Audience revels in opening performance as entertainers recount day
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
A tiger dives through a ring of fire during the Bruno tiger act during the first performance of the Jaffa Shrine Circus on Monday.
April 17, 2012
By Zach Geiger (email@example.com) ,
The Altoona Mirror
Back-flipping dogs and high-flying trampoline stunts had the crowd laughing and gasping in suspense Monday morning on the first day of the Jaffa Shrine Circus.
As a trapeze artist twirled above the crowd and jugglers threw bowling pins, the audience, mostly comprised of elementary school students and their chaperones, watched in awe as the performers' moves were perfectly coordinated both on and above the stage.
When the clowns came out for the "Jaffa 500" in their cardboard "race cars" and ran around the ring on foot while crashing into each other, the scene was more symbolic of the event as a whole: controlled chaos.
The performers put on a great first show Monday morning, event promoter Bill Troxell. Despite any nervousness, the 11:30 a.m. performance went "very well for the first show," Troxell said.
"It's very good today," he said, looking out as the audience let out a collective gasp as a female performer - suspended from the ceiling only by her hair - twirled in the air above the ring.
Troxell said the acts, the ringmaster and the variety of the show makes it, in his opinion, a higher caliber performance than Ringling Brothers or any other circus event.
Behind the Jaffa Shrine, another large group of performers waited patiently in their own personal space - albeit an area slightly larger than the back stage room indoors. That's where the circus elephants, adorned in colorful costumes, were tended to by their caretakers as they awaited their turn in the spotlight.
Behind the stage, the performers - about 45 people in total, Troxell said - remained busy with costume changes and preparing props for their next act.
"It's a lot of fun and very fast paced," Rebecca Olate said. Rebecca, along with her husband, Richard, and son, Nick, described their Olate Dog Act as a very high-energy show that anyone with a pet dog in the family can relate to.
The crowd constantly laughed as the Olates led their dogs through different tricks, including back-flips and running up and down a large slide. At one point multiple dogs managed to "evade" their owners by escaping on a large scooter, much to the delight of the audience.
After the act, the dogs appeared much quieter as they rested up for the 7 p.m. show.
The 10 dogs the Olates brought with them for their performance will have time to run around and sleep between shows, Nick said.
"They even have their own trailer," Rebecca added.
Nick, a third-generation circus performer, said he is accustomed to life on the road and has been involved in the circus since he was born.
Two-year-old Violet Bertini also started her circus career young. Her brother, Vincent, is the star of the unicycle act, but Violet is also involved - she rides on the shoulders of her father, Roger, during the performance. Seated in a small wagon with the dogs from the Olates' routine, Violet seemed more content to pet and play with the puppies than rehearse her routine.
"We're like a big family," her mother, Kim Bertini, said. "Everybody tries to help each other."
That help could be seen as members of the Bertini and Olate families helped to move props and costumes from one location to another and shared a quick lunch between acts.
The majority of time between the morning and evening shows is spent catching up on food and sleep, Kim said.
After coming to Altoona from Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, the group needed to focus and relax before the second show - and some of the women planned to get manicures before the evening performance, she said.
Although the lifestyle can be hectic, the family would not have it any other way, she said.
"It's our way of life," Kim Bertini said. "Instead of my son out on a swing set and playing ball, he's out on the unicycle practicing."