This Wacky Family Comes Home

Oakland Tribune


This wacky ‘Family’ comes home

By Harriet Swift

Tribune theater critic

In its rich, wacky and sometimes precarious 17 years, the Pickle Family Circus has seemed more like a family member than an entertainment medium.

Saturday night, bringing up the curtain on its annual holiday show, the San Francisco troupe that invented the whole “new circus” movement revealed itself now as a sleek sophisticate, rather like the charming young girl who leaves for college in the fall and returns, transformed, at Christmas break as a near-adult, suddenly and magically worldly.

This newest edition of the Pickles wears its sophistication lightly, with the trademark bent for slapstick and ensemble work shining through the entire program. The appealing combination of elegance and zaniness could be a reflection of this show’s co- directors, the Chinese circus master, Lu Yi, and the Pickles’ co-founder, Larry Pisoni, aka “Lorenzo Pickle,” returning after five years.

The performers march on stage and into the audience, ostensibly a traveling show that pauses in its trek through some vaguely Southwestern mountains to do a show. Backed by the always superb Pickle Family Circus band, the show proceeds to showcase all the touchstones of circus magic—clowning, tumbling, trapeze flying, hoop diving, juggling and balancing.

The skill acts have gotten even better than last year, the first year to show Lu Yi’s work with the troupe. The entire cast does hoop diving, the amazing stunts that have humans passing through smaller-than-hula-hoop-size hoops, sometimes in concert, sometimes in contortions that you would swear couldn’t really happen. The ease with which the performers glided through the hoops set the tone for the entire show.

It’s hard to pick out a “most spectacular” segment in this show. Contortionist Zhuo Yue did simply unbelievable things while balancing herself sideways with one hand with a stack of glass bowls on her head. Similarly Huang Zhen and Jens Larson performed incredible feats on poles—all with the grace of ballet dancers. Montana Miller, a new recruit who trained at France’s prestigious Centre des Arts du Cirque, teamed up with Larson for an aerialist act on the rings that left most of the audience gasping.

Some of the acts are done with such offhand grace that one almost forgets they are feats. Cindy Marvell, a juggler new to the circus, began her work with some routine baton-like twirling then casually went on to juggling pins and balls, slowly revealing a loose-limbed yet awesome talent for keeping things in the air, while her delighted little girl grin makes you think she’s not even aware she has an audience.

The whole show is held together by a clown triumvirate of tiny Pino (Diane Wasnak), Jeff Raz and Laura Pape. Pino, full of wild energy, plays off the milder Pape and avuncular Raz.

The Pickle Family Circus has built a reputation as the Bay Area’s favorite non- traditional Christmas show, wowing audiences from eight months to 80 with their generous, happy spirit.



The Pickle Family Carries On

The San Francisco




The Pickle Family Carries On

By Steven Winn

Chronicle Staff Critic

After an arresting opening that grows from Doug McKechnie’s pre-curtain rain forest soundscape to a picturesque journey of shadow puppets across designer Barbara Mesney’s mountain terrain, Larry Pisoni’s dialogue-free production rattles through a series of acts stacked up like cards in a deck. Some of the acts—the sinuous ripples of snakeskin-clad contortionist Zhoe Yue, the spirited flights of flying ring performers Montana Miller and Jens Larson in Beaver Bauer’s richly silly bird costumes festooned with skirts of hopping blue feathers—speak for themselves.

The moon and stars that twinkle over the set’s jagged mountains serve as unintended reminders that the fates have dealt the Pickles more than their share of losses in ’91. Had the gods concurred, this show would have served as William Ball’s directorial return to San Francisco five years after his stormy departure from the American Conservatory Theater. Ball died over the summer.

Gone on to other things are Pickle co-founder and longtime director Peggy Snider (to whom this production is dedicated), artistic director Judy Finelli, and Joan Mankin, whose Queenie Moon clown character has greatly enlivened the Pickle scene for the past few years. A Saturday afternoon teeterboard mishap even knocked Jay Laverdure off the opening night bill.

But on the show goes, of course, with its daringly understated opening. As the gushing rains in McKechnie’s soundscape give way to piping birdcalls and Amazon chattering, the curtain opens on an empty, silent stage. As Kurt Landisman’s lighting gradually turns night to gray dawn, a troupe of lightly drumming trekkers appears on a distant slope. They grow larger and louder as they cross ridges of hills, eventually arriving onstage as the company—including a human giraffe—beating out their infectious polyphony on drums of various sizes.

Costumer Bauer threads a tropical motif through the show. The pole climbers, led by a beaming Huang Zhen, are outfitted as capering monkeys for the Act I closer. The teeterboard ensemble, in another witty touch, does their leaps and flips as bug-eyed frogs in Day-Glo skins.

Juggler Cindy Marvell makes five white balls dance and bubble, in mid-air and bounced off a round platform. Yue’s snaky “pagoda of bowls” features several moves with the bowls balanced on the bottom of an upturned foot that calmly taunt the logical limits of body flexibility. Larson’s effortless upper arm strength and Miller’s agility on the rings are a second act high point.

Clown Pino (Diane Wasnak) skitters around in a purple morning coat. Her clown partner Jeff Raz is done up as a 19th century Venetian in brim hat and thick black mustache. Wasnak, a weird fringe of hair plastered to her white forehead above a perpetually dazed expression, is a skittering force field of comic energy with Raz and Laura Pape as occasional accomplices. Wasnak is a great ensemble clown, feeding off the other performers.


Family entertainment. Conceived by Larry Pisoni. Directed by Lu Yi and Larry Pisoni. (Palace of Fine Arts. Through January 4.)



Shea Checks In, Checks Out, Runs Away To Join the Circus

Shea Checks In, Checks Out, Runs Away To Join The Circus – September 4, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Freedom Family Circus after a performance.

Hiya Arcata!

We are finishing our last week of performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest and oldest performance arts festival.

I am launching two brand new circus companies at the festival, Freedom Family Circus and Xtreme Sideshow. Gathered together are the best circus performers I could find across America. From Chile, but now residing in Arcata we have Periko Circo Express.

A former Marching Lumberjack and HSU student now operating out of the Bay Area is Margarita Licon. For the first two weeks we had Cindy Marvell from the Boulder Circus Center, who has now been replaced by Jacob D’Eustachio, who studied at the Quebec Circus School and performs with AgaBoom.

Hermee the clown is a master balloon twister from Phoenix, Ariz. Also from Phoenix is Harvey Gross, the grossest man in Sideshow. You may have seen Luther Bangert from Portland, Ore. performing recently in Arcata with the Wanderlust Circus. With the combined forces of these eight performers we have taken the Fringe Festival by storm!

We have two shows a day, a matinee for kiddies and an evening show for adults. The shows have been received very well, especially the kids’ show. Two newspaper reviews, three magazine reviews and four online reviews, and our show has been given a four-star rating.

Lincoln and Wallace do battle.

Our show changes daily with rotating emcees, a Circus Olympics theme on Fridays and a Sh*tfaced Sideshow on Saturday eve. We have had returning audience members and celebrity audience members. including the world’s most tattooed woman and Thomas Blackthorn who had eight Guinness records for sword swallowing variations such as swallowing a jackhammer.

During time off between shows, we all hit up the Royal Mile for street performing and publicizing.

Brings a tear to me eye to be closing the FreeLove Circus Show, a Humboldt County performance group I started in 2007 in the wake of my mothers death.

Many of the performers in the FreeLove Circus have moved on to bigger and better shows after their engagements performing around the Pacific Northwest.

There seem to be so many up-and-coming circus and comedy related shows in the Humboldt area that there is no time for audiences to offer support to the FreeLove Circus.

I give big thanks to all the cast members and audiences who have enjoyed the FreeLove Circus, but alas the shelf life of this company has come to an end.

Juggling on the bridge.

Look out for many new projects coming soon. Arcata’s very own Circus Emporium houses a vintage collection of oddities and a traveling roadshow. We have launched five national tours since January and gathered a most prestigious group of Circus Sideshow performers, whom will be visiting Arcata on the regular.

As I move my business interests beyond the Emerald Triangle to strange and interesting areas across the nation and internationally, I hope to return to smiling faces at my headquarters in quiet Arcata.

I will never forget the support I have received since I joined a small juggling club at the Arcata Farmers’ Market in 1999. Thank you Arcata for your inspiration, creativity and love :)

Yours truly,

Shea Freedomhowler

Intercontinental Super Clown and Human Marvel



Passing By: Be Careful, It’s a Juggle Out There

The Home News: Region

Thursday, June 10, 1993

Passing By

Peter Genovese

Be Careful, it’s a juggle out there

NEW YORK—Giant eyeballs and a rather large nose on sticks, dancing. Raffishly- dressed sax and tuba players, playing. A serpent-like creature, high above the crowd, slithering. Scraggly-haired, bulbous-headed, pus-faced creeps, skulking.

Amidst it all, jugglers, musicians, puppeteers, dancers and a guy covered with hundreds of soda cans.

Not your usual lunchtime entertainment, not even for Manhattan.

Why juggling?” Cindy Marvell asked in between throwing clubs at partner Josh Weiner. “It’s cheap, always portable and doesn’t pollute the air.”

We have everything from simple half-face masks to giant backpack creatures,” Erminio Pinque said of the Big Nazo puppet troupe. “You saw one of them out there, the kind of giant potato with teeth and claws.”

“Out there” was the World Trade Center Plaza, the major venue for the first annual Buskers Fare, sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC).

If you do the PATH train commute every day, don’t just rush for the escalator at lunchtime or the end of the day; head for the plaza and have some fun.

“One hundred years ago,” said LMCC executive director Jenny Dixon, “there were like 20 circuses (in Lower Manhattan).”

The festival, which ends with the colorful Buskers Fare Saturday night, features giant-puppet theaters (Big Nazo, Ralph Lee and the Mettawee River Theater Company); lion and dragon dancers; soft-sculpture troupes (two performers yesterday were dressed as the trade center towers); jugglers (Marvell’s Circus Luscious) and various and not-so- sundry performers—the Hurdy-Gurdy Man, the Recycle Unicycle Man (the one wearing all those soda cans) and the Umo Ensemble Buffoon Theatre.

Got room for a couple of Mummers’ bands from Philly? Sure.

All over downtown

The event is spread all over downtown—the World Trade Center, City Hall Park, Battery Park City, South Street Seaport, Pace University and elsewhere.

The trade center plaza is a good place to start—a Buskers Bash will be held there from 12:30-1:30 p.m. tomorrow, and the Buskers Ball, with Zydeco music by Loup Garou, will be held there 8-11 p.m. Saturday. For information, call (212) 321-BUSK.

“Street performers remind us that we have a right to laugh,” said Nancy D’Antonio. “Buskers have, for 2,000 years, epitomized the free spirit of man.” D’Antonio’s photographs of street performers are on display in the mezzanine at 1 World Trade Center.

Looming over the festival stage are Pat Oleszko’s giant inflatable figures—a six- handed juggler, an acrobat and a horn-blowing busker/clown.

“It’s like working blind inside a paper bag,” Oleszko said of inflatable design and construction. “You start with a sketch that’s this big”—she held her hands inches apart— “buy many hundred of yards of fabric and work day and night for three weeks.”

And fill each of the ripstop nylon inflatables with hundreds of pounds of sand so they don’t blow away.

“It’s like dance juggling,” Howard Fireheart said of his work for Circus Luscious, which consisted of weaving in and out of the flying clubs, occasionally “stealing” one from Marvell or Weiner.

Why ‘luscious’?” Marvell said. “We wanted a whimsical name…”

So what’s the most critical need for a juggler these days? Room to practice, if not grow. Circus Luscious is always scrambling to find adequate space.

“Anyone who has a spare living room for us to practice in…” Marvell said wistfully.