Thursday, January 23, 2003

Toronto Star: Clown Says It's Time To Flea

 Clown says it's time to flea

Adam Gertsacov leads Acme Circus acts Four days of shows centre on clowning
Section: Entertainment, pg. G09

Strike up the band. The circus is coming to town. The Acme Miniature Flea Circus, that is.
Fresh from Times Square, Professor A. G. Gertsacov, ringmaster of the most renowned flea circus in North America, presents his trained fleas Midge and Madge tonight through Sunday at Artword Theatre.
Billed as "part side show, part exhibit and a whole lot of fun," the Acme Miniature Flea Circus is the creation of Adam Gertsacov, a 38-year-old clown from Providence, R.I.
With a bit of a John Goodman look to him, in a lavender top hat and matching silk tails, Gertsacov wields a magnifying glass rather than a ringmaster's whip as Midge and Madge race round the ring in tiny chariots, push a miniature chair across a tightrope and, for their death-defying finale, get shot from a cannon through a ring of fire.
Gertsacov, schooled at the Ringling Bros. Clown College, The Dell'Arte School of Physical Theatre and several other training grounds for professional funny people, describes himself as an actor, director, teacher, writer and clown. He has toured his flea circus around North America and to places as far away as Sao Paulo Brazil.
And that's not his only act. Gertsacov does one routine he describes as a puppet show for goldfish and another called Buffoon Anonymous, in which he enters a 12-step program to deal with his addiction to clowning.
Born to buffoonery, Gertsacov was working as a clown for the Pan-Twilight Circus in Rhode Island when he got the idea for a flea circus. He was asked to come up with an animal trainer act. His first effort was a box turtle act, using people dressed up as turtles. When that floundered, he tried a flea circus.
At first he simply mimed the whole thing, using imaginary fleas. Then, as the story goes, a fellow clown, Avner the Eccentric, advised him to get serious - get some real fleas.
"He said, 'You're so big; they're so little. This is your act,'" the six-foot-two, 250-lb "psycho-entomologist" recalls.
"I got a grant from the state arts council. I hired a designer, Dennis Hlynsky, to create all the sets and props and I bought some fleas from an entomological supply company," says Gertsacov on the phone from his Rhode Island home.
The whole show unfolds on a waist-high table-sized arena, preceded by a little carny action as Prof.Gertsacov flogs miniature programs ("you can't tell the fleas without a program") and other flea mementos to the audience. This is the flea market segment of the show.
The ringmaster also recites some "flea verse" ("Adam / had 'em") and gives a short lecture on the human flea, or pulex irritans, informing his audience of the amazing strength of the parasite: "A flea the size of a woman could leap over the Great Pyramid of Giza in a single bound."
For those curious about the Acme Miniature Circus, Prof. Gersacov has agreed to answer some Frequently Asked Questions:
Will the audience be able to see the fleas?
"It would be very difficult to see the fleas. A flea is smaller than the period at the end of a sentence in the newspaper. But you can see quite clearly what the fleas do. You can see the little chariots across the stage - they go about 10 inches in about a minute-and-a-half - and you can watch the chair on the pole crossing the wire."
Is the show suitable entertainment for all ages?
"Well the fleas are totally nude. But I like to say the show is suitable for ages 6 through 106. What's exciting is that all the audience is cheering for these insects. If they could see them, they'd probably like to kill them, but people fall in love with the fleas."
How do you train the fleas?
"I only use female fleas. The females are a little bit stronger and they're more easily trained. But training is really kind of a funny word. I capitalize on their instinctual behaviours and teach them things they're already able to do, using positive reinforcement. Then I am able to get them to do it on command. Some flea circuses were kind of inhumane. There was one where they glue a little sword to the flea's legs. My fleas are actually trained to do the things they do."
Have any fleas been harmed giving their performance?
"When I first started doing the show, there were some flea fatalities, but I've figured out how the fleas can do the tricks safely, even the death-defying finale. As long as I take all the proper precautions everything is ok."
How long do the fleas survive and what do you feed them?
"I chose these fleas because they live about 24 months and that gives me enough time to train them. One of the things amazing about fleas is they can live without food or water for several months. They're parasites and they eat blood. But they only have to be fed every 15 days or so. I prick my finger and put a little blood in a Petri dish and they can eat the blood that way. I treat the fleas as if they were my own flesh and blood."
Can members of the audience go backstage to meet the fleas?
"No. I don't like to scare them with other people. Sometimes I allow people after the show to take a look in the trailer (a miniature Airstream trailer with a big M on it) and they can see them at rest."
What: The Acme Miniature Flea Circus
When: Today to Sun., Jan. 26 (more than one show per day)
Where: Artword Theatre, 75 Portland St.
Tickets: $10; children (12 and under) $5; seniors $7 @ the door or advance @ Ticketmaster, Rotate This, Browsers and Den Of Magic