because when you run an aerial studio, safety has to be one of the things that you think about all the time anyway. So this was just a new way to think about safety.”

performers from a ‘silver foxes’ show at Versatile arts prior to the pandemic. Photo by John Cornicello.

Versatile Arts also survived Washington’s second state-mandated shutdown from mid-November to early January. But the past year has taken its toll.

Even though she received grants and government aid to stay afloat, Sobelman said ‘hidden costs’ continue to burden small businesses like hers.

“Most of my employees are now filing for unemployment, which I want them to do. And yet, the amount I pay for unemployment insurance is going to go up dramatically for years to come,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will take us to recover financially.”

Sobelman has consistently operated her business at a manageable scale. But no amount of business savvy could prepare her for the trials of 2020.

“Versatile Arts has always been profitable. I just started small. And we’ve only ever grown to where we could already support the size,” she said. “We’ve always been in the black. So to be in this position of having to ask for  help is very humbling.”

Sobelman set up an online patronage program that is currently yielding $1,000 per month from 30 donors, who were grateful for the opportunity to help defray her operating costs during this time.

While the challenges continue to mount in the new year, the temporary closure of circus businesses has magnified the role they play in maintaining their students’ physical and emotional health.

“We’ve seen how important it is to so many people,”  Sobelman said. “I feel a huge responsibility. I can’t just walk away from this.”

“I’ve tried to leave circus many times,” she said, recalling short-lived stints in the tech industry and graduate school. “Running a circus school is more fun.”

Versatile Arts will present a virtual retrospective of their past shows featuring ‘aerialists of a certain age’ in Silver Foxes 2021: Looking Back, Looking Forward tomorrow (3/13) at 9 p.m. EST. Get tickets at this link.

Dispatch from Seattle, Part Three

Note: This is part three of a four-part series. Read part one and part two here.

listen to this article:

This series will explore how circus communities are navigating a future fraught with unanswered questions, using collaboration and determination to draw their own road map through immense obstacles. Like every other U.S. city, Seattle saw its circus events, workshops and performances grind to a halt in March, as the pandemic forced almost all circus artists to put their usual social and professional activities on hold.

I believe that in the burlesque industry especially, we make art that is political. We make art that is reflecting the world back at itself and turning it upside-down.

MOSCATO EXTATIQUE
Moscato extatique, ‘the them fatale of Burlesque,’ photographed by derek villanueva.

Unsurprisingly, venues for live entertainment in Seattle face an uncertain future as they have grappled with unavoidable financial stress and organizational rebranding in the past year.

Re-bar, a nightclub that hosted cabaret, music and LGBTQ+ events for 30 years, announced the closure of its longtime location this past May, with hopes to reopen elsewhere in late 2021.

Burlesque performer and educator Moscato Extatique, known as ‘The Them Fatale of Burlesque,’ said that Re-bar was the site of their first live performance.

“Re-bar has been such a staple in our city for drag, burlesque and cabaret nightlife,” Moscato said. “The whole city — the arts community and the nightlife community — really had to grieve that loss, and the reality of the effects that the pandemic is having.”

Moscato is a member of the burlesque troupe Mod Carousel, which immediately responded to the shutdown by shifting their focus to virtual spaces.

“We definitely just adapted to the times and hit the ground running,” they said, noting that the March 28th edition of their show 6 Foot Cabaret quickly surpassed 100 viewers, requiring them to upgrade their Zoom account mid-production.

As the shutdown dragged on, Moscato said that being stuck in the digital realm didn’t always feel like artistic punishment.

“People are finding new ways to be more innovative with their art, discovering ways to present something that you can’t do on a physical stage live,” they said. “I think that’s where I’m very inspired, and I want to continue to do more of that work.”

Moscato extatique by wittypixel photography.

For Moscato, 2020 initially felt like it would be a breakout year, one where their many years of training in dance and burlesque were starting to pay off for their solo acts and group performances.

“We had a European tour on the books, and that would’ve been my first time out there,” Moscato said. “I was just so excited to finally experience that, and show my art to another audience. But of course, those plans were foiled.”

Moscato had also been invited to perform in Las Vegas in the Burlesque Hall of Fame‘s Tournament of Tease, “which is considered like the Olympics of our industry,” they said. If not for the pandemic, that competition would have happened in June 2020.

Brick and mortar performance spaces are trying to roll with the punches. Alternative venues like Theater Off Jackson in Seattle’s International District have invited local groups to co-produce online shows in their otherwise dormant spaces.

Moscato said that organizational efforts to meet the unique challenges of Covid — while also boosting diverse representation in the arts — have not gone unnoticed.

“I believe that in the burlesque industry especially, we make art that is political. We make art that is reflecting the world back at itself and turning it upside-down,” Moscato said. 

“I want to see more black and brown bodies on stages virtually and physically. I want to see producers not tokenizing black and brown bodies,” they said. “I think that that is something that is going to carry on into the future.”

Moscato’s upcoming shows include For the Love of Marinka — a benefit show for the late burlesque star — on March 6 at 8 p.m. EST, Booklovers Burlesque: Once Upon a Tease on March 6 at 10 p.m. EST, and The Noire Project presents Black and Brown Excellence on March 12 at 7 p.m. EST.


Come back next week for Dispatch from Seattle, Part Four, which profiles Versatile Arts owner Beverly Sobelman.

Dispatch from Seattle, Part Two

Note: This is part two of a four-part series. Read part one at this link.

LISTEN TO THIS ARTICLE:

This series will explore how circus communities are navigating a future fraught with unanswered questions, using collaboration and determination to draw their own road map through immense obstacles. Like every other U.S. city, Seattle saw its circus events, workshops and performances grind to a halt in March, as the pandemic forced almost all circus artists to put their usual social and professional activities on hold.

A performance at Arcadia aerial studio. Photo by Marcia Davis.

Despite the camaraderie and mutual support among many circus organizations in Seattle, the pandemic left some businesses in the dust.

Charly McCreary opened her studio Arcadia in 2018. She is the managing director of The Cabiri, an aerial and dance troupe she co-founded in 1999.

In designing a home for The Cabiri’s classes and shows, McCreary built Arcadia with a unique theatrical feel that nourished her community’s imagination. 

Mirrors lined the studio’s walls for rehearsals. Curtains, lights and sound equipment “reminded us that these art forms exist out of storytelling and performance,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, McCreary spent most of her time applying for grants and government aid to weather the storm.

“I really appreciate the weight and heaviness of rallying yourself to apply for funding when your heart is just so crushed about what’s happened,” she said, describing the months-long void of physical classes and performances.

Through financial aid from groups like 4Culture (a cultural funding agency) as well as support from the state and federal government, McCreary was able to reopen Arcadia in July.

Unfortunately, Arcadia’s lease was up in December 2020, and McCreary’s landlord asked her to vacate the space by the year’s end, leaving her future prospects in limbo.

“For us as a volunteer-run non-profit, it’s really hard to look good on paper to a landlord,” McCreary said, noting that Arcadia’s annual revenue was half of what it had been in 2019.

“It’s a sad story, and not an uncommon one,” McCreary said. “A lot of facilities have closed in 2020 because of Covid and unsympathetic landlords.”

Charly mccreary performs on lyra at arcadia. Photo by bogdan darev.

While she lost her studio, McCreary said the strength of the Seattle circus community — which relied heavily on its interdependence to expand and build legitimacy in the late 90s and early 2000s — does give her hope.

“I continue to be in awe of the cultural and artistic community as a whole, in terms of its creativity and its adaptability,” she said. “Ultimately, that’s what will continue to get us through crises like Covid.”

McCreary’s background paved the way for her discovery of circus arts. Her childhood in northern California was spent performing in musical theater productions, but she took a break from theater during her college years in Seattle.

Upon graduating, she craved a creative outlet. During a trip to Burning Man, McCreary fell in love with fire dancing. Back in Seattle, theatrical circus groups like Circus Contraption, Unidentified Moving Objects, and Magmavox (a fire performance ensemble) inspired McCreary to build The Cabiri’s shows around mythology and storytelling.

In addition to producing shows inspired by the mythologies of extinct and endangered cultures, Arcadia also served as a hub for groups like the Bulgarian Cultural and Heritage Center, the Rahaa Persian Dance Group, and the Seattle Kokon Taiko drumming ensemble.

“Arcadia was never intended to be a school,” McCreary said. “The tagline is ‘A Sanctuary for Arts and Culture.’ That’s what it always was. And that’s what it absolutely will be if it rises again someday.”


Come back next week for Dispatch from Seattle, Part Three, in which we hear from Seattle burlesque performer Moscato Extatique, who is embracing the challenge of reaching audiences through digital media.

This Week — 12 February 2021

This week is all about traveling without moving. Visit Seattle for a community circus update, drop through Brooklyn for a Valentine’s Day showcase, and fly to Japan for an innovative dance/juggling performance!


READ

NEW SERIES


WORK


LEARN


ATTEND

February 12-14


WATCH

February 12 and 13

February 13

February 14

  • ABCirque Presents: My Heart Beats Circus: Infuse joy into your ‘celebration of love’ night with this spectacular evening of entertaining acts and wondrous feats from The Muse in Brooklyn. VIP ticket holders get access to an exclusive show starting at 7:30 p.m., while the broadcast for the general public starts at 8 p.m. Get tickets here.

February 15

February 19

  • The Crown is a short circus film produced and directed by aerialist Veronica Blair that documents a young girl’s journey of self-discovery. The film boasts a stunning all female cast of circus artists of African descent. Watch this video premiere on YouTube at 7 p.m. EST. Performers include Summer Lacy, Copper Santiago, Shenea Stiletto, Susan Voyticky and Darielle Williams.

February 20

  • Afrotease: The Black Label is a burlesque showcase for BIPOC performers based in Richmond, but currently hosted in cyberspace! This edition stars Alotta Boutté, featuring special appearances by Bebe Bardeaux, Gigi Holliday and many more exceptional performers. This event is 18+ and will be ASL interpreted. The show goes from 9-11 p.m. EST. Tickets are sliding scale. Visit this link for more information.
  • Bill Irwin returns to your computer screen with his playful and inquisitive production of On Beckett/In Screen. In this virtual show, Irwin utilizes his mastery of physical theater and his lifelong fascination with Samuel Beckett’s writings to great effect. This is a production of the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City. Reserve free, donation-based tickets at this link.

February 12-21

  • Discover the world of a lonely clown quarantined on an old theater’s stage in A.Lone, a one-man theater show produced by the Contemporary Circus and Immersive Arts Center out of Troy, NY. Get tickets to watch the production at this link (the stream is viewable for 72 hours once purchased).