Remember those one ring circuses that scurried into small home towns across America? The one elephant, two-horse shows that still bedazzled us with its newness. The traveling small tent show may have died in America but thanks to families like the Frimers it is alive and well in Italy.
My interest and excitement was piqued when the signs appeared on the main intersections of Pontelandolfo. Signs that showed a scantily clad damsel fighting off the sharpened teeth of a great piranha – or was it a catfish?
“In less than a week,” the signs taunted, the incredible Frimer Acquatic Show would be setting up shop in Ex Campo Calcetto. Not wanting to forget the where and when, I snapped a photo of the signs.
Friday, from deep within the kitchen of our all stone house I heard a voice so loud I dropped the tomatoes. I raced out side. Speakers topping an old blue van – the new circus parade – were encouraging us all to experience the wonders of the circus tomorrow. OK, I didn’t understand a word of what they said, but I bet they were touting the wonders of the circus. Finally, it was Saturday – the day the circus was setting up its tent. After stopping at my favorite salumeria for the best mortadella in the world, I found the most incredible gift under my windshield wiper. Two discount coupons for that night’s performance! It was fate. Jack and I could see the world’s greatest Frimer Acquatic Show for only 7 euro each!. I could barely contain myself. The performance was at 9:15 PM. It was 4:00 PM. How could I wait five hours????
We got into the village at 8:30 – I wanted a good seat and went to the Campo di Calcio – no tents? Cripes, did I read it wrong? Where is the circus? We walked back to a local bar and noticed people heading towards the piazza behind the the village center – the what I thought was a parking lot that holds the recycling bins. We started to follow them – I heard music – circus music! We were getting closer. Like Conestoga wagons of the wild west, blue tractor-trailer sized trucks had encircled the piazza. A line had formed in front of the ticket counter – people were clutching the same coupons I had. The ticket booth was in a truck and about 6 feet off the ground. Folks were standing on tippy toe to hand their coupons and money to the overly made up but pretty young ticket taker girl. She suddenly stopped taking money. No! Were they sold out? No, she was out of change and no one had any. We waited about 5 minutes for a navy blue suited burly roustabout to appear with some change that he pirated from the closest bar. Whew, we were getting closer. I paid and then we looked for the entrance. The tent! I see the tent! Jack pointed out that the tent we used for picnics was only slightly smaller. I scoffed at him – this is the world’s greatest circo acquatico. When we enter the space I am sure the grandeur of the circus will unravel itself before us. The burly blond ticket taker ripped our tickets and we walked down the path to the tent. It was small! I counted about 100 K-Mart style old white plastic chairs set up in 3/4 round – for you non theatre folks that means that the performance space had chairs on three sides of it. The performance space was pretty small but look there is a large yellow curtain behind it.
I bet that lifts up and we see the tanks of water. People slowly filed in. The first night audience was small – about forty of us. Jack and I were probably the oldest, but we have young hearts! There were two men in their fifties or 60’s at the light and sound boards. They looked vaguely familiar – like the dads of the ticket seller and burly blonde ticket taker guy. The music changed, the lights dimmed and the ringmaster appeared. He welcomed us all and a clown – who kind of looked like the ticket taker and light board guy – came out and started an old vaudeville shtick – it doesn’t matter which one. Just know you have seen the Marx Brothers do it – it involves kicks in the butt. All laughed and the music changed to great entrance rumblings.
Suddenly, dressed all in black and juggling madly, a handsome young man appeared. Wait, he looks familiar – it was the ringmaster! He juggled clubs, balls, tennis rackets, rings – the usual and when he dropped them all applauded and laughed. He raced off to the applause of tiny hands.
The clown skirted in with a baby carriage – the baby cried – he picked up the baby. He showed us the baby. The baby squirted water on all of us – including my new white pocket-book. Well it was Il Circo Acquatico. H’mm he kind of looks like the ringmaster/juggler guy too.
Next a chef appeared with a stack of plates – wait he looks familiar. Ahh, the burly blonde guy who took the tickets. Plates, rods, balance – you’ve seen that schtick before too. Nary a plate broke, all were spinning madly and the audience cheered.
A platform was wheeled out and a sexy lady with the usual boobs on a plate outfit appeared. She bent into a back bend and walked up the platform steps on her hands. Wait – she looks familiar? Ahhh the girl in full make-up who sold the tickets! She was a modified contortionist – think yoga and gymnastics with a little double jointed tossed in for good measure. It hit me. Everyone looks alike! They must be a traveling circus family.
What could top a contortionist! The bored five year old member of this talented circus family that’s what. She came out with silver hula hoops and whirled them on her waist, feet and arms. Since she couldn’t be seen above the ring wall, we all stood to watch this tiny tot perform. I figure she is probably on the payroll for tax purposes and needs to do something entertaining. Or the family insists that all earn their keep.
Soon the juggler/ringmaster was back dressed as a magician assisted by ticket taker/contortionist lady. How did she escape from that sack after being locked in a black box? How did he get from the audience into the sack? Whoa! Cheers went up.
Damn, more water from Il Circo d’Acqua – this time the clown tried to clean the audience and sprayed us all. Ugggg
During intermission most everyone exited to go and lood at the tank of piranha and something else that I couldn’t translate. Maybe the contortionist/ticket taker/ magician assistant girl climbed in the tank? We missed that.
We decided to watch the show happening by the popcorn and candy corn vendor – who was obviously the mom, sister or aunt of the performers. Hoping to be discovered by the fathers/uncles who were in charge of sound and lights I entertained the kids around me with my silly faces and freeze game. Well, I thought it was entertaining.
Suddenly the lights dimmed and the music was foreboding. With muscles bursting, burly ticket taker/ twirling plate guy appeared juggling fire! Soon the fire was in his mouth and racing up his arms. He burned up the audience with pyrotechnic surprises. He actually stroked his arms with lit wands – we could see the charcoal black swaths cut over his biceps. The women went ugggg, the kids went “can’t wait to get home and try that mom”.
Indian Jones music floated through the tent. Roustabouts – the burly fire eating guy and clown guy – dragged out big mysterious black boxes. The frame of a coffin was set center stage. Clown guy returned dressed all in black. He became the animal trainer guy and slowly opened a box. Shouts of fear went up as he took out a four bazillion foot white snake. Screams from all as he walked closer and closer to the audience! The magician/juggler/ringmaster guy pulled out a huge unhappy iguana. They kept pulling out creepy crawly things and bringing them into the audience so all could see these fierce creatures. Adults pulled back. Small children reached up to touch them. I gotta tell ya, snakes for a finale – now that is something I have never seen.
This revealing of a different snakes and having them dance, hiss and crawl went on for about fifteen minutes. Ticket lady/contortionist/magician’s assistant girl came out sexily dressed and stepped into the coffin. She laid frozen still as all of the snakes were plopped on her and slithered all over her. I must admit, I got a little turned on from this – don’t tell my husband. But no – I don’t want to try it.
The crowed cheered, the lights came up and the incredible cast of four bowed for all. Ooops, I forgot the little girl – cast of five. Their versatility is what makes them incredible. Everyone doubled and tripled so that the show could go on.
This is a theatrical family that is doing what it loves to do in small towns across Italy. Frankly, I am a little jealous. Wafting nostalgic over my children’s theatre touring days, I wondered if I was too old and feeble to buy a van and tour a one woman show…