Tuesday, December 19, 2017


This is the archive of articles about the Acme Miniature Flea Circus.

Check the archive listing to the right to see some of the articles that have been written about the show.

Please note the archive is incomplete, and does not reference EVERY mention or review of the show.

To find out more about the show, visit http://www.trainedfleas.com

Monday, December 18, 2017

Platt House Newsletter December 18, 2017

This article appeared in an email newsletter sent out to the Platt House community. The Platt Student Performing Arts House, named for Marc E. ('79) and Julie Beren Platt ('79) is the home of University Life Arts Initiatives and the Performing Arts Council at the University of Pennsylvania.

Alumni Spotlight on Adam Gertsacov, C'86

Adam Gertsacov is a professional clown.
Photo credit: Bill Wadman

We recently checked in on one of our PAC alums: Adam Gertsacov. Check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine about his modern-day flea circus!

At Penn, Adam majored in theoretical communications with a minor in theatre arts. After balancing Marching Band and theatre for two years, he launched fully into theatre, working with iNtuitons and Penn Players. Adam also worked for the Library and the Annenberg Center and was the Arts House program coordinator in Harnwell for two years. 

Adam has always felt the importance of the arts. He was inspired by his mom, a teacher, who used to take mistakes and turn them into art. Finding value and meaning in the mundane truly moves him. Adam explored his love of experimental theatre at Penn and beyond, working at the Guthrie and studying acting and directing at Trinity Rep Conservatory. In 1989, he attended Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Clown College and discovered his passion for being a clown and the sideshow arts. 

In addition to his flea circus, Adam is always pursuing multiple projects including "Buffoon Anonymous", a fictional autobiography of a clown who needs to quit, but can't; "The Barbie Oedipus", a version of Oedipus Rex using Barbie dolls as actors; and "Artistic Antics", a freeform clown improv show. Adam serves as the Clown Laureate of Greenbelt, Maryland, despite making his home in Chicago. As if that weren't enough, he is also working on revamping an old show about PT Barnum to make it more interesting for kids, and he is planning a new podcast. You can check out his blogs here and here. 

Adam's advice to Penn students interested in pursuing the arts beyond college: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Feel free to risk it all, but don’t burn it all down. It’s not all or nothing, all the time. Take artistic risks, but don't be afraid to take care of yourself, to have fun, and to do some easy stuff also. The last thing the world needs is another fizzled artist, so take your time and keep on working on your craft."

More info about Adam is available at http://www.acmeclown.com or http://www.trainedfleas.com

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Smithsonian Magazine Website November 29, 2017

Revive the Charm of an 1800s Show with These Modern-Day Flea Circuses

Take a trip to the (very small) Big Top

By Jennifer Billock

Come one, come all, to the show of the century! See jugglers, tightrope walkers, chariot races, and more. Admission is just the cost of the magnifying glass you’ll need to see the teeny performers! That’s right, a magnifying glass—because this is no ordinary circus. This is the time-honored tradition of the delightfully buggy and hopefully not itchy flea circus.  But please, as Chicago-based Acme Miniature Flea Circus ringmaster Adam Gertsacov says...leave the dogs at home.

Gertsacov started his flea circus (“with a lot of flea bites,” he told Smithsonian.com) in the early 90s, but the origins of the show itself reach back much further than that, all the way to watchmakers in the 1500s who were said to have wanted to impress crowds with their ability to make tiny working mechanisms. The first was London watchmaker Mark Scaliot who, in 1578, is credited with having made “a lock consisting of eleven pieces of iron, steel and brass, all [of] which, together with a key to it, weighed but one grain of gold,” Barkham Burroughs wrote in his 1889 book, Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information. “He also made a chain of gold, consisting of forty-three links, and, having fastened this to the before-mentioned lock and key, he put the chain about the neck of a flea, which drew them all with ease. All these together, lock and key, chain and flea, weighed only one grain and a half,” Burroughs continued. Watchmakers continued the practice through the 1700s, harnessing fleas to tiny handmade chariots or other items the insects could pull across a small stage.

Then in the 1830s, performing fleas hit the big time. Italian-born Louis Bertolotto opened a new circus show in London, called Signor Bertolotto’s Industrious Fleas. The insects were the perfect stars for the miniature circus, mainly because they were so ever-present in society that in order to find your own troupe of artists, all you really needed to do was look under the bedcovers. Bertolotto’s performances reflected political events of the time; he even recreated Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo with 435 fleas, all wearing outfits for battle, riding in golden saddles and carrying tiny swords. With that mock battle, flea circuses were cemented as one of the leading attractions of this era.

According to Gertsacov, the most famous flea show in history was arguably Professor Heckler’s. He performed it first at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, then he and his son (who continued his father’s work) took the act to Times Square, where the fleas performed until 1957 in Hubert’s Dime Museum. Gertsacov paid homage to the Hecklers with his own Times Square flea circus in 2001, only two blocks from where the Heckler show was once held, before taking his circus worldwide.

“I want to evoke the idea of the old Victorian-style flea circus,” Gertsacov said. “I don’t want the show to be about stupid pet tricks. Of course, the show is about the fleas. But on some level, it’s about the experience of the show and going back in time to see an old-fashioned showman doing an old-fashioned show.”

Alas, the world has become evermore technologically advanced, and around the 1940s and 50s, the demand for true flea circuses began to decline. “As television became popular and as human fleas became rarer, primarily through the use of modern appliances such as the vacuum cleaner and the washing machine, the flea circus has become harder and harder to find,” Gertsacov said.

Luckily, we can still get in on the fun today in a veritable revival of the Victorian-era flea circus. Gertsacov takes his show all over the world based on booking requests, but lately has been hosting circuses at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. His fleas do three main tricks: “They pull chariots in a chariot race, a flea walks on the tightwire while balancing a miniature chair and pole, and there’s a death-defying finale, where the fleas get shot out of a cannon through the flaming hoop of death and into their lavishly decorated trailer,” he said. Gertsacov’s show lasts about 45 minutes and also includes an illustrated lesson on fleas, “flea verse” poetry, and a flea market beforehand selling what he says is the world’s smallest show program.

“The program is a guaranteed collectible item, guaranteed to go up in value at least 10 percent over the next 10 years,” he said. “If you don’t believe me, come back in 10 years and I’ll purchase it back from you for 11 cents. On some level, if you haven’t been bamboozled by the flea circus guy for a dime, have you really seen the show?”
On the east coast, flea fanatics can catch Maine’s Dr. Wilson’s Flea Circus—An Extraordinary Entomological Exhibition Featuring Trained Fleas Executing Acts of Skill and Daring,” where the fleas push heavy objects (“the equivalent of a grown man pushing a weight of twenty-three tons,” the website says), tackle the flying trapeze, and rear up on their hind legs like miniature angry bears.

Heading somewhere else in the world? The international flea circus directory lists more than 30 shows in the United States alone, and even more abroad in the UK, Ireland, Australasia, Europe, Israel, Mexico and South Africa.

“The flea circus, like other sideshow and circus skills, is a direct connection to a simpler time unmediated by electronics and filled with the simple ability to wonder at the marvelous world around us,” Gertsacov said. “I would argue that the ability to wonder is one of the things that separate humans from beasts.”

Read the original article

Saturday, July 23, 2016

WGN TV News July 22, 2016

Circus with tiny stars big on fun

CHICAGO -- Adam Gertsacov doesn’t use that many performers in his show, but in the 20 years he has been touring around the world, he says he has perfected the art of what he calls the study of fleas.
Today, his circus performed at Berger Park for some Chicago Park District camp kids and offered a little education and a lot of entertainment.
A chariot race, a highwire act and cannon heroics were all part of the show.
Adam says his fleas live for about 24-months and require three to five months of training before hitting the big stage.
The show started in 1996 and has been performed in 37 states and five countries.
Two years ago Adam and his family settled in Chicago.
This summer the free show can be seen at four different Chicago parks as part of the nights out in the park program.
July 27 6 PM Touhy Park (7348 N. Paulina Ave)
August 4 6 PM Adams Park (1919 N. Seminary Ave)
August 10 6:30 PM Oriole Park (5430 N. Olcott Ave)
August 12 3:30 PM Gladstone Park (5421 N. Menard Ave)
Cost: Free (seating limited, please arrive early)
More info:
http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com or call (312) 742-7529 or (312) 747-2001 (TTY).

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Fascinating Nouns Episode 46

Professor Gertsacov is featured in an hour long podcast on the Podcast Fascinating Nouns.

 Prof. A. G. Gertsacov is a man of many talents, an his ‘Acme Miniature Flea Circus’ is just one.  He is a Waylon Smithers-esque aficionado of Barbies, graduate of Comedia Dell Arte, and an expert in the ways of ‘Punch and Judy’.  I sit and talk to him about those things, as well as fleas believe it or not.  While having an unrelenting resistance to divulging proprietary information, I do manage to get out of him a few things like what defines a talented flea, what are their capabilities in human terms (superhero in short), and how he feeds them!

See the podcast on its original page
http://fascinatingnouns.com/ep-47-the-acme-flea-circus/Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mention in the Urbacher Letter

Urbacher Letter Archive December 2012

Acme Flea Circus

(click images to see larger)

 The Acme Flea Circus is an authentic Victorian-style flea circus. Ringmaster Adam Gertsacov presents "The Most Miniscule Show on Earth!" A posted sign warns "No Dogs Allowed." Flea Circus (0:41)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

World's Maker Faire: September 9, 2012

Video shot by the well known juggling entrepreneur Brian Dubé.

Here is the original post:

I performed two shows a day at Maker Faire for two days in an outdoor setting, which is not ideal for the show, but worked out okay.


Fleas or Teased

New York City was home to one of the most astonishing things to those unfamiliar – the real flea circus. Most are familiar with the phrase, however, there are only a handful of flea circuses at the time and fewer yet that employ actual fleas, so it is very unlikely that any given individual has seen one of these performances first hand.
Yes, real human fleas, pulex irritans, were trained to pull miniature chariots and perform circus acts, rotate ferris wheels, and kick balls. Minuscule harnesses made from thin gold wire were wrapped around the neck of the flea. The harnesses were then attached to a variety of objects. Fleas are renowned for their incredible strength and are able to pull up to 160,000 times their own weight and jump 150 times their own size. Their lifespan, however is typically only months, and so new recruits must be found and trained. And, they must be provided a diet of human blood. Typically, owners of flea circuses just let fleas feed from their arms.
The flea circus flourished in the Victorian age, however, the harnessing of fleas goes back much further. The first to harness fleas were watch makers who demonstrated their skills in fine metal working skills. Mark Scaliot is 1578 is credited with locking a flea to a chain with “a lock consisting of eleven different pieces of steel, iron, and brass which, together with the key belonging to it, weighed only one grain.”
One of New York City’s great institutions was Hubert’s Dime Museum, which occupied 228-232 West 42nd Street near Times Square from the mid-1920′s until 1965. The building which housed Hubert’s was a schoolhouse, designed in the 1880′s by McKim, Mead & White. Hubert’s was a phantasmagoria of some of the greatest novelty, freak, sideshow, and variety acts and the home of the last working flea circus in the United States – Heckler’s Flea Circus. Heckler’s occupied a section of the basement and required an additional admission. It was here that the Heckler family plied their trade. The circus was started by native Swiss William Hecker circa 1923 and sons William Jr and Leroy (“Roy”). Roy took over the operation in 1933 and continued to operate the flea circus until he retired in 1957.
So, when I attended the World Maker Faire on September 29, 2012 and happened upon the Acme Flea Circus very unexpectedly, you can easily understand why I was stopped in my tracks and jubilant that I would at last be able to see a real flea circus. Adding to the serendipitous encounter was that the performer, Adam Gertsacov, already knew me, having been a previous customer of my business. I stood alone at his booth and it was a good 30 minutes to showtime. However, I was very passionate about seeing a flea circus in person and close up, so I stood and chatted with Adam while he prepared for his show. He told me all the details of the flea circus. I was later to learn that Adam was one of the most educated clowns in America – not only was he an alumnus of Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College, but he was also a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and held a master’s in theater and communications from Rhode Island College.
Adam assured me that I need not be concerned about having a “front row seat” since his show was designed to insure that all audience members were guaranteed to see all the details of his performers. This perplexed me, since I had learned that flea circuses like Heckler’s typically provided audience members with magnifying glasses. Historical photos showed him surrounded closely by a small number of viewers. How would Adam accomplish this at a distance? Theater.
Adam’s show involves a lot of theater, history, and clever quips and bits, including a “flea market” where small items are sold to the audience, whom he then proclaims has been adequately fleeced. The act consists of his two fleas, Midge and Madge, who engage in a chariot race and a tight-wire act. Children laughed and squealed, however, credulity was strained when the fleas were shot from a cannon through a hoop of fire to land inside a miniature Airstream trailer.
I became intrigued and through a little research learned that a number of flea circuses currently working do not use fleas. At least one, Hans Mathes’s flea circus at Oktoberfest (you can see an actual video below), has real fleas. As to Adam Gerstacov and his Acme Flea Circus, in the end, I just decided to suspend and see it as an enjoyable piece of theater, not worry whether I had seen trained Fleas or had just been Teased :)