Circus in the US - Blog

25.08.2008


Note: for pictures of every day of the trip, see the Hebrew blog
Thursday, August 21

We've been home for a week - school starts September 1 - and so does Ramadan. It will be hard to arrange consistent practices during these next two months - first Ramadan, then the Jewish holidays in October. But we don't want to lose momentum, so we'll find a way.

Meanwhile, here are some links to press coverage of our St. Louis tour, in the media there:

Saint Louis Art and Culture

The Saint Louis Circus

Wednesday, August 13 - Thursday, August 14

We left at 7:30 for the airport, where the Arches saw us off with many hugs and tears. All of our flights were on time, comfortable - but it was a very long trip, with four hours layover in Chicago and three in Istanbul. And terrible Thursday evening traffic jams on the way home from the airport in Israel. But we made it and were happy to be home.

It was a wonderful adventure, and aside from experiences and memories of new friends, of a foreign culture, of living in a museum (!), etc., we came away, all of us, with a new appreciation of the difference between an after-school club and a real circus. We saw what is involved in making the transition - hard work, commitment, constant performance before an audience, showmanship (not just skills). And all of us came home ready to step up to the next level.

It is hard to find words for our appreciation of the gift we received over these past two weeks - the many people who worked to make it possible (by raising - and donating - money and contributions of all kinds); the Arches parents and supporters and hangers-on who photographed and fed and hosted and cheered us. Jessica and her whole family for everything.

As soon as we unpack, we'll be ready to explore the next step in this great collaboration.

Meanwhile, in the next few days we'll post here links to press coverage, including video, of the trip.

Tuesday, August 12

The Last Day.

Most of us did most of our packing and cleaning up last night. This morning we went off to the St. Louis Botanical Gardens, to air out a bit after sucn an intense day yesterday. It was a perfect, warm, breezy day (shocking for August in St. Louis), and it was fun to wander the magnificent gardens and greenhouses - and of course to work the gift shop for last minute gifts for family back home. We returned in time for lunch and warm-up for our last two shows in the ring, at 1:00 and 3:00 today. These were our best shows, and left us with a great feeling of accomplishment; Tamer and Ali surprised Jessica by doing back handsprings for the first time.

This was not only our last performance as a combined troupe, but the last performance of the Arches in their present configuration. Matt and Renaldo are both moving on, Matt to Florida State, and Renaldo to professional circus training. They were both pillars of the group both physically and socially, and they will be missed. By us too.

After the second show, we had a workshop with Sariya, the Arches acrobatics coach, and it was amazing what it was possible to learn in such a short time. It showed us that the Arches' impressive feats of acrobatic showmanship are not beyond our reach with proper coaching, a little courage, and calluses.

In the evening - a farewell party in the museum, with a DJ. This turned out to be quite successful, with everybody dancing, doing the limbo... and crying. Interesting how such an intensive experience of working together creates such strong feelings of bonding. Even the student interns who assisted Alex in filming were drawn into the group, and found all kinds of ways to help us, beyond their role as cinema gofers - we were sad to part from them.

We presented the Arches with framed banner commemorating our visit, and presented Jessica with a Meissner statue of the fiddler on the roof, and a statue created by Orly.

Monday, August 11

We spent all morning in re-conditioning ourselves after a few days of vacation, and practicing old and new material. In between, there were various photographers and TV interviews. They are very good at PR here, and invest a lot of effort in it.

We did full joint shows in the ring at 1:00 and 3:00, to full houses, who enjoyed the shows a lot. The second was better than the first - it took us a while to hit our stride. There's something very exciting about performing in a real circus ring to a real crowd - day after day. And we see how that makes the difference between just another after-school club and a real circus.

Dr. Diane King (Iking's mentor, who was with us last summer) brought in three gigantic pizzas for dinner, joining a long list of community people who pitched in to feed and entertain and lodge us during these two weeks. Then we packed up the equipment and drove to the home of Laura Davis, chairman of the Circus Day Foundation board, for a ''Circus Soiree'' - we performed in her back yard for about 60 friends and donors and potential donors, after which we mingled with the guests eating ice cream until dark.

In tonight's wrap-up circle before bedtime, we talked about how far we have come in just two weeks - how many new skills we have tried out and learned, about our friendships with the Arches and their families and friends. There were a number of calls to extend the trip to a month! And expressions of hope that this partnership would become permanent.

Sunday, August 10

Reports on the Chicago trip are very positive. The kids had time to visit a youth circus and to have some free time on Navy Pier before the Cirque du Soleil performance Friday evening. After the show they had the opportunity to meet with some of the performers for a question-and-answer session. A generous donor in St. Louis made it possible for the group to stay in a hotel that night, and Saturday morning they visited a riding stable in Morton Grove that offers bareback riding training. The kids got an introductory lesson, which was pretty neat.

Returning late Saturday afternoon to St. Louis, everybody re-packed their backpacks and divided up for home hospitality among the circus families. Each family planned its own activities - some went go-carting, some to amusement parks, etc. Everyone is due back this evening - we need a good night's sleep, for tomorrow we do three shows!

Hard to believe we are already in the last days of this amazing adventure!

Friday, August 8

Today the group left at 5:30 am for Chicago, where they will visit a youth circus, a bareback riding school, and attend a performance by Cirque du Soleil. They'll be staying in a hotel, and are very excited.
I am staying back in St. Louis for Shabbat. Today I had time to repair and update the Hebrew blog, and to fill in this one. We are already looking at the ending days of the trip - it has gone by amazingly fast, very intense, with very little down time. For our kids it has been a great lesson on what you have to do if you want to be really good - like work hard, and work together, and perform often. The improvement in our skills - and in our presence on stage - is obvious and very gratifying. The bonding among all the kids is wonderful to see.

Also, the general exposure to and participation in the Circus Day operation here is inspiring for all of us. What Jessica has built here over twenty years is truly impressive in its professionalism, its humanity, its impact on the community. I think the kids, even though they don't have a lot of experience, sense that this is a real gift - to be able to be a part of this and to see what is possible.

Thursday, August 7

After an early morning acrobatics lesson, we spent the morning in the Science Museum - a little disappointing, as the exhibits were mostly geared to a younger age level. It is interesting to compare the Science Museum, with its heavily didactic style, with our headquarters, the City Museum (see previous days), which takes care to be almost anti-didactic, but is rich in independent learning opportunities. After a picnic lunch in Turtle Park (named for huge climbable sculptures of turtles), the kids had some time to shop in a mall, and then we performed a show in the evening for the United Hebrew Congregation, a large Reform congregation which combined with three other synagogues to sponsor this performance. The rabbi introduced us and even participated in a pyramid! Despite the sudden rain storm, there was a large crowd, all ages, and their enthusiasm made us feel very good.

Wednesday, August 6

In the morning we stuck our toes in the Mississippi at the base of the Arch, then rode the tram up to the observation windows, which was fun. We spent a little time in the museum of Westward Expansion in the base of the arch, but reading detailed historical explanations is not our strong point as a group. Returning to City Museum, we spent the afternoon in practice, mostly individual and small group. Some of the kids know how to take advantage of opportunities like this; some of them are not really mature enough, and just sort of hang around waiting for direction. There is all kinds of equipment, and almost always someone - either an adult or an advanced student - to ask for advice, help, coaching. Or a lesson to observe. Or a show to watch.

In the evening we performed two shows in a large school gym, sponsored by the ADL. The crowd was a little disappointing, but they had a nice time. All of these shows away from our home base at the City Museum circus ring are somewhat diminished, as we can't do trapeze or tightrope.

Tuesday, August 5

We spent the morning relaxing at Trout Lake - archery, swimming, minigolf, cruise, cards, pillow fights. It continued to be extremely hot outside. After lunch we returned to St. Louis and had some free time to unpack etc., before leaving for the Cardinals' game against the Dodgers. In between we had a lecture with diagrams to explain the rules of baseball. The first five innings of the game were pretty boring, and when the second rain delay looked like it might last indefinitely, we left. The score was 0-0. Later we learned that play did resume, and that the Cards won 5-4 in 11 innings, at midnight. But we had no regrets. We were told by friends who watched the game at home that the TV camera had focused on us and the announcer told about us (they knew where our complementary seats were located).

Monday, August 4

We left first thing in the morning for the YMCA of the Ozarks Trout Lake Lodge, about a 2.5 hour drive south. As soon as we got there we ran to the Alpine climbing tower, where we had a reservation, and where two by two we all got to the top very quickly (we are, after all, acrobats...). Then we spent the afternoon exploring the place, spending most of the time in the lake (the weather made any other option seem like a bad idea).

In the evening we presented the show that was our payment for our stay there. It was held in a gym without air conditioning, and the fairly sparse crowd really suffered. We were sorry they hadn't scheduled it outdoors. Later we hung out, played board games, even watched TV.

Just like in the US last year, it is nice to see the way the two groups function as one. There is a constantly flowing combination and recombination of subgroups - everyone seems comfortable with everyone, even though the range of ages and backgrounds and stages of development is so great. It's like a family, with different aged siblings all hanging out together. This is true on stage and off.

Sunday, August 3

A very intensive day:
Rehearsal all morning, complete, joint shows in the ring at 1:00 and 3:00 - and then an outdoor show at the Muny - St. Louis's huge outdoor theater.

It is amazing that after just a few days of work, we were able to mount an impressive joint show, including joint trapeze and wire walking acts. The Arches have been very gracious in being willing to perform in combined acfs with us even though they are so much more skilled and experienced. And this has really pushed us to do our best and to improve it, even in just these few days. Being here, one can see how important the experience of constant performance, which characterizes the St. Louis circus, is to developing skills and style. Our kids have performed more times in three days here than they normally do in a year. It is very exciting.

The evening show was done at the entrance plaza of the Muny, before the evening's main event, a performance of the musical ''My One and Only.'' The show went well, and a nice crowd gathered. Dinner was catered by the mother of one of the arches, who brought food from a Lebanese restaurant and made us happy campers. But in general the kids have been surprisingly mature about food - they find something to eat at every meal, no matter how weird it seems to them, and don't complain.

After our show we went to our seats in the Muny. The show there had tap dancing, and elaborate sets, but the language was hard for us, and the music from another generation, and we had had a rather long and hard day, so we made do with the first half, and went home and collapsed.

Saturday, August 2

Rehearsals all day; in the evening a pool party at the home of a member of the Circus Day Foundation board, which was really fun and continued until quite late.

Friday, August 1

First thing in the morning we packed up and took our stuff to city hall, where we were to perform for Mayor Slay. The venue was an ornate reception hall adjoining his office, with wood paneling and brass chandeliers. The mayor sat on a couch, and a few dozen staffers sat and stood along the wall, as we did an abbreviated show (15 minutes). Then the mayor spoke, and read a proclamation declaring August 1 2008 as Galilee Circus day in St. Louis.

Back at the museum, we practiced most of the day, had some free time to explore the museum, and packed up again for an early evening show downtown -- we were on a ''kiddy side stage'' for a rock concert scheduled later in the evening. Normally this festival takes place on the levee, but because of flooding in recent weeks, it was moved downtown, and apparently attendance suffered. But the bleachers sort of filled up as the show went on. And then we had to return all the equipment... And did I mention the high heat and humidity?

Hard to believe we've only been here two days!

Thursday, July 31

Today was our day to show our stuff, to see their stuff, and to begin to try to develop a joint show. We were really not prepared to perform - but we did - to a crowd, and came off OK. The Circus Day Foundation operates circus classes and troupes out of a circus ring located in the middle of City Museum. The museum is an amazing place, and has constant traffic of kids and families - so any time any part of the circus wants to perform, they just put up a sign at the entrance, with the time of the show, and a crowd shows up. So we, for our first effort, performed to a full house. The Arches' show, especially their tumbling act, is breathtaking.

The museum, the vision of one man, is located in the first three floors of an old factory building, and houses an incredible, fasciinating, imaginative collection of parts of old buildings salvaged from demolition, machinery, art, collections, things to climb on and through, mazes and slides, pools, gargoyles, craft stations, even just couches for sitting and doing nothing. It is like the actualization of a Dr. Seuss book. No explanations, no recordings, just lots of real, authentic stuff you can feel and climb through and play with and slide down. And it is packed with families and camp groups. And the circus ring is right in the middle of all this, where it seems perfectly natural and appropriate - it is a great symbiosis between the circus and the museum.

Later in the afternoon we went to a public pool where we also ate dinner. The kids had a great time together in constantly changing combinations of Americans and Israelis, hanging out on the deck, but mostly in the water and on he diving board.

Wednesday, July 30

We survived the many hours and the many security checks. Before going to Ben Gurion, we contacted the security department to alert them that we were a mixed group (Jews and Arabs); they asked for a fax with names and addresses and some information about the group, and when we got to the airport there were no hassles, no delays, no special treatment; we got only smiles.

Istanbul, on the other hand, was a hassle, not just for us but for everyone. And all we were was transit passengers. Sort of Kafkaesque, with various clerks running around in seeming confusion, taking our passports and then returning them and then taking them again, x-raying our bags and then checking them all by hand. And none of them wished us a nice day.

We were pretty tired upon arrival to say the least. There was a happy, noisy, delegation of old and new friends waiting for us at the airport, which felt good. They took us back to the circus headquarters at City Museum, where we had pizza and then were taken to our quarters - three loft apartments, two above the museum and one across the street. It seems that this neighborhood, an old industrial area on the outskirts of downtown, is gentrifying, and the old factory buildings are being divided into loft apartments, offices, studios, and shops. So we have lots of space, but unfurnished, except with what our hosts have managed to scrounge - beds, air mattresses, some chairs and tables, etc. For us, it is perfect, and comfortable. Each apartment has a kitchen in some form, so we are able to do breakfasts on our own, and then walk down to the circus - no dependence on buses etc. It's like living in the circus.

Tuesday, July 29

Pickup started at midnight; in Dir el Assad there was a big crowd of family members and friends to see the kids off. Everyone is excited, and a bit nervous. The airport at 3 am is packed - this is peak vacation season.

Circus in the US