Circus article in the Times Herald!

May 6th, 2021
Category: News

Zoom on Zoom: PMFS students find a way to stage annual circus

By M. English For MediaNews Group

PLYMOUTH — In recent greetings to members of the World Circus Federation on World Circus Day, a Vatican spokesman called such productions sources of “pure joy”; circus artists and workers, “artisans of beauty.” The latter was coined by Pope Francis himself to describe for men and women whose “pastoral care…is among the tasks of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development,” noted Peter K.A. Cardinal Turkson.

Papal approbation aside, the annual Fourth Grade Circus powered by Plymouth Meeting Friends School’s young “artisans of beauty” has delighted hundreds of fans over the years. Sadly, COVID-19 put the kibosh on 2020’s circus mere hours before opening weekend. But this year – despite continuing pandemic protocols – fourth grade teacher Will Starr and his students found a way to keep “the spirit of the circus…alive and well” via a 40-minute video set to air on PMFS’s Facebook page May 7 at 7 p.m.

The show’s title – “Zoom on Zoom” – is a riff on a popular 1970s-era TV show called “Zoom.”

“When I was a kid, I loved that show,” says Starr, whose passion for circuses goes back just as far. “It was a huge part of my childhood. Basically, it consisted of kids putting on plays, reciting poems, telling jokes, singing…a whole bunch of different segments presented by these kids. So, following that format allowed the kids here to do a lot of different, really creative stuff at home in their own neighborhoods…or here at school.

“In a typical year, we would introduce them to a variety of new circus skills…unicycle riding, trapeze, tight rope walking, et cetera. This year, we, naturally, had numerous limitations, including keeping the kids six feet apart, not having any of our circus partners able to join us on campus and not even having access to the gym (which is being used as a classroom to allow for physical distancing) at all.”

Also problematic, creating acts that combined students attending school on campus and virtually as well as regrouped class “pods” that merged third and fourth-graders.

“By putting all of the kids in one big Zoom meeting, we were able to work with them in a new and unique way,” Starr says. “They all had their own little picture frame in which they could speak, sing or do an act. We also filmed a number of scenes together on campus, showing…how we worked with both live and online kids throughout the year.

“Each year, younger students…come to the circus and dream about when they will participate. Often, they assume that they’ll learn the same skills and have a somewhat pre-defined image of what their show might look like. This year was much different. None of us had any idea how to do this online, so we created a whole new approach that focused much more on the filming of individual and group acts than on the mastery of specific circus skills and presentation. The result is a very sweet and emotionally supportive collection of skits that don’t look anything like what we’ve done in the past.”

But might just redefine future PMFS circuses…

“I think the biggest thing is that it’s opened my mind to the possibility of doing things in a totally new and different way,” Starr says. “Instead of thinking about how the audience will see us, I’ve learned to think about ways to use the camera to create completely new experiences. It isn’t the same, and I do miss the actual performances, but I love what we’ve done. Moving forward, I wonder how we can combine the two.”

Bottom line, viewers “can expect a variety of skits that demonstrate just how playful, hard-working and resilient these kids have been all year.”

“In a time when all interactions have been severely limited, this group of kids has found a way to safely work together and create a wonderfully sweet and engaging show,” Starr continues. “Clearly, everyone had hoped that we would be live, but that wasn’t to be. By keeping an open mind and encouraging the kids to think the same, we have hopefully built a circus that will be remembered for its originality and spirit. That said, we all really hope to be performing in front of an enthusiastic crowd again next spring.”

Starr invites the public to view this year’s virtual circus by logging on to Facebook.com/PMFS1780 May 7 at 7 p.m.

“Anyone is welcome to join us,” he says. “They don’t even need to have a Facebook account.”

See this article on the Times Herald website