CIRCUS: WANDERING CITY

“To be different, and to be the best, and to be unique, is what it’s really all about.” — Pedro Reis, aerialist

Circus: Wandering City conjures the magic and mystery of the circus through the eyes and voices of the extraordinary artists who embody the stuff of dreams – to fly; to move mountains; to tame nature; to dance on air; to defy death.

Thrilling, funny, and heartbreaking, Wandering City is the compelling human story of the circus illuminated through evocative music, stunning images, and the voices of artists past and present who spent most their lives under the Big Top. Circus is family, and this family of artists shows us that strength and grace are not mutually exclusive, that human limitations can be overcome, and that our differences are beautiful and to be celebrated.

Created as an evening-length multimedia experience, Wandering City was commissioned by the John and Mable Ringling Museum in Sarasota, with additional support from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The show combines electrifying new music by ETHEL with stunning images and interviews drawn from the Museum’s magnificent archives, which document the wonder and excitement of one of America’s most iconographic popular culture experiences.

More about Circus: Wandering City

The inspiration. The genesis for Circus: Wandering City lies in the vast archives of The Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Museum staff reached out to ETHEL with the idea of collaboration. ETHEL and gathered a team of creatives who were inspired to tell the story of the circus in a way that celebrates the anticipation, sweat, fortitude, joy, and transcendence of so many lives under the tent. ETHEL started developing Wandering City in 2015 in workshops in New York City and at The Hermitage Artist Retreat (FL). The project gained urgency when Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would close in May 2017. ETHEL performed the world premiere of Wandering City at the Ringling Museum in January 2018, on the 250th anniversary of the modern circus in America.

The history. Circus performers engaged in death-defying activity and conjured fascinating and logic-defying feats. They took on controversial shapes, from Albino pygmies to Arab sheiks, which epitomized their era’s view of “otherness.” Circus artists did all of this for the entertainment of family audiences.  Circus people were often first- or second-generation immigrants. They lived in their own separate communities, because integrating into mainstream society seemed impossible. At the same time, everyday audiences wanted to be inspired, scintillated, and awestruck by circus people—from a distance. Viewers could project their own dreams and desires on circus performers for a night, before sending them behind the tent to resume a marginalized existence.

The creative team. All of the music for Circus: Wandering City is composed and performed by the members of ETHEL. The ringmaster of Circus: Wandering City is director Grant McDonald. Projection design, including intricate projection mapping, is by John Narun; scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West; costume design by Beth Goldenberg; lighting design by Oona Curley; and sound design by Stowe NelsonWandering City was produced by Jenney Shamash, and the Executive Producer is Karen Jenkins.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum. The Ringling is a center for art, history, and learning situated on 66 acres on Sarasota Bay. It is built on the legacy of John Ringling — circus entrepreneur, collector of art, and financier — and his wife Mable. The Ringling inspires visitors with an acclaimed collection of Old Master paintings, explores with them the diverse cultures and art of Asia, delights them with the story of the American circus, and transports them to the Roaring Twenties during tours of the magnificent Ca’ d’Zan mansion. The Ringling is also committed to exhibiting the work of an emerging community of living artists that moves beyond traditional practice, and features dynamic and engaging contemporary visual and performing arts, including a diverse roster of theater, music, and dance. The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida. Affiliated with Florida State University, it is one of the largest university art centers in the nation. More information can be found at www.ringling.org.