THE CIRCUS IN WINTER PHOTO BY EMMA
Have you ever just wanted to run away...to 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
For tickets to "The Circus in Winter" ($45), call Goodspeed Musicals at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.
Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30
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.