Washington DC in July: Part 1

This weekend, we went back to Washington DC for another wedding. Unsurprisingly, we had a blast. This time we were situated in Alexandria, VA. What a charming town! Of course, we were located in the center of the tourist district, just a few blocks from the Potomac. Since the town didn’t sustain a lot of damage due to the Civil War, a lot of the old buildings are still standing.

We were staying at the Hotel Monaco, which was a lovely hotel. I had never stayed at a Kimpton Hotel before. It’s got nice touches like a happy hour from 5-6 with free wine and snacks. And the hotel is dog friendly. We’re talking about all kinds of dogs. We saw a German Shepherd and a Rottweiler. We later learned that the hotel was the site of the first shooting death of the civil war. Elmer Ellsworth was a Unions soldier who was killed when he tried to remove the Confederate Flag from the hotel (3rd level) by innkeeper James Jackson. Colonel Ellsworth’s men in turn killed him. These were the first two intentional violent deaths of the Civil War. Curiously, there is a plaque outside of the hotel that only mentions James Jackson.

Civil War Plaque

The first thing we did after checking in was get seafood. I love the Midwest but seafood is not a strength. I relish any opportunity to have some good lobster when I’m at one of the coasts. We ended up at the Fish Market, which was supposed to be a little less upscale. The food was magnificent. I had a lobster and it was superb. I think I’ve said this before but you can figure the quality of the lobster by the need for extra butter. The less you need, the better the lobster. This dish was the best I’d had in years. And they gave me more of it than normal, all the legs. I even found some innards that the waiter didn’t recognize (not very tasty but interesting nonetheless). My fiancé delighted on crabs’ legs.

Next was ice cream. The streets were lined with ice cream shops! I got Pralines & Cream and Brownie with Cookie Dough. It was okay. We are a bit spoiled by Black Dog Gelato. But it was lovely to eat our ice cream staring across the Potomac. We even saw a heron grazing nearby.

Then we went on a ghost tour. We love these tours. We always do them if we can especially in smaller towns. I’m not sure how I feel about ghosts but I do love the stories and the tidbits of history. I also have a bit of a morbid sense of humor. Our guide was named Alastair, a Brit, wearing colonial outfit holding a flaming lantern. He was amazing. He led us through Alexandria and told us a series of wonderful ghost stories.

Our tour guide

My favorite was about the Female Stranger. In 1816, a lady and man were let off a ship and they went directly to the best inn. The lady was ill with typhoid. Her husband called for the best medical help. When they came, he made them swear to secrecy never to reveal anything about his wife if she were to say something in her delirium. Apparently, they kept that promise to their graves. She sadly passed away at the Gadsby’s Tavern (going back to George Washington’s time). He had her buried in the town under a grave “the Female Stranger.” Then he ended up skipping out on the bills. No one knows who she is to this day. She apparently haunts the room at the Gadsby’s Tavern, looking for her husband.

The tour ended in a graveyard where we learned some new things. First, the table top graves that you sometimes seen were used for meals. People would have Sunday brunches on the tombs as a way of connecting with their deceased love ones. Second, gravestones were sometimes used to shore up artillery. However, when they were no longer needed, the stones would return to a cemetery. Often times, they’d be thrown over a wall. But it may not be the correct one…So in that cemetery, there may be 20-30 gravestones and none may actually belong there. Allegedly, many ghosts wander to see if they can find their tombstones. Also, some of the soldiers decided to carve in extra 1s on the tombstones. Some people lived to be 153… Terrible mischief. Other stones were used for target practice. Yikes!

Tomorrow will be the Smithsonians. That’s all for now!

Review: Cirque Italia

This weekend, we went out to Cicero, IL to see Cirque Italia. It’s a big top water circus. That meant that a series of fountains encircled the stage from below and above. Quite neat.  It was a fun night. However, it started off a little rough due to operational issues. The circus ended up starting 30 minutes late since they were trying to get everyone in. When we got there, there was an enormous line that barely moved.  Plus it was super confusing if you had will call tickets. It wasn’t marked and eventually an employee told us where to go. BUt 30 minutes is a bit much.

Once it started, the circus itself was splendid. The most amazing act was a hand-balancing act by the singer. Yes, the singing gentleman who opens the show ends up doing the most solid hand-balancing act I’ve ever seen. Now, it’s possible that when he went upside down, the sound people switched it to a recording but I’m not sure. And it was amazing. He made hand-balancing look like the easiest thing in the world. He also did some foot-juggling and an incredible jump while upside down!


One of the most visually stunning acts was the mermaid straps. It started with a woman in a mermaid outfit carried on stage to the straps. She wrapped herself in the straps and began to soar in the air. Then that was when the water circus emerged for the first time. Quite a wonderful spectacle. Then she began a rather impressive straps act, made even more epic by the fact that she didn’t have full use of her legs! As she continued the act, she shed the skin and continued with the rest of the act. Very cool.

Mermaid Straps

There was also a hair act. A lady had her hair hooked up to the winch. She’d then soar in the air with various props. One of them was an umbrella. It made me happy beyond words to see her flying with an umbrella. She also spun hoops, played with a ribbon, and even did the splits in the air.

Hair and Hoops

Hair and Hoops

In the second half, there was a duo lyra act. The show seemed to like twins; Most performers came on in pairs wearing the same outfit and look. Two redhaired women began a lyra act as if they were two sisters fighting. It was graceful and occasionally wacky. At one point, one of them threw a shoe at her sister on the stage. Nice atmosphere.

Overall it was a fun big top circus. I’m not sure I loved it in the same way as UniverSOUL Circus in Washington Park, another traveling bigtop. But I’m glad I got to check it out.

That’s all for now!

Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival 2015: Part 3

So Sunday was the last day of the 2nd Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival. What a festival. Big congratulations to Dana Dugan, Matt Roben, and Shayna Swanson. I saw 10 shows (well, one twice) that were amazing and so incredibly different from one another.

The very last show I saw with the festival was Jaron Hollander and Slater Penney’s The Submarine Show. I laughed so much in the show that my face hurt. It was pure brilliance. I’m sorry that I saw it on the last day because I probably would have tried to see it again if I could have. The show is “acrobatic acapella foley mime duet” as the performers explained or miming with sound effects. They are so masterful with sound effects that I frequently forgot that they were making them. The sounds were so realistic and so well conceived. I’m frankly jealous.

The basic premise of the show is two men crash their submarine at the bottom of the ocean. They end up going on incredible adventures on a desert island where they face all sorts of dangers. With their sound effects and body movements, they do such an amazing job of evoking their world. It was everything I could have wanted and then some. It was a wonderful way to close out the Festival for me.

I can’t wait for next year!

That’s all for now!

Julia Haw: Art and Politics

As many of you know, I’m doing an oral history project about women artists in Chicago. There’s a real threat right now to shut down the Illinois Art Museums for budgetary reasons as of July 1st. Many artists will be directly impacted right now. We will all suffer a tremendous loss if these cultural institutions are shut down.

Here is the link to my other blog where Julia Haw, artist extraordinaire, talks about how the closure and other budget cuts impact her:


Here’s the link to the petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/governor-rauner-dont.fb48


Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival 2015: Part 2

Yesterday, I saw two more circus shows with the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival. They were magnificent along with all the shows. Today is the last day so get your tickets now!

Pedal Punk by Cirque Mechanics was incredibly imaginative and funny. It has a steampunk feel to it. The basic story takes place in a bicycle shop where people come in to get their bikes fixed or find new apparatuses. The bike owner, one of Chicago’s own, Jan Damm, is a bit of a mad scientist of bikes who comes up with some amazing (and terrifying) creations.

The show had a wonderful variety of circus acts. There was an amazing lyra act that took place on a lyra shaped like a penny-farthing bike, which was awesome. I didn’t know I needed that in my life but I do now. I’m happy this exists. There was contortion, pole, bicycle acrobatics, and so much more. There was even an incredible act with a trampoline, where performers bounced onto the trampoline, doing spins and turns in the air and grabbing onto the stage in seemingly impossible ways, like hanging by a single arm. I now regard trampoline acts with the same feeling that most reserve for flying acrobatics. Except I think that trampoline acts is actually cooler and more creative. And there was some amazing mischief with a square wheeled bike. That tickled me pink.

The set is worthy of note too. It contained all the rigging needed for the show. Actors just had to cycle to raise sections of the set or spin it. It was really fantastic that it was all (seemingly) mechanical. There were corresponding lights in the shape of bicycle wheels too that lit in time with the music. This show was just a marvel. It was so well thought out and pure joy to watch.

I can’t wait to see more shows by Cirque Mechanics.

The second show was the second night of the Bindlestiff Family Circus. Like the night before, the show featured eight acts from around the country. The first act “Aerial Animation” by Abigail Baird and Toni Cannon was truly inspired. It was the wonderful combination of aerial sling and hand to hand acrobatics with animation. We watched Abigail face a bear and get into all sorts of adventure. Her actions on the sling coincided perfectly with the animation. It was magnificent and I want to see more circus combined with animation.

There was an awesome slack-lining act by Ester de Monteflores. I don’t know a lot about slack line; it is different from tight wire. But this was awesome. She did the splits upside down on the rope, which is crazy. She also did various handbalancing positions on the rope. She made it seem like it was easy as breathing (which means it is anything but).

We were also treated to an act by the Institute of Jugglology. It started off as a juggling fight as the two performers grabbed balls from the other while juggling. Then they began juggling hoops and clubs at the same time with such ease. I’ve been told that it’s really hard to juggle different kinds of objects at the same time so this was impressive. But then it was soon revealed that the items had colored sand or dust in them so clouds of dust emanated from the jugglers as they performed. Very cool.. I can see why they won a major juggling award last year.

What a treat!

There’s still time to see more shows today! Check out the website: http://chicagocircusfest.com/

That’s all!

Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival 2015: Part 1

So I’ve been a little tardy with my thoughts on the second annual Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival. It’s a real gift to Chicago. You’ll be missing out if you don’t check it out. Shows run until Sunday night so go to chicagocircusfest.com and buy tickets now.

Here is a brief rundown of the shows I’ve seen over the past few days.

The festival started with the Magmanus Show by duo Magmanus. I actually saw them twice. I saw them once on Wednesday night and then again in a free show at Millennium Park on Thursday. The show was a wonderful combination of acrobatics, hand balancing, seesaw mischief, juggling, and dance. The duo are hilarious and sweet. It was neat to see the show in two places. it was really impressive to see them flying through the air on the seesaw with columns behind them in Wrigley Square. They performed three times, twice in Millennium Park.

Magmanus Show

On Thursday night I saw Peter Davison’s Tossed and Found at the Chopin Theater. What a magical show. The show included juggling, object manipulation, dance, and simply a lot of beauty. So many times the show surprised me and took my breath away. It’s a real treat. It harkens back to the age of silent movies. There’s one bit with hats that made me clap in sheer delight.

Following the show, we checked out Australian group Casus and their show Knee Deep at the Athenaeum. The show has incredible acrobatics, lyra, sling, hula hooping with eggs. And so much more. I had chills so many times during this show. What moved me was that these four performers were incredible strong and agile but they managed to convey such vulnerability in the show. What a beautiful exploration of the human condition!

Friday night began with Kate & Pasi’s Suhde at the Chopin. The title Suhde means relationship in Finnish. The show combines foot juggling and hand to hand acrobatics as a couple fight, love, and figure out how to relate to each other. It’s hilarious but with a lot of heart. Kate and Pasi fight over an armchair while she balances on his head. And it was incredible to watch foot juggling and hand juggling while she laid on his back or balanced on his head. Wow!

Then we saw Jamieson Lindenburg’s The Girlie Show at the Chopin. This show was tremendous. It combines burlesque, circus, and live music. I want more shows like this in the world. It was a raunchy joyful celebration of women and the amazing things they can do. The basic premise is that the show is a cabaret of freaks with a bearded lady, tattooed lady, and so much more. There was cyr wheel, tight wire, trapeze, anchor, pole, and wonderful burlesque. And most of the show was done in high heels! Hot damn! Here’s the interview I did with Jamieson Lindenburg about the show for the festival: http://chicagocircusfest.com/2015/05/11/interview-with-the-girlie-show/

Then we topped off the night with the Bindlestiff Family Circus’ Third Coast Cabaret. This show showcased individual acts from all over the US and the world. We were smitten with an object manipulation act by Robert James Webber (i think?). He twirled a broom around his body like it was the most natural thing in the world. So amazing! There was also a beautiful and fun duo trapeze act by Lauren Feldman & Megan Gendell. They managed to convey such joy as they undertook amazing and daring feats. I can’t wait to see what else they have in store when I go back to NY and hopefully see them.

So there’s still time to see these amazing shows. Seriously, go to one. No, go to them all.

I’ll see you there!

That’s all for now!