Make-a-Circus came to Civic Center Park for the 12th consecutive year Wednesday, playing music, juggling, clowning and tumbling in front of more than 100 children, before teaching the youngsters to perform as well.
The nonprofit organization has been touring California for 27 years, each year teaching new lessons about health, friendship, the environment and a range of other topics to young children through a unique brand of interactive circus-theater.
“When you’re in theater, jobs like this are really terrific because it’s a rewarding type of gig and you get to work out in the sunshine,” said Sara Moore, Make-a-Circus’ Artistic Director and a former clown with Ringling Brothers. “You get to teach kids and be really hands on. You get to perform for them and make them laugh, and then you get to teach them, so you’re giving all the way around.”
This year’s performers’ program, titled “Penelope Puddle’s Problematic Playground,” was set in a daycare center ran by a cynical Puddle and follows the students in the program and shows how they help each other through various problems.
At the end of the performance Puddle’s daycare catches fire and she is saved by her students, causing her to turn over a new leaf and become a much more optimistic and friendly woman.
Many members of the Make-a-Circus team are students from its Teen Apprentice Program. TAP is a program that teaches circus skills such as clowning, stilt walking, juggling and acrobatics.
Bobby Hartman is Make-a-Circus’ Program Director and Teen Supervisor. He performed in Make-A-Circus in 1999 and became the Teen Supervisor for the 2000 tour. He stayed with the program during the year and revamped the TAP program.
“(Hartman) took over a Teen Apprentice Program that didn’t have adequate leadership and completely mobilized it,” said Moore. “He got them doing their own production and this coming year they will actually be doing their own circus play.”
Lauren and Julia Yee are 15-year-old twin contortionists from Oakland who got involved in Make-a-Circus through the TAP program.
“We met (Hartman) at a juggling festival, and he invited us to join the program,” said Lauren grinning widely, “so we did.”
Johannes Magr, Make-a-Circus’ Musical Director has been composing original music for every show over the last five years.
“It’s a great opportunity to do a show for kids, it’s a great opportunity to write music, it’s a great living,” said Magr. “We give attention to a lot of kids who deserve to be paid attention to.”
Several Berkeley summer programs including Berkeley Youth Alternatives, the Young Adult Project and the Inclusion Program attended the event.
Children from these camps and various others were taught clowning, juggling, tumbling, and even how to make a human pyramid.
“The best part was being on stage,” said 9-year-old Zachary Tanenbaum, a standout in the juggling workshop.
The children showed off their newly acquired skills in the second performance of the day. The second story was about a woman named Miss Moody who had mood swings and went through many steps to become Miss Chipper.
Acrobatic interludes including “the Symphony of Mood Swings,” “Juggling Pills” and “As the Pyramid Stands” were worked into the script as students from each workshop got their opportunity to be on stage.
Make-a-Circus also sponsors the Clown Therapy Program, a program that teaches physically, developmentally and emotionally challenged youth clowning and the circus arts.
The troupe tours parks throughout California in the summer, and puts on a scaled-down, more educational version of their show for schools when they are in session.
For more information about Make-a-Circus, TAP or Clown Therapy call (415) 242-1414 or write to email@example.com.