May 17, 2012
By Linda Wilson Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
May 17, 2012
When the Zany Umbrella Circus comes to town, the audience in McKees Rocks will see a show its creator describes as "physical theater ... set up like an old vaudeville show" that includes "folk art stories."
And it's all done by one man.
Benjamin Sota, who grew up in Millvale, will perform "My Grandfather's Circus" on Sunday at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks. As he checked out the center's stage last week, he juggled five red leather balls.
"I have to figure out how to put a trapeze in here," he said to the staff at the 130-seat theater. Although at least one person chuckled, it became apparent Mr. Sota wasn't kidding. In the 50-minute, one-man show, he will perform on a trapeze, walk on a high wire, ride a unicycle and juggle.
And that's not all.
Mr. Sota will share stories he wrote about the circus experiences of his maternal grandfather, John Hamilton, during the Dust Bowl era in Woonsocket, S.D.
Mr. Sota, 31, performed "My Grandfather's Circus" at the White House in 2006. He has written, directed and produced more than 30 shows in the past nine years, many of which include other performers.
The Zany Umbrella Circus has performed at hundreds of venues in the United States and abroad, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Al Hussein Amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, and at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Arts Festival.
The news release from the Ryan center describes the show as a "whimsical tribute performance" that will bring "everyday objects to life" while "creating circus from unexpected situations."
"We are very excited to have an act as creative as this," said Geoffrey Stillson, interim director of Focus On Renewal, the social service agency that owns and operates the theater. Those at the agency have seen a video of the show and, Mr. Stillson said, "this fits into our new niche -- focusing on ... children's theater" that can be enjoyed by the whole family.