“Circus of the Senses”
Brings Children with Disabilities Under the Big Top
The Big Apple Circus recently held its annual Circus of the Senses for hearing and visually impaired students under the circus tent set up at Lincoln Center. The show happened to coincide with an impressive performance by the weather as a record six inches covered the ground in the first snow of the season.
While far fewer than the 1,400 children who had tickets to the sold-out performance were able to attend—New Jersey groups chose not to risk road travel and Chancellor Klein cancelled all field trips—the fun could not be spoiled for those who did show up in hats, scarves and mittens to “see” the animal trainers and acrobats work their magic.
The audience, composed primarily of hearing and visually impaired children from specialized private schools in Manhattan, alternately gasped and cheered as clowns, trapeze artists, horses, poodles and other performers displayed their talents to cheerful music under multicolored lights. As one clown teetered in the air on a giant ladder, a child called out, “Be careful!” (The clown proceeded to make a safe landing on a padded mat.)
One teacher stood under a spotlight in the audience, interpreting the ringmaster’s commentary into sign language. Vision-impaired children were given infrared headsets broadcasting a live play-by-play commentary of the performance, narrated by Paul Binder, the Circus’ founder and artistic director, and Michael Christensen, co-founder and creative director, from a back booth at one edge of the tent.
After the main performance, certain children, primarily those with more severe visual impairments, were allowed into the ring for a “touch session” in which they were allowed to feel the poodle’s fur, the pony’s mane and several of the performer’s costumes. Children lined up to ride on the trapeze artist’s velvet-covered swing, and one performer kept several of them wildly entertained with a whoopee cushion.
Francesco, another circus clown, taught children how to make music by running damp fingers around the rim of a glass—a trick he uses during the performance—dipping little fingers in the water and dragging them around the rim until the glass emitted sound. “They feel the vibration of the glass,” he explained.
Francesco added that the Circus of the Senses audiences are some of his favorites. He likes to come out before the show and say hello as well—“the touch, it’s very nice.” The children make for good circus-goers, he says. “They react for everything.”
Big Apple Circus puts on a Circus of the Senses in some of the major cities that it visits—New York, Boston, Washington, D.C.—says Paul E. Cothran, Director of Health and Community Programs for the Circus. “It’s probably my favorite show that we do.”#
The Big Apple Circus will be performing Dreams of a City at Lincoln Center until January 12th, 2003. For more information, call 1-800-922-3772 or go to www.bigapplecircus.org.