There has been a lot of buzz in Lancaster recently about 2 Ring Circus. Currently they are performing onstage at the Fulton Theatre in The Wizard of Oz and you may have encountered them throughout Lancaster City performing their art. 2 Ring Circus is composed of four passionate individuals, Joshua Dean, Ben Franklin, Kenneth Ziegler and Lani Corson. These four have honed their talents to bring circus arts to the stage, whether it is through a stage show such as The Wizard of Oz or through their own productions like Cirque Le Jazz. No matter how you catch this group perform, they provide a unique and entertaining experience for all to enjoy.
I had the privilege to speak with three members of 2 Ring Circus: Ben Franklin, Kenneth Ziegler and Lani Corson. They spoke to me about 2 Ring Circus and what they do, in addition we also discussed the benefit of combining circus arts and musical theatre.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me about 2 Ring Circus?
2 Ring Circus: We are a four person circus company with a variety of different apparatus, we call ourselves a theatrical circus company. We all have background in the musical theatre and dance world. 2 Ring Circus is a theatre circus company formed to present Circus Arts in its own way, a Broadway style song and dance with a variety and vaudeville aspects to it.
In 2010 we started with our show Cirque Le Jazz, which is a family friendly, great American Big Band Songbook and fuses circus arts, musical theatre and vaudeville. It is for ages 3 to 93, it has something for everyone. We have done this before and people in New York really enjoyed it. We keep adding more and more types of performances to the show.
In addition to our shows, most recently, we have been asked by theatres/directors to help collaborate. They like what we do, and it fit into their vision of a show, and that is how theatres started incorporating our circus arts into stage shows. It is nice to go into a theatre and be the specialty, and not have to do everything all at once because there are lots of other talented individuals doing things at the same time. It is nice to be able to be both theatre and circus. In Wizard of Oz we never slow down, we are constantly moving. We have added circus arts elements to LA Opera’s production of The Ghosts of Versailles, Peter Pan at Alabama Shakespeare Theater, and The Wizard of Oz at the Fulton Theatre.
We all really enjoy theatre; theatre is home to us. Being able to bring Circus Arts into theatre is a dream come true. We all enjoy creating our own shows and we like augmenting other productions – we like doing all of it. It has been empowering and uplifting for all of us to be able to create our own path and do something that is ours in the world of theatre.
Kelli Curtin: What inspired you to begin 2 Ring Circus?
2 Ring Circus: Joshua Dean, who is our Artistic Director, is the one who delved into the circus world first. He needed a change, so he took classes in the world of Circus Arts, and he took to it like a fish to water. He became a well-known and “go to” aerialist in the City. From there he started training Ben. Joshua and Ben had their aesthetic when it came to Circus Arts and musical theatre. From there we brought in Kenneth and Lani and thought “why don’t we start this.” We wanted to work and wanted to work together.
2 Ring Circus takes old skills and combines them with new skills, while still keeping the storyline going. Our show Cirque Le Jazz is very much contemporary vaudeville in that it is a type of variety show, and incorporates Circus Arts. There is a through-line story of characters; we play one character the whole way through the show. Although it is not necessarily a play. JoJo, who is a clown, is trying to accomplish one little task and through this a bunch of acts happens as he is trying to accomplish his individual task. Through this we are able to create number of individual stories told through each act – there are aerial acts and singing, and we like to keep the thread of story and character going throughout the acts.
We all began working with 2 Ring Circus and became involved in Circus Arts for many different reasons. Circus Arts is different, and it allowed us to enjoy theatre a lot more because it is a unique art form, but is still relevant in theatre and gives us more options as performers. It took the path of a different creative outlet that became a hobby – that became a passion – that became a career choice. In Circus Arts, it became a passion for all of us. It is nice to be able to do theatre and collaborate with directors to be able to do our specialty. Traditionally, Circus Arts is a family collaboration in which it is generations of families who perform, and this idea works well for us. In addition, being part of 2 Ring Circus, since there are only four of us, we all wear a lot of different hats. For example, Kenneth does juggling, duo acrobatics, dancing and aerial in one show. We each get to do a little of everything. This all works for us, and we are very lucky we get to do this.
Kelli Curtin: You are bringing Cirque Le Jazz to the Fulton Theatre for a one night performance. It is described as “the perfect fusion of circus arts, musical theatre and vaudeville.” Could you tell me about what audiences can expect from this show?
2 Ring Circus: The tradition of the classic circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey, is all there in what we do. There is this new movement, the nouveau circus that stems from Montreal, Cirque du Soleil and the 7 Fingers, who did Pippin. Who are doing more of this contemporary circus, where it is modern dance, nebulous story telling with themes and variations on circus skills, but all the same skills used differently. We are a combination of all this - people will see trapeze acts, aerial silks, duo acrobatics and a cyr wheel, which is an apparatus that has been popularized in the last 10 years, and it a huge wheel where Joshua stands inside and spins. Audiences will see all of this, but our take is smaller. Cirque du Soleil has millions of dollars to put in shows, we do not, so we make our performance more intimate. However, even though it is more intimate, we make it amazing. We call our show a big-little show with intimate spectacles.
We have played all kinds of venues from a Black Box theatre that seats about 99 people to a venue akin to Lincoln Center located in China that seated between 2,000 to 5,000 people. For us, China was great because we had the opportunity to perform in wonderful theatres in China, which is home of acrobatics. In addition, our performances inspired kids, and that was a really cool thing.
Cirque Le Jazz is a show that people of all ages will enjoy, and the show is very exciting and amazing [and performed with our own unique flair. The show included a soundtrack of people from the swingin’ Big Band era like Benny Goodman and George Gershwin, and it comes complete with acrobats and silks. It will be an amazing evening.
Kelli Curtin: How has a musical theatre background helped in creating the different shows of 2 Ring Circus?
2 Ring Circus: It has shaped everything. Our shows usually begin with a concept idea, and we come in with the notion that we want to do this act and that other act, but then we have to figure out how to make it all come together and make sense. Our shows go through many, many versions before we present it to a live audience. Before we present our shows we usually get feedback from our friends and other people in the business, in addition to people not in the theatre business who can tell us how they think it flows and if it makes sense. We take their feedback and see what we can do to improve the show. With our theatre background we are directors and choreographers and performers and we know we are too close to the material, so we realize we need to get feedback from people on the outside and really listen to what they have to say as we are developing our shows. This is our heart and lives on the line, and we really want to make sure our shows are quality entertainment.
Kelli Curtin: Who inspires you?
2 Ring Circus: Joshua, our artistic director. He is the brains behind our outfit. He got into it first, and he has been studying it the longest. He trained us all and we all listen to him and his direction. It is easy to listen to Joshua because he is such an inspiring person.
It is hard in the circus world to say who inspires up because we are babies; it is still a new thing in regards to theatre. We listen to Joshua and his ideas, and he really inspires all of us.
Kelli Curtin: Why, in your opinion, is live theatre important?
2 Ring Circus: It is the only art form where we can be transformed as a group and feel the same thing. It is a place where people can be together and that feeling that takes over the audience and performers is powerful. We all can remember that first show we saw in a theatre, and we all can remember how we felt, and the idea that we, as performers, can instill that feeling in someone else is moving and amazing. There is nothing more uplifting and wonderful than that.
Live theatre creates a community feeling, and creates human emotion. It is so easy these days to get stuck in the world of technology – computers, phones and tablets – and not feel anything. Live theatre helps people feel some emotion, good, bad or indifferent. Live theatre inspires dialogue and inspires change, and sometimes live theatre is just beautiful.
The other day we had a performance of The Wizard of Oz, and there was a child in the audience that was talking about the show, but this child was completely engaged in watching the show and not disruptive. And it was a reminder, this is why we do this – we want to inspire something in kids. Live theatre inspires imagination, and whether it inspires a child to be an innovator whether it is an artist or a computer programmer, live theatre opens up a child’s mind to be imaginative. If we inspire imagination and affect children then we have succeeded.
During this interview Kenneth ran to get something and explained to me that it is something he has kept with him for the past six years. This was the way he summed up my question about why live theatre is important, and why he keeps this to remind himself “why we do this.” Below is what Kenneth read to me during the interview and it is an excerpt from Walter Kerr’s book, The Theater in Spite of Itself:
A letter came to me a few years ago from a long-retired actress who had, as a youngster, been taken to see Edwin Booth play King Lear. It seems that towards the end of the play, when the mad Lear was brought face to face with his daughter Cordelia, there was a sharp pause, then - for a second that couldn't quite be caught or measured - a startled, desperate, longing flicker of near-recognition stirred somewhere behind the old man's eyes, and then - nothing. The entire audience rose, without thinking, to its feet. It didn't cheer. It simply stood up. It was as though a single electrical discharge had passed from one body on the stage, instantaneously, through a thousand bodies in the auditorium. Something had been plugged into a socket; two forces had met.
This meeting is what the theater is all about; it is its greatest power. The theater gains its natural - and unique - effect not from the mere presence of live actors, or the happy accident of an occasional lively audience, but from existence of a live relationship between these two indispensable conspirators, signaling to one another through space.
If you have not had a chance to see 2 Ring Circus, I cannot recommend seeing this passionate and talented group of people enough. In Lancaster you have a chance to see 2 Ring Circus in the Fulton Theatre’s production of The Wizard of Oz and they are also doing Cirque Le Jazz at the Fulton Theatre on July 12, 2015. For more information and tickets about the events at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster please visit their website at www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425.
In addition, 2 Ring Circus will also be performing as part of Maine State Music Theatre’s “Footlight Follies” on August 10, 2015. For more information on this event please visit MSMT’s website at msmt.org or call their box office at 207-725-8769.
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online site broadwayworld.com. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe, Facebook and on Instagram.
Photos courtesy of 2 Ring Circus