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August 25, 2017 | Notes From Leadership,

Circus, Passed Down Through Generations

Reversible is a show about family, generations and the movement of time. With every 7 Fingers show there is an animating question or idea around which its directors build the evening. In this case, director Gypsy Snider asked her young company to interview their own grandparents, collecting stories about their lives at the age the performers were now. What shaped them? What haunted them? What brought them joy?

My grandparents are long gone. And now my central point of connection to these questions is not found in their stories, but in my relationship to my own granddaughter and the stories that I will tell her when she’s old enough to ask.

Lucy is two years old. On a recent August afternoon, we walked to her neighborhood park in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, California. A small stage was set up, a small tent beside it where a five-piece band was rehearsing. In front of it, a young man was setting in place a Chinese pole and meticulously cleaning it, preparing for an imminent high-risk performance. Through the curtains we could see three young women juggling backstage, warming up. A group of young, brightly costumed boys were getting onto stilts.

Holding my granddaughter on my hip as we walked past, a wave of memories came over me. A whole generation earlier my theater company had trained for a time with Gypsy Snider’s father and other members of his San Francisco circus company, The Pickle Family Circus. I had taught my two-year-old son to stand on my shoulders as we walked around town. He had learned to sit on the soles of my feet like I was a barstool. But, for some reason, the memory that lingered was from the day my ensemble had climbed onto our stilts at San Francisco’s Civic Center and joined a throng of thousands of people protesting the start of the Persian Gulf War. The sign I carried read “No Blood for Oil.”  Will I ever tell Lucy the story of that day? Will she ever ask?

People were gathering at the foot of the stage, laying down blankets and opening lawn chairs. We decided to stay and settled ourselves. As the band played the opening number I asked my daughter-in-law if this was Lucy’s first circus. It was. She squealed when the man went up the pole upside down, tried standing on her hands like the contortionist, covered her ears when the band got too raucous and almost said “yes” when I asked if she wanted to stand on my shoulders. That time may not be quite here yet, but I can see it in the not-so-far-away future and still feel the echoing footprints from my son’s days up there.

This is a show that will both make memories and rekindle them. What stories will you tell? What questions will you ask? What shapes? What haunts? What recedes? What returns?

– David Dower, Co-Artistic Director


SEP 6  – 24 at The Emerson Paramount Theatre

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