Friday, February 27, 2009

Chicago Tribune: Wear long Sleeves. The flea circus is in town.

Wear long sleeves. The flea circus is in town.
The circus is coming to town.

Wait just a minute, coulrophobics; you can relax: This circus is clown-free. There aren't any bearded ladies, strong men or tigers jumping through fiery hoops, either. We're talking about a sideshow-size tribute to some of the tiniest wonders of the world: fleas.

On Thursday, professor A.G. Gertsacov and his Acme Miniature Flea Circus hopped into Intuit: The Center for Intuitive & Outsider Art, where they're in residence through the weekend. The Acme circus fleas pull chariots, dance on tight wires and perform other death-defying feats.

We think.
Although Gertsacov, the show's self-proclaimed Flea Master, swears his Victorian-inspired circus uses real, live insects, we were skeptical. So, we called him up to ask.

"The only thing I can say to people who don't believe it," Gertsacov says, "is to come down and decide for yourself."

Such is the business plan of the Acme Miniature Flea Circus: It succeeds primarily based on the curiosity of its patrons. And, of course, the talent of its performers.

Gertsacov first stumbled into the ... er ... flea market more than a dozen years ago. After graduating from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College and traveling for a few years with an East Coast-based troupe producing a show with a combo box turtle/imaginary flea circus act, Gertsacov sought out career advice from renown clown Avner Eisenberg, under whom he studied. "Focus on the fleas," Eisenberg advised. "You're so big; they're so little. You love the fleas. That's your show."

And so it was.

Gertsacov began researching his act, recruited a set designer to build his show apparatus and invested in pulex irritans (a.k.a. human fleas), whose average life span reaches 24 months. He uses only female fleas, which are slightly larger than male fleas and, according to research, typically easier to train. While Gertsacov isn't sure whether that's true, he's going with it. "One set of [human] fleas can perform for nearly 18 months," he says, noting that cat fleas—which are much more common in North America—have only an eight-week life span. Which, he says, isn't enough time to train and perform.

As for the training, that's Gertsacov's secret.

"The word 'training' is a funny thing," he says. "I'm not training them to do rocket science. What they do in my show is natural behavior. And to coach them in context, they do these tricks in a way that makes them entertaining. Do they know that they're racing chariots? No, but I train them to pull the chariots on command, which they do 85 percent of the time. There's always a 15 percent chance they won't perform."

So what happens when they don't?

No biggie, says Gertsacov. "That's showbiz."

Chicago Sun Times: Flea Spirit Brings Smallest Show on Earth to Town

Flea spirit brings smallest show on earth to town

February 27, 2009
The question Professor A.G. (also known as Adam) Gertsacov is most commonly asked about his flea circus is, "Do you have real fleas?"

The second most common question is, "Really?"
And the third is, "Come on, you don't really have fleas, do you?"

To which he rejoins, "If you don't believe me, come on down and see for yourself."

The New York-based Gertsacov has brought the Acme Miniature Flea Circus to Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Performances tonight and Saturday are in conjunction with "The Picture Tells the Story: The Drawings of Joseph E. Yoakum," an exhibit up at Intuit through June 27. Yoakum, a highly regarded Chicago outsider artist, claimed to have spent his working life as a circus roustabout and took up art only when he retired.

The circus is the stated link between Yoakum and the flea circus, even if the connection is a bit tenuous -- none of the drawings in the show depict circus scenes. It's possible the flea circus is coming to Intuit mostly because it's the kind of loopy entertainment that might be expected to delight people who love the creations of self-taught artists.

"It's going to be fun" says Jerry Stefl, Intuit's Education Chair. "Everybody I've talked to has heard of a flea circus but no one has ever seen one."
Intuit specializes in showing the creations of self-taught artists like Yoakum. Another show there now is "Sticks," works made of everything from twigs to toothpicks.

"Self-taught artists are working from an inner passion," Stefl says.
You could say the same thing about Gertsacov, an actor and longtime clown who has overcome a number of obstacles to produce the Acme Miniature Flea Circus, which has two female flea performers, Midge and Madge. The major obstacle, according to Gertsacov, is that fleas are about as big as the period at the end of this sentence.
"It took me two years to figure out how to do this," he says.
Gertsacov will not reveal his hard-won secrets -- how he has prevailed on fleas to perform, that is -- but fleas are very strong jumpers. The trick is to get them doing something that puts that attribute to work, says Gertsacov, who adds that his training methods are humane.
A highlight of the flea circus is the "chariot race" between Midge and Madge, which takes a minute and a half and covers 13 inches. For a finale, the fleas are shot out of a cannon into their "lavishly decorated trailer," Gertsacov says.
"The journey of my show is not about pet tricks, although they are pretty interesting and impressive and worthy of note," Gertsacov says. "It's more the journey of the audience, as they come to love the fleas and cheer for them madly."

Dennis Hlynsky, a friend and professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, created the set and props. The fleas don't wear costumes.

Researching flea circuses, Gertsacov, 44, learned that they appear to date from the early 19th century. William Heckler brought his famous flea circus to the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair here, and a Heckler son had a flea circus that was a fixture in Times Square until about 1956.

Midge and Madge are members of the Pulex irritans species, human fleas, which are relatively long-lived, as fleas go. They still have a performing career of only about 16 to 18 months, so Gertsacov has young jumpers in training at all times. He gets them from the same type of catalogue supplier research labs use.
They're cheap to feed -- every 10 days or so, the boss pricks his finger and sets them up in a little case for lunch. They don't actually bite him anymore.
It's very important that the flea circus performers all be females.
"I don't want to start an infestation," Gertsacov says.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

NBC Chicago: The Smallest Show On Earth

The Smallest Show on Earth Bring your reading glasses -- the Acme Flea Circus is coming to town!

Updated 4:15 PM CST, Thu, Feb 26, 2009

Jaime Murphy for the Acme Miniature Flea Circus
The Acme Miniature Flea Circus is an authentic Victorian-style flea circus.
Come one, come all, but please, by all means, leave Fido at home. Chances are you've heard of them but never actually seen one up close -- a real, live flea circus. Now's your chance. The Acme Miniature Flea Circus, headed up by ringmaster Professor A.G. Gertsacov and starring trained fleas Midge and Madge, rolls into town tonight, Thursday, Feb. 26 through Saturday, Feb. 28. The Victorian-style spectacle will be staged at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in River West.
Apparently, there are only a handful of flea circuses still in existence throughout the world. By his own reckoning, Gertsacov's is certainly one of the most famous, thanks in no small part to the stars -- the talented twosome Midge and Madge -- whose tricks include pulling golden chariots, dancing on a tightwire and getting shot out of a cannon. Be sure to look closely -- you wouldn't want to miss a thing. The Acme Miniature Flea Circus has traveled the globe with its act, including shows in Brazil, Chile and Canada, as well as a three month-stint performing in Times Square.
Intuit's presentation of the Acme Miniature Flea Circus is in conjunction with an exhibition of artwork by Chicago self-taught artist Joseph Yoakum, who made his way across the country by traveling with various circus acts.
Performances take place at 6:30PM on Thursday and Friday and at 2PM, 4PM and 6PM on Saturday. Tickets are $8-$12 a person and can be bought in advance through the Intuit Web site.
Copyright NBC Local Media

Daily Candy 2/26/09: The Weekend Guide: SEE!

Chicago Tonight-- WTTW: What to see This Weekend (VIDEO)

Thursday February 26, 2009
We're around minute 4.

Time Out Chicago: Sneak Peek: Acme Miniature Flea Circus

Museums & Culture

  • Time Out Chicago / Issue 209 : Feb 26–Mar 4, 2009
    Sneak peek

    Acme Miniature Flea Circus

    Ladies and gentlemen, step right up for the five-show Chicago premiere of Professor A.G. Gertsacov’s Acme Flea Circus. The show’s two tiny performers, Midge and Madge, will bask in the spotlight as they perform old-fashioned Victorian sideshow acts. Watch in wonder as the fleas compete in chariot races, balance chairs on a tight wire and, as the grand finale, are shot from a cannon.
    The act—which Intuit is presenting in conjunction with its “The Picture Tells the Story: The Drawings of Joseph E. Yoakum” exhibition—is part hokum, part actual animal wonder. It started in 1992 as a Pandora’s Box–themed act in the Pan-Twilight Circus in Providence, Rhode Island. Then, in 2001, Gertsacov took his act to Times Square with the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, replacing a famous flea act that operated there until 1957.
    Since then, the professor and his miniscule marvels have traveled around the U.S., Canada and Brazil, wowing audiences with their daring feats, plus a little history, poetry and grandstanding thrown in for good measure. The trio has now performed more than 1,000 times, in venues as diverse as Coney Island’s famed sideshow to a circus-themed wedding.
    While Gertsacov, a graduate of the Ringling Bros. Clown College, won’t reveal the coveted trade secrets behind training the tiny bloodsuckers, he says the real secret is getting the crowd to love the fleas. “People cheer for them and applaud in the races. Now if they could see them up close, they would probably kill them.” Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N Milwaukee Ave (312-243-9088, Thu 26, Fri 27 at 6:30pm; Sat 28 at 2, 6:30pm; $8–$12.
    — Martina Sheehan

    • 53241 Intuit Thu, Feb 26, at 12:11pm
      Please note the correct showtimes: Thursday, February 26, 6:30pm - Friday, February 27, 6:30pm - Saturday, February 28, 2:00pm, 4:00pm and 6:00pm - And remember, no dogs allowed!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Columbia Chronicle: Little Creatures Become Big Stars

Little creatures become big stars

Flea circus makes Chicago debut, hopes to attract audiences of all ages

They have been to 37 states and four countries, traveling in a fur-lined case and getting fed in a petri dish. Their trainer treats them as if they were his own blood, and, in some ways, they are. They depend on human blood for survival. Meet Midge and Madge, the stars of Adam Gertsacov’s Acme Flea Circus show.
After many years of unpopularity, flea circuses are making their way into city events once again, one flea stunt at a time. Coming to Chicago for the first time ever, Acme Flea Circus will make its premiere at Intuit, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., from Feb. 26-28.

Courtesy DONNA ATWOOD - Adam Gertsacov looks on as one of the stars of the show does a dance on the tightwire.
Flea trainer Adam Gertsacov has been training the tiny creatures since 1994 and running his own flea circus in New York since 1996. Before falling for fleas, Gertsacov was a professional clown, and one of his clown routines was imagining he had a flea circus. After reading about how to train animals and learning about fleas, he decided this would be his big break.
“I started because it was a traditional act that had gone away, and I wanted to know more about it,” Gertsacov said. “I started doing some research and finding out that 100 years ago there were flea circuses all over the place, and they were very famous. They were kind of ephemeral and they didn’t survive.”
It took him a while to get them to do tricks because there was nobody to teach him how. He said it requires a lot of observation and patience, but it’s not impossible. Most of the tricks they do are already things they do normally; the only difference is getting them to do it on command.
“Training fleas is not easy, and [people] don’t have to do that in order to entertain [others], but I do it anyway, because I’m interested in the old-fashioned circus,” Gertsacov said. “I would say that it’s fun and it’s great to bring back this old tradition. It’s interesting to me.”
Their different stunts include running a chariot race, which, in reality, is only about a foot-and-a-half long and takes them a minute-and-a-half to complete. Another famous stunt includes them flying out of a cannon. How he gets them to do all this is still a secret.
Though not much has changed since the first flea circus, Gertsacov said every show is different thanks to the audience. And if it wasn’t for that, he would have given up on flea circuses a long time ago.
Many viewers walk in with binoculars, but Gertsacov said they aren’t necessary, and they won’t help.
“The way that I design the show, people can see what the fleas do without any aid,” he said. “It would be hard to see the fleas even if I perform with one person at a time. I need to use a high power magnifying glass just to put them in the proper place.”
The only precaution Gertsacov requires when people attend his show is that the audiences keep their pets at home so they won’t steal his show. After all these years of performances, he has used over 20 fleas since they only live 24 months. No matter how many times they have died, the two stars are always named Midge and Madge.
With his previous clowning and acting career, Gertsacov has performed in Chicago, but this will be the first time he performs with his flea circus.
Amanda Curtis, education director at Inuit, said the nonprofit arts center has a way of finding unique shows such as this one. Their current exhibit called Sticks, displays different self taught artists and showcases models they built out of sticks, tree trunks, telephone polls and toothpicks.
“We have an exhibit up now from Chicago artist Jospeh E. Yoakum, [who] traveled as a bill-poster for several different circuses. So as a tribute to him, we thought this would work out,” Curtis said. “Usually we try to somehow relate any of our programs to the exhibits.”
Though she has never seen a flea circus show, she’s looking forward to all its surprises and reactions of viewers.
Michael Ketts runs Professor Marvel’s Flea Circus and Magic Show in Evanston, Ill. He said he’s looking forward to the Acme Flea Circus show coming to town for the first time.
After personally training fleas for six years, his worst experiences have been getting bit by them, but he also feeds them his blood in order to keep them alive. He orders the fleas from a company in California.
“[Flea circuses] were famous in the 1950s in New York,” Ketts said. “A lot of things have just faded. Now everyone wants high-tech and graphics, and this is a more simple kind of entertainment.”
After the flea circus show in Chicago, Gertsacov will return to New York and have his first, show Exploring Henry Hudson, where he will play Henry Hudson, the founder of the Hudson River. He said as of right now, no fleas are in the show.
Admission for this show is $12; $10 for students, seniors, and members; and $8 for children under 12. Tickets can be purchased at Intuit’s website,