The Circus Comes to Town

- November 21, 2011

“From just down the street on Aqua Fria…”

Circus Luminous, the annual show by Wise Fool, is just a few days away and I was very excited to know that I was invited to a rehearsal of the company yesterday in their rehearsal studios on Aqua Fria, as they prepared for their 9th Annual Thanksgiving Weekend show at the Lensic.

My personal taste has always run to the quirky, my favorite companies being New York’s Big Apple Circus and The Pickle Circus of San Francisco, in addition to Circus Luminous. These three marvels of humanness provide more sheer delight than any glossy, overproduced Cirque du Soleil or Greatest Show on Earth ever could.

It’s not that I wanted to run away with the circus when I was young, because, as a musician, I did get to play for the circus (Barnum and Bailey and Cole Bros. circuses) and learning to juggle something other than my schedule or checkbook is still on my “Bucket List.” It’s that I love THIS kind of circus performing – it’s all heart.

Circus Luminous returns this year with an uplifting story of inspiration and transformation. One night, Mr. G, a curmudgeon who likes to control things including the flowers in his yard, finds himself transported to another world by the fuzzy puffs of dandelion seeds. There he discovers that the simplest beings, from bees to caterpillars to dandelions, can be full of magic and beauty. The circus features aerial fabric acts, acrobatics, trapeze, stilt-walkers, clowns and the break dancing of 3HC Holy Faith. Good, also, to reconnect with Roger Montoya, A.K.A. Mr. G, Director of Moving Arts Española. Ten students from Moving Arts Española, Roger’s nonprofit performing arts outreach program perform on stilts as whimsical insects in this year’s show.

Director Sarah-Jane Moody, a lead character in many past Circus Luminous productions, wrote the story and directs. The thrust of this year’s production is a “good old-fashioned uplifting story,” Moody said. “It’s inspiring to see the blossoming of Mr. G, from bitter curmudgeon to a person who can see the beauty in all things.”

And then there’s the magnificence of the elk. Elk? Yes, a pair of elk as well as bumble bees, a giant caterpillar, a dog named Chicharron, humming birds and dragonflies all appear on Mr. G’s journey.

Jeremy Bleich composed the music for the production and will play keyboards and conduct The Luminous Orchestra, a group of local musicians including JQ Witcomb on trumpet, Mark Weaver on tuba, Scott Barkan on guitar and Paul “Feathericci” Groetzinger playing percussion.

This production is only possible each year because of the collaboration between two great organizations (Wise Fool and The Lensic) and their staffs. This so much more than a co-production. The staff of The Lensic and Wise Fool begin to collaborate in October to hammer out the technical elements of the show. According to Sarah LeBlanc, the Lensic’s production manager, “The Lensic technical staff works with Wise Fool to set up the many different pieces needed for a show of this size,” she said. “This year, we have two projectors in addition to special lighting effects, the set pieces and the rigging for aerial acts. We work together to get it all organized and designed ahead of time.”

A complex show, such as this one, could easily produce tensions in the rehearsal studio, but, as always, the very busy rehearsal was leavened with smiles and good humor as the various professionals went about the task of pulling this very technical show together. Even other staff and cast members got a laugh out of Artistic Director Amy Christian wielding scissors as she made alterations to a costume on one of the performers already up on stilts. This woman is determined!

I am so tempted to tell you of this character, that creature or some bit in the show; but I have promised myself and Wise Fool’s Amy Christian that I won’t give away any of the treats they have in store for you this weekend. I’ll only say that they never cease to surprise and delight, whether in the confines of their modest rehearsal studio or under the lights at the Lensic. The shows always sell out fast, so get your tickets or you will be joining me in saying to yourself, “I can’t wait to see how they will amaze me next year.” Even if you do see the show this year, you will be using this mantra for weeks to come.

The shows run November 25-27 at the Lensic, with show times at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $10-$30 and kids under 12 pay half price; available at,; 988.1234 or at The Lensic, 211 W. San Francisco St.