A Circus Collective Grows in New Haven

For their latest trick, members of the New Haven Circus Collective have attempted the seemingly impossible: To birth a welcoming, not-for-profit group of performance artists and circus aficionados in a recession economy.

One hundred fifty New Haveners witnessed the debut of the NHCC Thursday night at the Ideat Village festival downtown. It was The Advocate’s “Cirque du Papier” night at Ideat Village, and hula-hooping, slack-line walking, fire dancing, live cabaret-style modeling, plein air sketching, and sundry other entertainments filled Pitkin Plaza. DJ You B, A Paper Tugboat, The Cavemen Go, and The Weird Beards played sets by the graffiti murals.

At the center of it all was Polly Sonic.

In her spare time, Sonic, a full-time employee in the costume shop of the Yale School of Drama, wears many hats. Thursday night she was wearing a bowler hat. Later she wore a flaming hat. (See video above) The NHCC, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School, and Polly Sonic’s Fiery Circus all function under her leadership. Thursday night, all three were in full effect at the Ideat Village. 

Through social networking, Sonic aggregated a motley crew of all-volunteer circus performers to mingle among the crowd. Henceforth they will be known as the New Haven Circus Collective, she said. In the far corner of the plaza, a candy-stripe cloth had been raised and lit, and wood barrels and props lay strewn about its base. The models, most of whom had modeled before for Dr. Sketchy’s, alternated iconic poses under the bright lights, donating their time. A man on seven-foot stilts juggled above the crowd. A slack-line walker set up his line between two trees. Sonic claimed she had never seen him before.

Nearby, aerial artist Stephanie Santuro posed under a detachable beard. Next to her stood a giant eyeball (who identified himself only as “Eye”). Santuro said she hopes to join the Circus Collective and came out to Pitkin Plaza to make a connection.

““Well she’s in!” said Sonic later, after hearing Santuro wanted to join the collective.

Jay Dockendorf Photo “Anybody can be a part of the Collective; even if they don’t know any skills, we’ll teach them,” said Sonic, owner of the local Dr. Sketchy’s Anti Art School franchise. The company, whose tagline is “...what happens when cabaret meets art school,” sells the use of its name to parties interested in launching a Dr. Sketchy’s in their hometown. Last year, Sonic held meetings at Cafe Nine once every six weeks. She charged five dollars at the door, she said, mostly to pay the models. This year once school resumes, she hopes to increase the regularity of Dr. Sketchy’s.

But what transpired Thursday was not a money-making venture (with the exception of a $2 raffle to raise money for sound-equipment for Ideat Village), everyone interviewed agreed. To Sonic, it was a “happening,” a place for performers and audiences to gather, and a means of exposure for Dr. Sketchy’s. Bill Saunders, the longtime co-organizer of Ideat Village, echoed Sonic’s vision of free-spirited communion as he introduced The Cavemen Go: “We say to everyone, ‘Bring your skateboard, bring your bike, bring your freak.’”

Mike Sembos of The New Haven Advocate booked The Cavemen Go for the night’s musical entertainment. He called them “New Haven favorites…[especially] for the people that hang out at Rudy’s and Cafe Nine” and said he saw “Cirque du Papier” and Ideat Village, which is free and easy for bands to participate, as “very much for the people, by the people.”

Asked if 150 attendees was the largest number he had seen since the festival started two weeks ago, Saunders replied, “You wait until tomorrow and Saturday — this is just a precursor!”

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posted by: Beth on June 28, 2010  2:32pm

This was a very cool event.  Quite a collection of characters!  Jay’s article, pictures, and videos recreate the vibe of what transpired that evening for those who were unable to attend.

posted by: Heather on July 7, 2010  12:31pm

Jay really couldn’t have summarized this event any better - - it certainly was for the people, by the people.  Amazing event & we can’t wait for next year!