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Family Entertainment Series

Theatre of Varieties to perform wide range of acts, spicing up the Family Entertainment Series

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Following the Old First Night festivities, Theatre of Varieties is bringing the spice of life to Chautauqua at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 7, in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series. The performance will feature a juggler, contortionist, ventriloquist and magician — promising a wide range of acts for audience members to enjoy.

Although each entertainer specializes in a different skill, all four started performing at a young age.

Leading the show will be ringmaster Michael Dubois, who will also perform juggling, slackwire and unicycle tricks. For one stunt, the juggler skips rope while bouncing a ball on his head.

“All my stuff is fast-paced and comedy driven, but high skill,” DuBois said.

From Horseheads, New York, DuBois learned to juggle in his middle school gym class.

“When it was too cold to play outside, we would do a two-week juggling segment,” DuBois said. “I’ve been very fortunate to make a career of it since graduating college from Penn State in 2004. It’s taken me all over the world.”

Viktoria Grimmy

DuBois made a name for himself with appearances on late-night television and a cross-country college tour of a one-man show. For the last five years, he has teamed up with aerialist Viktoria Grimmy for a duo act called “The Great Dubois’.” Grimmy will also perform in Theatre of Varieties, entertaining the audience with her flexibility and hula hoop skills.

Grimmy is a fifth-generation circus performer from Russia who left home at 13 to continue her family trade. Since then, she has performed with the Big Apple Circus, Ringling Brothers and Britney Spears’ Circus Tour. Grimmy has also performed on Broadway in Pippin, and her film credits include “Burlesque” and “The Greatest Showman.”

“Ultimately, the art of the circus is to be able to reach into the soul of everyone and take them out on the ring or stage with them, so you yourself are here performing with me,” Grimmy said in an interview with RealClear. “I find that quite magical.”

Ventriloquist Lynn Trefzger said she is excited to return to the grounds with her talking camel and other felt friends, having previously performed in Smith Wilkes Hall in 2016.

Lynn Trefzger

“I’m looking forward to being back,” Trefzger said. “I’m excited to entertain for all ages.”

Although tonight’s performance will mark Trefzger’s Amp debut, it will not be her first time sharing the stage with the her co-stars.

“What’s fun is that I’ve worked with both acts before,” Trefzger said. “I’ve known Michael and Viktoria for a long time, and I just worked with David (Boyd) recently.”

Trefzger picked up her first puppet at 9 years old and booked her first gig when she was 10. Having now ventriloquized for 40 years, she performs on Disney cruises and at corporate events, modeling many of her current characters on her five children.

Trefzger said part of her act for Theatre of Varieties will involve audience participation, with one audience member acting as her “human dummy.” She will also bring along her puppet sidekick, Simon, and a “precocious character” named Chloe.

Finally, magician and illusionist David “Kid Ace” Boyd will dazzle Chautauquans with a performance that fuses hip-hop music and fashion.

“I infuse that into magic just to give people a different experience than what they may associate a magician with,” Boyd said. “From what I believe and have seen, people are more in tune to it because it keeps them on their feet.”

Boyd said his flair developed from his upbringing in Harlem, New York, where the magician learned his first trick at age 12 from his theater teacher.

“For me, magic and illusion is more than just a passion,” Boyd said. “It’s an escape from reality. I can truly express myself and all my insecurities go away. For me, it’s the one thing that truly empowers me.”

Boyd has since toured everywhere from the Bahamas and Netherlands to Australia and Japan. In addition to a private performance for Madonna, the magician did a one-man show “Underground Magic” at the Elektra Theatre in Times Square in 2012.

Boyd also performed on the third season of “America’s Got Talent” and was recently featured on “Bill Nye Saves the World.” The magician said he has a “love-hate relationship” with television.

“The hours are so long, and you’re in their world, and you’re working in their environment, but the product is amazing when you get it,” Boyd said.

Boyd said that he loves performing for families because he credits his own family for his success.

“The reason that I am able to do all of this touring and am able to live my dream is because of my parents,” he said. “I’m forever grateful for them for helping me believe that I could truly, truly do this.”

Family Entertainment Series continues with Kathakaar, exposing audiences to India’s music and culture through pantomime dance

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So far this summer, the Family Entertainment Series has exposed audiences to Chinese acrobats, a children’s opera and imaginative plays written by local third- and fourth-grade students. Now, Kathakaar will introduce Chautauquans to Indian culture using traditional music and dance with interactive performances at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, in Smith Wilkes Hall.

Kathakaar’s Mike Lukshis, who plays a percussion instrument called a tabla, said that the show’s music and choreography “go hand in hand” and that it is designed to both educate and entertain audiences through “kathak,” a form of Indian dance that emphasizes storytelling through pantomime.

“The show is basically a presentation of Indian classical dance,” Lukshis said. “This is an ancient tradition that was practiced by traveling dancers and storytellers.”

Through Jin Won’s choreography, Lukshis said audiences will hear the story of Krishna, a deity known for his trickster tendencies, as well as a story that involves a “battle with snake monsters,” among other Indian legends.

“It’s dramatized in a way that is interesting for kids,” Lukshis said. “With absolutely brand new exposure, they can come away hopefully with a brand new understanding of music and culture.”

Originally from South Korea, Won lived and studied in India for 15 years. During this time, she trained in kathak under Shrimati Shubha Desai and took lessons in Indian classical percussion from Pandit Divyang Vakil.

Upon arriving in Bombay, Won did not let her age, gender or national origin stand in the way of her performing arts studies.

“Back then, everyone told me that no woman plays tabla and that you have to start at a young age,” Won said in an interview with Brown Girl Magazine.

Won currently serves as a performer and faculty member at the Taalim School of Indian Music in the United States. She authored a textbook on tabla that is currently being translated into Korean, while her life story is the focus of a documentary by the Korean Broadcasting Service.

When Taalim toured with an exhibition called “Pradhanica,” Won fused her backgrounds with Korean and Indian culture by wearing a costume inspired by hanbok, a traditional Korean dress. Won said she uses art to communicate across languages as a cultural ambassador.

“I try to find common ground where everyone can understand and feel it,” she told Brown Girl Magazine.

Having seen Kathakaar in New York City last January, Institution Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore said she hopes Chautauquans will engage with the show’s artistry.

“I expect that kids and adults alike will be mesmerized by the traditional dance and music,” Moore said. “I hope that we all leave understanding more about some rich cultural

Astounding Talents: Peking Acrobats to balance spinning plates aplenty in Amp for Family Entertainment Series

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Lions and dragons and gymnasts will storm the stage when the Peking Acrobats perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 25,  in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

The Chinese troupe, now celebrating its 32nd season, is known for combining traditional music with special effects for performances filled with astounding physical maneuvers. In one of their most famous stunts, the acrobats balance atop a pagoda of chairs —all while standing on their heads.

In her review for DC Metro, Marlene Hall said that the Peking Acrobats’ 30th anniversary national tour was like “Cirque du Soleil meets the East,” and praised the performers for pushing “human capacity beyond human capacity.”

Other feats involve spinning plates, paper parasols, animal costumes and balance beams. For one stunt, over 10 acrobats squeeze together atop a single unicycle while flashing colorful fans to resemble a peacock. Chautauquans can also expect to see gymnasts jump through hoops and contortionists steady goblets in their hands and mouths as they ex their talents.

According to the Gertrude C. Ford Center of Performing Arts, the origin of Chinese acrobats dates back 4,000 years ago to the Xia Dynasty, but gained widespread popularity during the Warring States Period, which lasted from 475 to 221 B.C. During the Han Dynasty, the acrobatic acts were dubbed the “Hundred Plays,” and music was added to underscore the somersaulting, lion dance and tightwire routines.

The performance on Wednesday, July 25,  will mark the Peking Acrobats’ Chautauqua debut. Other Chinese troupes that have visited the grounds include the Golden Dragon Acrobats, which have returned to Chautauqua regularly since 2006, and The Peking Circus, another troupe that performed during the 1992 season.

Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore said the Peking Acrobats’ live music will offer a new component for families to enjoy.

“I’m excited about presenting the Peking Acrobats because they come with Chinese musicians and instruments,” Moore said. “This added element is exciting for Chautauqua.”

Ellis Paul to share stories of America in the Amphitheater

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Ellis Paul is a lot of things: a folk singer, songwriter, illustrator and author. With guitar in hand, he tells jokes and stories to audiences across America.

“It’s a bit of a vaudeville thing, outside of the dancers,” Paul said.

Chautauquans can listen in during “An Afternoon With Ellis Paul” at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 8, in the Amphitheater. Even with 19 albums under his belt, Paul said he still has stories to tell.

“I’m trying to write songs about where I’m at personally and the world is universally,” he said.

Many of Paul’s songs tell the story of Americans, from Johnny Cash and Dennis Brennan to the soldiers in Afghanistan. Even the Boston Red Sox get a tribute in “UK Girl (Boston Calling),” a song on Paul’s 2014 album, Chasing Beauty.

Long before Paul started traveling the country to perform, he was raised on a potato farm in Maine. Paul didn’t pick up the guitar until college. He was granted a track scholarship from Boston College but had to quit the sport after an injury, which prompted him to find another way to keep busy.

“I had a lot of time on my hands and a lot of creative energy,” Paul said.

Because he was self- taught, Paul said his library of chords was limited at first, and he struggled to come up with great lyrics. However, his lack of formal training allowed him to carve out his own sound instead of mimicking the sound of others.

“The good part of that is you develop a uniquely ‘you’ style,” Paul said. “You’re not really stealing from The Beatles or Bob Dylan.”

After graduation, Paul made a name for himself on Boston’s open mic circuit before quitting his job as a teacher and social worker to established Black Wolf Records. He released Am I Home and Urban Folksongs in 1989, two albums that earned him recognition outside the city. Paul has since gone on to win 15 Boston Music Awards for his songwriting and contemporary folk albums.

Nowadays, Paul does not shy away from covers. In 2003, Paul teamed up with Vance Gilbert to record Side of the Road, a 9/11 tribute album that featured each artist singing one original song and four covers of artists like Van Morrison, Mark Erelli, Susan Werner and Neil Young.

Having been mentored on the road by Bill Morrissey, Paul said he now intends to pay it forward by coaching other singers and songwriters.

“Once I became established, I wanted to help people coming up because there’s no real school for doing this,” Paul said.

Over the first weekend of September, Paul will host the New England Songwriters Retreat in Chester, Connecticut, where around 70 songwriters will take classes on performing and how to use social media to build their brand.

Paul said his right-brain talents extend beyond music. As an illustrator and cartoonist, Paul creates his own album art, as well as posters and shirts for the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival.

Paul is also known for his children’s album The Hero in You that highlights historical figures like Ben Franklin and Rosa Parks. Paul will tell these stories and more at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 10 in Smith Wilkes Hall as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

A Marvelous Montage : Cirque Montage to showcase amazing feats on Amp stage

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With practice, almost anyone can learn how to juggle a ball or two.

Few, however, can do so with their mouth.

Chautauquans can see this act and more in Cirque Montage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3, in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series.

The show’s artistic director, Michael Manzanet, said he named the show Cirque Montage to highlight its variety.

Acts include everything from aerialists and contortionists to musicians and hoop artists.

Over 30 performers from all over the world make up the troupe. While the acts are marvelous and many, Manzanet said he designed Cirque Montage to feel intimate.

“Each character is an act, and each act is a character. By the time the show is over, everyone is recognized and appreciated.”

– Michael Manzanet, Artistic Director and Founder, Cirque Montage

At the center of the story is Raven, a girl with hidden talents that Manzanet said will be revealed at the end of the show. She is joined by the ringleader, who needs the audience’s help to create a movie that would make Charlie Chaplin proud.

“What he’s looking for are participants to make into stars,” Manzanet said.

It’s no coincidence that the show’s name resembles Cirque du Soleil. Manzanet was an original cast member Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere in Las Vegas, which is how he first connected with many of Cirque Montage’s performers.

After five years swinging on the trapeze, Manzanet developed Libra, a duo hand-balancing act that won a top honor at the 2000 Daidogei World Cup Festival in Shizuoka, Japan.

Looking for a change of pace, Manzanet founded WonderWorld Entertainment in 2000. Other Cirque du Soleil veterans joined him to put together a new show, as did Martin St. Pierre, the man who composed the music for Mystere and Quidam.

In 2008, Cirque Montage premiered at a small theater in Los Angeles. In her review for the Los Angeles Times, F. Kathleen Foley said the performers’ talents were “strictly heavyweight” and that the characters were “so up close and personal that their winning personalities come to the fore.”

After a successful weekend run, Cirque Montage hit the road to dazzle new audiences. Manzanet said that because Cirque Montage requires only a theater and not an arena, it has been able to reach smaller cities that cannot usually host a circus production.

The show has now traveled across the United States and to several cities abroad, such as Hong Kong and Dubai, at one point performing 10 shows within two weeks.

“With time and reputation, we kept getting more challenges,” Manzanet said.

Although Cirque Montage is now a decade old, Manzanet said it continues to add new acts to its lineup while keeping its jugglers dexterous and its contortionists flexible.

“The majority of the cast has been together for 10 years,” he said. “That’s what keeps the show strong.”

Family Entertainment Series opens with Young Playwrights Project, showcasing imagination of local elementary schoolers

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When introducing the Young Playwrights Project to an eager audience enjoying their morning field trip on Monday, June 18, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Chautauqua Theater Company Artistic Director Andrew Borba offered a disclaimer:

“We require you to use your imaginations.”

Minutes later, two actors built a rocket ship out of chairs and a yellow umbrella, bringing over 300 elementary schoolers along for the ride.

Ten plays, written by local third and fourth-graders, will be performed again for free at 5 and 7 p.m. Tuesday June 26 in Smith Wilkes Hall, marking the start of this summer’s Family Entertainment Series.

The winners of the annual contest were selected to be performed by CTC conservatory actors out of the 423 submissions from students at Chautauqua Lake Central School, Milton J. Fletcher Elementary School, Panama Central School, Ripley Central School and Westfield Elementary School. All 10 winning scripts can be read online.

The plays, each under five minutes in length, vary by genre. For example, Eulalia March’s Snow Animals tells an origin story for how giraffes got their spots, while third-grader Oliver Bird wrote an adventure play. His story, Video Game Tornado, follows a boy and his mom’s journey to get back home after being sucked into his favorite video game.

Katherine McGerr, who directed the 10 plays and helped select the winners, said the plays all share a sense of imagination and a need that the playwright wanted to communicate.

“What I like about them is that each of them is remarkable for a different reason,” McGerr said. “I think some of the plays are remarkable for their character and some for their theme.”

The scripts are comical in nature, but some do not shy away from more serious topics. Giovannie Jackson’s The Boy Who Wanted A Hoop features an unemployed mother who wants to support her son and Jillian Miller’s War Friends follows a Japanese girl and an American boy coming to terms with the painful aftermath of World War II.

Now in its fourth year, the Young Playwrights Project kicked off in the fall when members of CTC and Florida Studio Theatre visited classrooms and taught third- and fourth-graders the elements of playwriting. Students wrote either individually or in small groups, depending on their creative preferences and the number of classrooms convened.

Westfield Elementary School third-graders Ella Chagnon, Parker Gambino and Isabella Sorrento initially struggled to meld their ideas when writing The Lagoon Problem, but ultimately came up with a play about animals that use their words to resolve conflicts.

“Sometimes it was hard to think of parts,” Ella said.

“But then sometimes we used all the words together,” Isabella said.

In the winter, the students came to Chautauqua to hear their plays read aloud, after which the 10 winners were announced. Last week, the students returned to the grounds for a private performance in Lenna Hall, where the winning playwrights and runner-ups were awarded with a medal for their creativity. Support for this year-round Young Playwrights Project Initiative is provided by the Court Family Endowment, Mark and Patt Suwyn, Iris and the late Mort November, and Rosemary and the late Richard Corcoran.

The plays feature a zany cast of characters, including a talking shark and a sentient pair of smelly gym shoes. When it came to deciding which scripts called for costumes, props or puppets, McGerr said she took her cue from the text.

“I tried to really ask myself what the writer was picturing,” McGerr said. “Are they picturing a literal table that has eyes and a mouth or are they picturing more like the idea of a table, but personified?”

The playwrights’ intents were also considered by pianist Blake Segal, who underscored each play with music that matches its tone.

Westfield fourth-grader Emma DeGolier wrote The Littlest Foal Ever and was pleased by McGerr’s interpretation of her play, as well as the audience reception to the horse dance party scene.

“It feels good that we can see that people are using their imaginations,” Emma said. “Some things were a little different, but some things were the exact same.”

Because many of the conservatory actors have a background in television and film acting, McGerr said the Young Playwrights Project rounds out their training by breaking away from realism.

“This is not reality,” Mc- Gerr said. “You create the rules of this world, so in this world if a pencil wants to have a conversation with an eraser, we can do that.”

During a brief talkback after last week’s performance, CTC conservatory actor Jerrie Johnson and her castmates said all 10 plays were equally their favorites and that they enjoyed exercising their imaginations.

“The joy and beauty that comes with having to make a cave without making a cave, to make a rocket without making a rocket, it really allows us to stretch our brains,” Johnson said.

The plays may be written by elementary school students, but McGerr said everyone from toddlers to grandparents can come and enjoy the performances.

 

A century of show business

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Submitted photo.

Circurious makes its Chautauqua debut

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

One hundred years of American entertainment will be featured at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater with the arrival of Circurious to the stage as part of the 2011 Season special Wednesday-night Family Entertainment Series.

Circurious, a touring production of Cirque-tacular Entertainment, combines the idea of “going to the circus” with entertaining and athletic performers such as contortionists, singers, dancers, aerialists and acrobats, to entertain audiences of all ages.

Tad Emptage, producer and talent coordinator of Circurious, said the show will be approximately 80 minutes long and consist of 14 performers, all world-class athletes.

These performers, along with a host, will take the audience through time, decade by decade, beginning with Harry Houdini in 1911 and moving through Buffalo Bill, the United Service Organization, the war era and even highlighting the fun and novelty of the 1950s. Throughout the entire show, the host will include fun facts about American show business to educate the audience while the performers amaze with daring acts, Emptage added.

While each time frame is a small part of the whole show, Emptage said, each decade is separately contained and easily identifiable against the others. This is especially evident with the 1950s hula-hoop performance, he added.

Also encompassed throughout the show are more serious topics, and Emptage said the one he is looking forward to the most is a body balancing act from the Vietnam era. In creating this act, Emptage had to figure out “how to approach a volatile time in America’s past and treat it with respect and honesty.”

Because of acts like this, Emptage said, the show is good entertainment for all ages. It will entertain both adults and children, and Emptage is excited to see grandparents laughing alongside their grandchildren.

“It is actually an adult show that the children will enjoy,” he said. “What we did when creating the show was to make sure we had something that appealed to everyone.”

Emptage said this will be the first time Circurious has performed in Chautauqua, and he is excited to perform in the Amphitheater because it is outdoors. The Amphitheater also can house more guests, and with more guests comes more energy from the audience, he added.

“The energy that you get from the audience is what feeds you the most as an entertainer,” he said.

“It’s one of the differences between movies and the live theater,” Emptage said. “It’s something that we share together. It’s not passive; it’s active. It’s something that can only be experienced live.”

Smith Wilkes stage to host alligators, monkeys, bugs

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Submitted photo.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Normal guests for the Tuesday night Family Entertainment Series performances are children and their parents, but tonight’s two shows will have some guests of a different species attending and performing. These guests are the animals of Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics, and they will be the focus of tonight’s performances.

Animal handler Jeff Musial said tonight’s shows, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. in Smith Wilkes Hall, are for guests of any age and will include a variety of animals people don’t often get to see. He said some of the guests in tonight’s show include a black and white ruffed lemur, a baby black-handed spider monkey, alligators and snakes.

To teach people conservation information about these animals, Musial said, he uses a fun method that involves mixing education with entertainment for audience members.

“We call it ‘edutainment,’” he said. “We like to educate people, but in a fun way.”

Musial invites guests up on stage with him at various points during the shows to hold some of the snakes and bugs. He said this allows guests to develop a love for exotic species while seeing them up close.

Musial said using a more fun method to teach kids and adults about endangered and rare species of animals helps them to focus throughout the entire show and to absorb the information given to them. This means Musial also gets to include a little bit of comedy and some “fun facts” about the animals.

Musial said that for almost 14 years, he has worked to educate the public on aspects of wildlife.

None of the animals at Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics are taken from the wild. They have all been brought from other educational organizations, are previous unwanted pets or were rescued from neglectful situations, Musial said.

Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics has appeared on several morning talk shows and late-night shows such as “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” both in 2009. This has allowed them to reach an even broader audience in their goal of educating the public on wildlife.

Musial said after Chautauqua, Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics will make another appearance on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” July 21.

Even after almost 14 years of working on animal conservation, Musial said he still loves to see an audience’s reaction when he brings out each of the animals in his shows. The most rewarding part of teaching audiences conservation is the fact that audience members laugh and smile, he said.

“I do it in a way where they get it all through fun and laughing,” Musial said. “I just like to entertain people. I’m a big kid at heart.”

Comedy, juggling and stunts come to Smith Wilkes Hall

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Nels Ross. Submitted photo.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

A blend of clean comedy, juggling, flying props and extraordinary stunts comes to Chautauqua as Nels Ross, CEO of In Jest Inc. brings “In Jest: Comedy Variety Show” at 5 and 7 p.m. tonight to Smith Wilkes Hall. These performances come as part of the 2011 Season’s Family Entertainment Series.

Ross, a performer, comedian and speaker, began working on his act when he was 8 years old and said his main influence was his mother, who was a mime, fire-eater, singer, dancer and storyteller. After seeing Ross’s interest in juggling and performing, his mother gave him the book Juggling for the Complete Klutz, and his love grew from there.

“She was my first inspiration in learning how to juggle,” he said.

Since then, Ross has immersed himself in juggling and performing, even working with instructors from the Ringling Bros. Circus and Cirque du Soleil throughout his training. Ross also immersed himself by studying theater at the University at Buffalo.

At the age of 20, Ross took time to tour with a circus and then began his career as a full-time performer when he was 24 years old.

Ross has performed for audiences in Chautauqua as part of the Family Entertainment Series five times in the past, and he said he always makes sure to have something new for returning audiences.

“Whenever I return somewhere, I come back with a different show,” Ross said. “There will be some brand-new elements.”

Included in tonight’s performances will be a new balancing act Ross said is a combination stunt of several different skills. These include balancing, spinning and juggling props simultaneously. He said he also plans to have more unique elements in the shows, which will include “exploding and squirting things.”

In addition to providing family entertainment and comedy, Ross also does ministry work and said he believes his ministry work takes an active role in all his performances.

“I believe all of my shows are ministry in the sense that laughter can be a cup of cold water to somebody that is hurting,” Ross said. “The message really here is to enjoy life, and I hope my show does that.”

Ross said his ultimate goal in performing is always to bring mirth, joy and laughter to his audiences, and this is what he plans to do at Chautauqua this evening.

“Ringling Brothers sometimes calls their show ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’” Ross said. “I call this show ‘The Greatest Show on Mirth.’”

He also said a great benefit of laughter is stress relief, and this is something refreshing to audience members of any age.

“This is truly a show for all ages,” Ross said. “Bring the kids. Bring the parents. Bring the grandparents.”

‘Live 3D’ comes to Amp tonight

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Mark Nizer. Submitted photo.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Lasers, bowling balls, electric carving knives and comedy will fill the Amphitheater at 7:30 p.m. tonight. These all play a part in “Expecting the Impossible: Mark Nizer’s Live 3D Show,” a special Wednesday entry into Chautauqua’s Family Entertainment Series this summer.

Nizer, who has been working to perfect his act since he took juggling classes as a child, won the International Juggling Association Championships and has performed at such venues as the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Nizer said he plans to bring plenty of juggling, comedy and 3-D lighting effects to tonight’s performance. He added that incorporating comedy allows him to form a stronger connection with the audience. This means that while Nizer is juggling a variety of potentially dangerous objects, he is also working to make the crowd laugh.

“A lot of comedians rely on finding some common ground with the audience,” Nizer said. “I make that connection because we’re all experiencing that same kind of challenge together.”

Though it may go unnoticed by most in the audience, Nizer utilizes a unique tool to bring the various aspects of the show together.

“I designed this unique system that lets me run everything from my belt,” Nizer said. “I want to truly have it be a one-man show.”

Nizer controls all aspects of the show, from audio, lighting and video to fog machines and lasers. The only assistance he’ll receive this evening is having an individual throw him one of his props from the side of the stage.

Everything is controlled from his belt, which is programmed to change button settings for each routine in his act. Audience members typically don’t even notice that Nizer is controlling the special effects.

“It’s hard to even notice it’s happening, but the whole goal was to make it an easy thing to do,” Nizer said.

Nizer said although some of the smaller children in attendance tonight may not understand all the comedic aspects of his show, the use of lighting, music, juggling and lasers means that there is something for everyone.

“It’s perfect for everybody,” Nizer said. “It crosses all ages.”

The early start time of the event and Chautauqua’s outdoor Amphitheater will provide Nizer with a unique experience; the ambient light will allow him the rare opportunity to see the people he is performing for.

“It’ll be an interesting experience to be able to see the audience,” Nizer said. “I can usually only see the first two rows.”

Nizer said his show will be approximately 75 minutes long, and he will single-handedly entertain the audience the whole time.

“I’m always tickled by people saying, ‘I haven’t laughed so hard in my whole life,’” Nizer said. “I’m going to expect people to have a great time and laugh. It’s definitely different than anything you’ve ever seen before.”

‘Opera Improv Trunk’ introduces children to opera

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Pittsburgh Opera presents “Opera Improv Trunk” at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Wilkes Hall. Photo courtesy of David Bachman.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Audience members can find themselves taking an active role in tonight’s Family Entertainment Series performance. This is the Pittsburgh Opera’s “Opera Improv Trunk,” and it allows audience members to take part in making a finished “Opera-on-the-spot” improvisation alongside Pittsburgh Opera teaching artists.

The Pittsburgh Opera teaching artists who will be in the presentation tonight are Amy Stabnau, Bridget Steele, Liliana Piazza, Rob Frankenberry and Mark Trawka.

Each of these artists will offer the audience two arias, which are vocal pieces from operas. The audience will then have the opportunity to vote on which of these arias will go into the final improvisation story. The artists will also offer several story titles, and audience members will choose what story title they will then use to create the improvisation.

Marilyn Egan, director of education for the Pittsburgh Opera, said tonight’s presentations will teach audiences about opera while also making them a part of the improvisation process.

Unlike most performances, Egan said, the “Opera Improv Trunk” will not show up as a finished product for guests to merely sit and watch.

“It’s improvised on the spot,” Egan said. “It’s a cross between Disney street performers, teachers in a school and opera on a stage.”

Because of this, Egan said, the performance is more of a presentation than a planned event.

“The audience members will help to shape what the program is,” Egan said. “So many things are prepared in advance, but this is not one of those performances.”

This is the first time the “Opera Improv Trunk” will be in Chautauqua, and Virginia DiPucci, president of the Chautauqua Opera Guild, said one of the main objectives of today’s presentation is to broaden the opera audience by sparking an interest in opera. DiPucci said this could be very difficult if audience members don’t have an initial understanding of opera.

“People look to opera as a very sophisticated art form and keep away if they’re not very knowledgeable in it,” DiPucci said. “If you want an audience that’s going to be with you for a long time, you have to start from when they are children.”

The other main objective of the presentation is to offer musical enrichment for children.

“We wanted to bring opera to all levels of society and to all ages,” DiPucci said. “This is the opportunity for cross generations to enjoy and learn about opera together. I think that that’s really important.”

DiPucci, whose love of opera began when her mother brought it to her attention as a child, said individuals who are exposed to and educated in opera from a young age tend to stay tied to it throughout their entire lives.

“There’s wonderful setting and wonderful music to opera,” DiPucci said. “You have to show people that, and you show youngsters that, and they get very attached to that.”

Overall, Egan said that making opera available to people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the art form is a major objective of the presentation. To that end, the teaching artists try to incorporate facts about opera into the presentation.

“Opera can be accessible, and it can be fun,” Egan said. “Teaching artists can help people think about opera in new ways.”

The two performances will take place at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tonight at Smith Wilkes Hall and are sponsored by the Chautauqua Opera Guild.

Ventriloquist set to amaze families tonight

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This article originally appeared on Page 3 of the Tuesday, June 28, issue of The Chautauquan Daily

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Families looking to enjoy a stress-free Tuesday night have to look no further than tonight’s Family Entertainment Series act.

Michael Harrison. Submitted photo.

, a ventriloquist, puppeteer and comedian will perform at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Wilkes Hall.

A semi-finalist on the 2008 season of “America’s Got Talent,” Harrison takes his passion for entertaining kids and families very seriously. He has performed on many cruise lines, including Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean International and Holland America, and he just finished his 10th year with Disney Cruise Line.

He also expanded his talents to the TV realm when he wrote and starred in “Kids in the Firehall.”

While Harrison, who is from Vancouver, British Columbia, has never been to Chautauqua, he said he has known for approximately six months that he would be bringing his show here during the 2011 Season. He was approached about performing in Chautauqua after doing a performing arts showcase in New York last year.

With a background in improvisation, Harrison said he tries to go with the flow in his performances. This allows him to adapt to unexpected factors in any show.

“It’s good as a performer to be slightly nervous,” he said. “You don’t want to be so comfortable that you get too relaxed on stage. You never know what kids are going to do or say, so you just have to go with the flow.”

Harrison’s show typically runs from 45 minutes to one hour long, and he said determining the length of his show can be challenging when dealing with
young kids.

“I cater to the family market, so we don’t like to go much longer than an hour,” Harrison said. “I play it by ear, and if they’re still engaged, I keep going. Every audience is a little bit
different.”

While the majority of Harrison’s show is dedicated to entertaining families, he said he often has to spend time making sure his audience understands different aspects of the show.

“I spend the first five minutes of the show explaining the art because many don’t know about ventriloquism or puppets,” Harrison said. “It’s just something kids don’t really experience anymore.”

From there, Harrison tries to make each performance fun for audiences.

“Each routine is unique and different,” Harrison said. “I’m not the traditional ventriloquist. I try to find things that are unique, one-of-a-kind, family-friendly and engaging.”

For tonight’s performance, Harrison said he is excited about the “many, many special guests” he has for his audiences. These include a 20-foot talking snake puppet named Ana Conda, a talking tennis ball and racquet named Mr. Tennis Ball and Dunlop, and a human puppet, which will be created from a member of the audience by throwing his voice while making the audience member’s mouth move.

Harrison said one of his goals in entertaining guests is to “take them on a little bit of a ride.” He does this by providing them with entertainment for entire families of any age.

He also said he enjoys the fact that he can “get kids away from the TV for an
hour or so.”

Overall, Harrison said he wants to see his audience in Chautauqua “have a good time and forget their worries.”