Monday, October 27, 2014


                          THE CIRCUS IN WINTER   PHOTO BY EMMA

Have you ever just wanted to run the circus?  Would owning a circus be high on your to-do list?  Author Cathy Day wrote a book, "The Circus in Winter," about her family and her hometown, Peru, Indiana, deemed the Circus Capitol of the World and the winter headquarters of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.  Her story cycle of eleven tales of the Big Top is being tumblesaulted into a brand new musical, of all things colorful and creative, and a strange and most intriguing tale it is.

In her three decades of teaching, Beth Turcotte never imagined herself at the center of a three ring circus.  An Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Performance at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, she had always wanted to write a musical, but the opportunity never presented itself.  In the spring of 2010, however, the universe aligned itself in a bizarrely wonderful configuration and Turcotte grabbed the brass ring and ran for the gold.

Leading an immersive learning experience with fifteen undergraduates, Turcotte found herself with redheaded twins Christopher and Justin Swader who had talents in lighting design and big dreams of making a musical of "Hocus Pocus" as well as a music student Ben Clark who walked into class with a musical version of "Robocop."  Clearly the class was ripe for a new musical adventure.  This student driven production began with an exchange of ideas, looking for the perfect topic to forge into a musical show.  In Turcotte's mind, "It takes a community to write a musical."

That community effort began when some kids who had just finished reading "The Circus in Winter" for another class, suggested it for the launching pad.  Virginia Ball had left funding for a faculty member to take a semester to complete a creative project. Cathy Day, the author of "The Circus in Winter," gave her enthusiastic approval and was available to help.  She also provided her book material at no charge.  Since then Broadway actress Sutton Foster and her brother writer Hunter Foster have provided invaluable advice and support.

The Indiana Hoosier spirit took hold and the creative class was on a merry-go-round of imagination.  Their initial desire to dedicate a piece to 9/11 and its impact on the Midwest morphed into the indomitable will and bravery of circus performers who face what's ahead with a strong attitude.  The tale concerns Wallace Porter and three central characters who start off in different places and "collide" under the Big Top.

After working a whole semester, with student Ben Clark, a self-taught guitarist creating 75-80 songs which have since been pared down to 25, the class put on a two hour show as a concert reading.  After that the show went to the American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C. and then was only one of eight finalists, from 250 submitted, and the only undergraduate work to be considered, at New York's National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Annual Festival of New Musicals.  That's where Goodspeed Musicals discovered it and is now giving it a full workshop production at its Norma Terris Theater, from now to Sunday, November 16.  Director Joe Calarco will acting as the ring master from the side lines,

Beth Turcotte calls this experience at the Norma Terris "the crown jewel, a magical place, a pie-in-the-sky fairyland," where it is allowed and encouraged to be "a work in progress up to the last performance." As for Turcotte, she's already on to her next big project: a new Musical Festival Theater at Ball State University where 139 submissions were received right out of the gate.  The winner of a full production is a California entry about the creation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" with a rock and roll theme.

For tickets to "The Circus in Winter" ($45), call Goodspeed Musicals at 860-873-8668 or online at  Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Norma Terris Theatre, 33 North Main Street, Chester.

Come take a seat under the big tent and discover a lonely circus owner Wallace Porter (Aaron Ramey), his wife Irene (Emily Behny). a death-defying acrobat Jennie Dixianna (Dee Roscioli), a sideshow African Queen Pearly (Shannon Antalan), assorted clowns like Ollie (James Penca) and even an elephant of enormous proportions.  Bring your own bags of peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

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