Circus Center's 'The Secret Garden' - tumbling with acrobatic designer Evan Tomlinson Weintraub

  • by Mark Willian Norby
  • Tuesday June 6, 2023
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A scene from Circus Center's 'The Secret Garden'
A scene from Circus Center's 'The Secret Garden'

Do you remember the joy you felt as a child when the circus came to town? Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus used to roll into town by train from 1927 to the early 1990's, an extraordinary caravan that carried a wide variety of animals, acrobatic performers, circus staff and strangely, the Freak Show that from the early 1880s was the most popular component of The Greatest Show on Earth.

Fortunately the circus has evolved and San Francisco's Circus Center, which opened in 1984, focuses on the acrobatic arts — like Cirque du Soleil — with none of the exploitative practices of abusing animals, and certainly no freak shows.

San Francisco Circus Center's upcoming productions of "The Secret Garden" will feature the San Francisco Youth Circus. It promises to appeal to children as well as adults where you can immerse yourself in the world of "The Secret Garden," with aerialist birds, acrobatic plants, juggling and jump-roping children, and storytelling that will move you to laughter and tears. The timely story explores loss, grief, the healing power of nature, play, and community. It's based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 children's book by the same name, and adapted and directed by Felicity Hesed.

Circus Center's gay acrobatic designer Evan Tomlinson Weintraub, who has been with Circus Center since he was twelve years old, was asked in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter what it was like growing up gay and training in the circus; what his life was like so deeply involved in the constantly evolving presentation of wonder, talent, and magic.

Evan began training at Circus Center in 2005. He trained with the San Francisco Youth Circus through 2010. He returned to Circus Center in 2021 after a career in Montreal's National Circus School and has been with Circus Center ever since. He described how the circus has always had a history directly linked to ideas of the supernatural, exotic, and the queer.

Acrobatic Designer Evan Tomlinson Weintraub  

Mark William Norby: What are the most magical aspects of the circus?
Evan Tomlinson Weintraub: As an acrobatic designer and director, my challenge is to communicate the story of "The Secret Garden," where Mary and Colin go in and out of Lily's locked secret garden to regrow plants and bring Craven's Manor back to life.

For our production, we transform words into movement and invite the audience to see and feel a garden come to life, complete with blossoming flowers and growing vines entirely created through acrobatics. To achieve this, my acrobats spent many hours exploring what it means to inhabit plant life, imitating the way plants grow and recreating forms and shapes of different plants using only our bodies, presenting a garden as an acrobatic movement.

Has the circus supported your growth as a gay man after working with Circus Center for so many years?
Circus Center was and is the place where I found my calling. They have been the community that has consistently supported me throughout my circus career and I am excited to come back to my forever circus. When I did finally realize I was gay, I had little trouble expressing myself. It wasn't my defining characteristic, but another important facet of my personality that I could bring into the circus world. Circus Center is a place that instilled in me values that made being my true self, and supporting others' authentic selves, second nature.

Is there something inherently gay about the circus?
High-flying acts presented sanctuaries for people looking for liberation and self-discovery, inviting those who felt like outsiders to choose a different kind of family. Modern circuses still maintain the reputation of being safe havens for the marginalized and misunderstood.

The best circuses are a melting pot of expression, including fashion, music, theater, drag, dance, and acrobatics. There is nothing that is impossible in the circus, making it a magnet for queer people looking to find their voice and confidence among friends and allies. Finding queer people in the circus is like finding family.

What is the most mind-blowing moment you've had in your circus life?
Eventually I found myself bowing for the first time at the Chicago Theater with Cirque du Soleil's performance of "'Twas the Night Before" with a huge group of friends at my side. I couldn't help but tear up. With "The Secret Garden," I have learned that as you build community, you also have to rely on it because then the show explodes.

'The Secret Garden' at the Children's Creativity Center, every weekend June 17 through July 9, 11am & 2pm. 221 4th St. $20-$40.

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