Have you ever been to a flea circus? When I learned Jim Alberti’s flea circus would be performing at the Summer Solstice Festival in Blacksburg. I was intrigued. I had never been to a flea circus, and was not even sure what one is. I had many questions, such as are there really fleas involved? If so, how do you possibly train one? I visited Jim’s website to learn more, and learned he has traveled all over the US and Canada performing, and is a 3rd generation flea circus performer.
I still was not sure about what exactly a flea circus is however, so I did a Google search. I found articles that told how performers attach tiny threads to fleas using surgical glue or knots, with the other ends attached to tiny wagons or other pieces. As the fleas move it appears as if they are pulling the wagons and performing “tricks.” Other articles suggested the fleas are imaginary, and the show is the magic of the performer. I was even more confused than when I started researching!
The Summer Solstice Festival arrived, and when Jim arrived to set up I recognized him from his website and introduced myself. My daughter was with me, and he offered to have her hold a flea during the show; visions of stardom shone in her eyes as she rapidly accepted his offer. He had two shows scheduled that day, and my family planned to meet me for the second show.
About twenty minutes before the second show, the gray sky opened and rain poured down, temporarily closing most of the festival. When it ended, Jim’s stage and props had been soaked and the second show was cancelled. I told him how disappointed I was and how I hoped to learn more about his trade and possibly write about it, and we were able to set up a lunch date the following week when he happened to be in a nearby town performing a Harry Potter themed magic show.
The lunch date arrived, and my daughter accompanied me equipped with a bag of tricks she packed to keep her occupied. Jim Alberti is a delightful dining companion. He is filled with stories of travels and performances and does much more than just flea circuses. He is passionate about Charles Dickens, and while discussing Dickens, Jim balled up a napkin and handed it to my daughter, only to have it disappear. A while later he handed her a rose made from a napkin, and she slid under the table for a moment to announce she had magically made it smell like a real rose. Apparently she had stashed a bottle of perfume in her bag of tricks!
Jim earned an MFA in design and theater history, and we learned we have the University of RI in common, Jim as an Artist-In-Residence and I as a graduate student. In addition to multiple stints in higher education, Jim offers workshop to both grade school aged children and their teachers, where he emphasizes the use of imagination as a learning tool. Jim’s Imagination Workshop curriculum has been part of Smart Start and other programs, and keeps him busy when he is not performing.
Lunch ended too soon, and I asked him about the fleas. Are there really fleas in a “flea circus?” The answer is both yes and no, so apparently I need to wait until he is in town performing again.
To learn more about Jim Alberti and his workshops and performances, visit his website at http://www.albertifleacircus.com