UNDER THE BIG TOP : How to run away with the circus (just for an afternoon).

Be a clown! Be a juggler, an acrobat or stilt walker. Or if you prefer, be a Dooling, a Schnozola or a Dax.

It’s all possible when Make A Circus, the traveling theater and circus troupe from San Francisco, returns with its imaginative and thought-provoking performance to Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach on Saturday at 3 p.m.

The free Make A Circus performance is an interactive, three-part event that gives audience members a chance to learn acrobatic and aerial skills and then run away and join the circus--at least for a few minutes.

Along with the clowning, antics and fun, the Make A Circus show offers moral lessons in topics such as intercultural harmony and resolving conflicts without weapons.


“It’s a different kind of circus,” said Karen Jewett, the troupe’s managing director.

Make A Circus was founded 20 years ago by professional clown Peter Frankham, who died last year.

Frankham began the program with children on London’s ghetto streets. He brought the idea to the urban youngsters of San Francisco in the early 1970s, and Make A Circus was born.

Now, the troupe, which travels with a four-piece jazz band, reaches 50,000 California children each year with a different provocative message.


“The way the story is told is for children, but the message is for everyone,” Jewett said.

In the first section of the performance, called the Company Show, the professional performers will treat the audience to a circus act featuring a daring aerial act, tumbling, rope-walking and juggling.

The stunts help tell a story titled “The Pluribus Tree” about two young intergalactic explorers who must set off in search of a new planet to settle because their home planet is dying. One of the explorers lands on Pluribus, a place that is home to the Doolings, the Schnozolas and the Dax, three creatures who compete for the fruit of the Pluribus tree.

As they wrestle for control of the tree, the show explores what happens when lethal weapons are introduced into their conflict.


In the second part of the event, children who are itching to make a circus of their own and try the stunts they’ve just seen on stage will get their chance. In this segment, audience members may find their calling in workshops on skills such as juggling, tumbling or stilt-walking. Participants will be trained in a particular skill while learning a part that they will perform on stage with the professional circus players.

Children younger than 5 will join a special workshop to learn the “parachute dance,” which will be incorporated into the show’s finale.

In the third segment of the performance, the Community Show, audience members don costumes and get their chance to join the circus show as Vikings, Munchkins and other characters.

This segment, titled “Take Two,” follows the second young alien explorer who has unknowingly landed on a Hollywood sound stage and finds he is surrounded by a rotating cast of characters.


The explorer soon discovers that Tinseltown is more glitter than gold. It seems that in Hollywood’s Old West, American Indians are exploited, and on the set of ancient Egypt, slaves were forced to build the pyramids.

The lesson here, Jewett said, is “just because it’s in the movies doesn’t make it right.”

The nonprofit organization relies on foundation and community support. The Polliwog Park performance is sponsored by the city of Manhattan Beach Parks and Recreation Department and Target Stores. Polliwog Park is at 1601 Manhattan Beach Blvd.

Information: the city of Manhattan Beach at (310) 545-5621, Ext. 321.