The Muse and Whirled Retort 2023
The Muse and Whirled Retort August 2023
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
THE MUSE AND WHIRLED RETORT
It’s that time again. I had a nice three festival run with Jen Delyth and Celtic Art Studio and now Paul and I are on the road again. We had a terrific run at the Oregon Country Faire! Holy COW! What a band! Jarrod Kaplan, Christine Gunn and Jordan Feinstein. Wowzers. I have a video for ya after the “Muse”.
We are looking forward to shows in and around Seattle, Olympia, Portland, Eugene, Ashland, All over the Bay Area, Santa Cruz and Nevada City.
See you there! Several of these are house concerts and you’ll need to reach out to me to get the address.
In other news, If you have been following along, the Alberti Flea Circus has been delivered to Rhys Thomas at Jugglemania in Portland, OR to be used as a tool to teach children about Vaudeville.
And that is what this month is going to be about!
T.H.E. .M.U.S.E. .A.N.D. .W.H.I.R.L.E.D. R.E.T.O.R.T.
July 26, 2023
“My dog has….”
A cacophony of children’s voices shout out in unison the obvious answer to the question.
The performer looks down at his uchilale and back at the children confused. He makes a guess… “ unicorns?”
The children answer back, “no!“
He strums his uchelele again.
“My dog has…”.
Jim told me that silk woud work best, as he reached in the drawer of his living room turned make shift studio and pulled out a swath of shiny black silk and an over sized pair of scissors. A few deft snips of the clippers, he cut a simple circle, and Voilà:
A Black hole. An ACME black hole. Like from the road runner cartoons.
I had told him about my desire to produce the effect on stage, and who better to ask for tips than an old Vaudeville guy?
As you may know, I often perform with a video backdrop, and by the time I asked him about it, I had gotten as far as creating a road runner cartoon style background image using photos from New Mexico.
New Mexico is, after all, where they filmed the road runner cartoons.
He looked kinda proud of himself as held the freshly cut silk circle aloft and proceeded to teach me to show off the fabric to the audience. “Run your hand in front of it’” he said. “Both sides. Both sides, that’s important to get them wondering, ‘What is he going to do with it?’”
“Now, as soon as you get that, make a big effort… the bigger the better… and then fling it across the stage… like this…”
He held the shiny black circle with both hands and suddenly stomped as he gave it a Herculean hurl with his right… My eyes followed to where he threw it... It was gone. I looked back confused… He chuckled and said, “It’s right here.” As he unclinched his left hand.
This flea can leap tall buildings in a single bound! He can jump higher than the Empire State Building! Not taller than the Empire State Building?
Yes, Because the Empire State Building can’t jump.
“Now, you are much younger than me.” He confessed. “And can probably figure out how to do this. It’s like Eugene O’Neil… remember when we made you take that class… writing Hughie… the last play of his career. He was writing stuff that he knew people with technical skills in the future could achieve - but he had no idea how it would be done.”
As I tried to think about that, he interrupted.
“You say you have a video back drop… what if - the second you ‘throw’ it… a black hole appears on the video screen… don’t know how you make that happen - but you can do it. and then.. then you walk behind the screen - and there is your face… inside the black hole!! … you walk back out to the audience with a perplexed look on your face.. give us your best Marcel Marceau.”
He stopped and contemplated…
“Oh! Oh! And then you reach behind the screen… make a big show of it… like Marcel Marceau… and you remove a second silk circle that you taped there in advance just as the image on the screen disapears.”
“You step forward… exactly as you did the first time… that is important. Exactly like you did the first time. Run your hand in front of it… Both sides. That is important. Voilà! A black hole. ”
How did the Fleas get from Winston-Salem, NC to Portland, OR?
Well, they were going to itch-hike but they ended up taking the Greyhound.
Jim’s Flea Circus left a storage bin in Austin, Texas this summer to continue the last leg of the circuitous cross country journey that started over a year ago. For this leg, it rode in the back of my little Ford Transit Connect unmarked modern Gypsy wagon appropriately named “Alberti.”
We stopped at all the road side attractions along the way. “The Thing” in Arizona. “The Mystery Spot” in Santa Cruz. “The Vortex” in Oregon. “Cadillac Ranch” in Amarillo. Area 51. The Alberti Flea Circus needed to see its cousins, on its way to its new home.
It didn’t start as a flea ring circus.
It started off as a flea burlesque, but we got tired of men, yelling, “Show us your ticks!“
Just what is a flea circus you ask?
A flea circus is a miniature big top circus. Table-Top sized, where trained flea perform (OK OK at least appear to perform) acts of darring do and feats of strength.
The high wire, the trapeze, the high jump into a thimble full of water. One is shot from a cannon, lands on a pedestal and hoists a flag in triumph.
They were very popular in the 19th century, and today only occasionally found at a festival in the kids entertainment section. Jim started one.
The Flea Circus is a regular in France at a Paris-Site.
Jim had been my mentor in college when I was studying stage lighting. My professor.
I don’t know if you know this about me but I dropped out of high school to go on the road running lights for a punk Rock band. I’ll spare you the shaggy dog, but I wound up getting a scholarship to a prestigious university for the performing arts. The North Carolina School of the Arts. Jim was the resident Lighting Designer.
Same thing really.
The flea said to the circus, “Who is to say which is the right end of the telescope?”
We stayed in touch over the years. I called him periodically and always over the holidays. Whenever I had a show in or around Winston-Salem I would make a point to come visit and sit down with him. His show was doing much better than mine. He was playing all the great festivals. Ones I could never dream of being invited to. Merle Fest. Bonnaroo. Willie Nelson’s Picnic.
Years past. I continued to correspond. Usually, around the holidays.
There came a pandemic. Of course I called Jim.
The reason I was so anxious to place the call was, I had started doing a live stream called “The Poem of the Day.”
I dunno, a few days into it, there was this red tea towel sitting there and I picked it up and held it in front of the camera. It became a curtain. I HAD A THEATRE!
Before you could say,
“No Dogs allowed… they steal the show.”
I was building a fully aportioned puppet show. At first with card board, then a wooden grid and elaborate proscenium. An old red velvet jacket was cut up to make the curtains. Hell, it was the pandemic and I certainly wasn’t performing. I made a full on fly house, with trick-line ropes and pulleys. A counter weight arbor system with washers for pig iron. Of course there were stage lights. I had a class mate mail me a tell swatch book - which was just the right size for the miniature lights. I named it “The Jim Alberti Theatre.”
The Jim Alberti Theatre
I wanted to tell him. I wanted to show it to him. Few of my friends really grocked my enthusiasm for it. I knew Jim would. The holidays were approaching. I always talked to him over the holidays.
As the great PT, Barnum said “there’s a sucker born every minute.“ and our show is full of them.
I called him on Thanksgiving day, but he didn’t pick up. I didn’t think much of it, and called him a few days later but his voicemail was full. A week later and his phone was out of service. Then his website went down and I thought the worst. So, I called the school to ask. Their tone turned somber.
They told me that Jim had passed.
I mourned his death.
The puppet show took on new significance to me. The Jim Alberti Theatre.
Then I started thinking… where is his obituary? I searched the Internet.
I mean, what the hell? It should be in the New York Times!
He launched the most important flea circus of the 20th century. I mean hell, his flea circus had been a question on Jeopardy. Really.
It should be in the New York Times. Where is his obituary?
I started reaching out on social media. I commiserated with former classmates, but then something peculiar happened. A clown from Australia, a former classmate, sent me a text saying no Jim is not dead. He is living in assisted-living facility in Winston Salem.
So I started contacting assisted-living facilities in Winston-Salem. It took me a while I had no idea that there were that many assisted living facilities in Winston-Salem. When I finally got a hold of him, OK not him but a receptioist who set up an appointment for a phone call. A zoom meeting even. I would get to show him the Puppet show, named for his Flea Circus!
A day or so later, I was on the computer awaiting our pandemic era face to face.
But alas, the technology failed and we settled for an old fashioned phone call.
I got to tell him about my live streams and of course the puppet theatre. He was touched.
I got to tell him how much he has meant to me over the years and reminded him of something he told the stage lighting class that changed my life.
He had asked, “How do you make an elephant disappear from the stage?”
We looked at him with our heads cocked like the Victorla dog.
“The only way you can. You have to simply walk him off the stage. But while you are doing it you release a flock of butterflies in the other direction.”
I told him that made me believe in Magic. And I do believe in magic, even more so when I know how the trick is done.
Before we hung up we set up a time for another zoom meeting so I could show him the theatre. We set it up for new year’s day. I was so excited!
Jim died of COVID on New Year’s eve. It was the second time he died for me. But he, in true vaudeville fashion came back to life for one final encore.
A dog walked by and ran away with the circus.
Jim’s son Darryl wanted me to take the circus because, my friend Rhys Thomas of Jugglemania wanted to refurbish it and use it as a tool to teach children about Vaudeville.
A few days ago, The flea circus completed its circuitous Voyage across the country from Winston-Salem, NC to Highland Park, NJ to Austin, TX and Oakland California and finally to Portland Oregon where it will begin anew.
Afterall, do you know where the fleas go to breakfast after the show?
Jim Albert Hobbs
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H.E.R.E.’.S. .D.A. .D.A.T.E.S.
28 Friday 7:00 PM to 9:00 AM
29 Saturday 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM
1 Tuesday 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
2 Wednesday 7:00 PM
Cottage Grove, OR
5 Saturday7:00 PM
6 Sunday 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM
9 Wednesday 8:00 PM
With the one and only John Beale
Paul and Chris Return to the North BayThe Lost Church
Santa Rosa, CA
San Francisco, CA
11 Friday 7:30 PM
12 Saturday 8:00 PM
Grass Valley, CA
13 Sunday 8:00 PM
Santa Cruz, CA