Arts and Entertainment

Circus Gatti rolls into town; Event brings with it cotton candy, elephants and feats of courage | Kitsap Week

An acrobat balances during a performance of Circus Gatti.  - Photo Courtesy of MJG Entertainment, Inc.
An acrobat balances during a performance of Circus Gatti.
— image credit: Photo Courtesy of MJG Entertainment, Inc.

Leo Acton attended a school so competitive that only 34 out of 5,000 applicants were accepted in his class.

His school wasn’t Harvard or Yale or Princeton. Acton’s school was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. Acton described his schooling as a “boot camp with bigger boots.”

For 10 weeks, Acton worked 13 hours a day, six days a week, perfecting his act and learning new skills. And now, Acton makes a living touring the United State and Canada with Circus Gatti.

“The 9 to 5 thing isn’t for me,” Acton said over the phone while en route to the next stop on the multi-city tour. “I like that it’s always a little different.”

Circus Gatti takes to the road in January and the tour ends around October. During the winter quarters (a traditional term from the days when circuses traveled via covered wagon and the weather conditions put a halt to performances), they prepare and rehearse for the next season’s tour.

Known as “Leo the Clown,” Acton provides comic relief in the show. His role is to keep the show moving at a nice pace while the other acts set up or performers change their wardrobe.

Circus Gatti has been traveling the country since 1963 and the show’s theme this year is “Pushing the Limits,” showcasing traditional circus acts in new ways. Spectators will see elephants perform a dance,  Bollywood style. Contortionists will bend and maneuver their bodies. Acrobats will fly through the air (with the greatest of ease). Tightrope walkers will balance high above the ground without the benefit of nets.

“We will perform as high as we can above you, and as close as we can to you, and make it as interactive as possible,” Acton said.

The two-hour show includes synchronized pony acts and dog tricks. Rounding out the experience will be opportunities for animal rides, face painting and, of course, cotton candy. The circus staple is made fresh on the premises, filling the air with its distinctive aroma.

“If you haven’t had cotton candy in a while, taste it and it will bring back childhood memories,” Acton said. “It’s almost magical.”

As for those who say they suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns), Acton believes the phobia is a fad and that most people don’t actually suffer from it — they just think they do. He believes the problem stems from the fact that anyone can put on a clown suit — you don’t have to be licensed or registered to be a clown. Because of that, impostors, with the help of Hollywood, have given true clowns a bad rap.

To overcome this, Acton encourages people to see a professional — a professional clown, that is.

With his extra-big sideburns and red-tipped nose, Acton looks nothing like the scary clowns seen in pop culture. His job isn’t to frighten anyone. In fact, his job is exactly the opposite.

“I add a lighter element to the circus,” he said.

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Circus Gatti:

Jugglers, elephants and tightrope walkers are making a quick stop in Kitsap on July 14.

Performances are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds.

Tickets are $22 for adults; $16 for seniors and children age 13-17; $10 for children age 2-12. Children younger than 2 get in free if they sit in a parent’s lap.

Tickets are available at www.circusgatti.net.

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