An Experience in 13 Acts: the Moscow State Circus

by Emily Stewart

Actors: An American, a Plymothian, young girls named Erin and Ruby, their father, and Moscow State Circus performers.

Location: Plymouth Central Park

Opening Scene: The Plymothian and American wait in line at the Moscow State Circus ticket caravan. It’s blustery: the Plymothian attempts to sweep long hair behind her ears as she chats with the American. The ticket caravan is flanked by large trucks with painted sides shouting “Moscow State Circus” in orange, yellow, and red, and blue. Peeking from behind the top of caravan is the red-capped peak of the circus tent. The women chat over children calling, seagulls’ screeching, and cars in the nearby lot.

American: [Stepping up to the ticket window.] Can I please get two tickets? I have a coupon.

Ticket taker: [With heavy Russian accent.] Want upgrade?

American: What?

Ticket taker: You have £9 coupon. Seat here. [She brandishes a map, pointing.] £10 is here; better. [She points to seats to the left of the stand.]

The American looks to the Plymothian, who shrugs.

American: We’ll stick with £9, thanks.

Russian: What?

American: Two tickets for £9, please.

At the front gates the women display the papers to the tall Russian men. They disappear into the main tent through white flapping canvas.

Scene 2:

The women face a bar (stage right), a food counter (center stage), and counter displaying kitsch Russian souvenirs (stage left). The scene is darkly lit with bright signs on the walls. The souvenirs are manned by a blond wearing stereotypical Russian clothing, oversize fake eyelashes, and baby-doll pink lips.

American: I’m going to need a beer and popcorn.

Plymothian: I’ll buy beer, you buy popcorn. I don’t like popcorn, anyway.

The American looks at her aghast. They part ways to re-convene in front of the souvenir stand.

American: I definitely want to check this out.

The conversational din drowns their conversation as they examine the wares: a collection of Russian stacking dolls, tiny Russian-doll earrings, and “Moscow State Circus” rain jackets that the American eyes covetously. They try to chat with the blond attendant but receives only shy giggles in return.

Plymothian: I guess she doesn’t speak English…

After a few moments the women return to the main queue leading to a closed door signed MAIN STAGE. The American thrusts her hand in the popcorn. The line moves. The girls disappear behind another set of white canvas flaps.

Act 1:

The women choose seats on the edge of the stairs, stage right. The rectangular circus stage is set with a simple gymnast’s bench. Far above hangs netting connected to four tall mechanical arms on the ground. They giggle and point at attendees filing in. An unnaturally tanned man wearing miniscule green shorts, bright white Nikes, and a cut-off tank drags three children up the stairs. His wife trails wearing tight jeans and 3-inch heels.

American: Look at him! Do you think he’s a body-builder?

Plymothian: His kid is smaller than his head! Are they part of the circus?

American: Either way, I’m getting my money’s worth!

A few minutes later the lights dim. A group of 20 or so circus performers file out the glittery fabric entry-way at the back of the stage. Campy Russian music pipes through the sound system as they face the crowd to smile and wave. The crowd dully claps in return. Then, a lean young man dressed in white walks to center-stage. As the rest of the crew files out the music changes to a darker beat.

He performs gymnastic manoeuvres, balancing on the bench to contort his body and flex his muscles. A smattering of claps occur at odd intervals, as if the crowd only clapped when they remembered to watch.

American: Wow...I wonder if the whole thing will be this boring?

Plymothian: [Sipping her beer and shrugging] This is circus in Plymouth.

Act 2:

The man in white exits, replaced by a group of jugglers wearing traditional plaid get-ups with jaunty hats and purple socks. The crowd perks meagrely, clapping more appropriately. During the act the American and Plymothian stand to allow a father with two little girls into the row’s middle seats. Shy smiles are exchanged.

Onstage a juggler drops his pin. The crowd shifts uncomfortably. The American keeps one hand in her popcorn.

Act 3:

A comedian wearing a black-and-white striped top and beret replaces the jugglers. He brings an intricate pulley-and-kettle system. When he sets off a small explosion with a firecracker attached the system, a police woman wearing a scandalous version of suit promptly enters. She cavorts with the comedian, playfully chastising him for stumbling antics. The audience snickers. The American leans over to the little girls.

American: What’s your name?

Girl: I’m Erin. This is my sister, Ruby!

American: Do you want my popcorn? I can’t eat anymore.

Erin: Yah! [She greedily grabs it from the Americans’ hand. The American laughs.]

Father: Thank you! [He reaches for a handful of popcorn.]

Act 4:

Following the comedian and saucy police-woman is a glittery female acrobat in a flowing red gown. She wraps herself in red fabric tendrils hanging from the ceiling, floating effortlessly into the air. Twisting, wrapping, spinning, and dropping, she solicits coos from the crowd. She carries a shiny accordion. The little girls are enraptured.

Erin: I’m havin’ that dress!

Act 5: 

As the acrobat woman leaves the stage, the smell of burgers fills the hall. Music transitions from a mystical tune to an electronic folk. A couple enter the stage wearing bejewelled and leathery Russian clothing. They carry garish leather whips. Within minutes the man whips the woman’s dress off to reveal a corset-and-skirt number that matches his spangled red cowboy boots. As she performs she swings her long, fake, blond ponytail. The crowd cheers when the performers smite candles and chop feathers. The girls and their father pass popcorn without looking away from the stage.

Act 6:

Capitalizing on the engrossed crowd, the comedian and his police care-taker return carrying a bucket of water. The comedian dances stupidly, encouraging chuckles from men in the crowd.

American: That guy dances like my dad.

The comedian dumps water over his head, swallowing a mouthful. He performs an act in creative water-spitting. The crowd’s jaws drop as he spits for minutes.

American: How is that possible?!

He finally spits his last droplet onto the police woman and grins. The tent lights. Members of the crowd stand.

Plymothian: I guess that’s intermission. I’ll get us more beer.

She exits with the father and girls. The American stays, pulling a journal from her purse. Writing, she periodically watches the crowd.

Act 7:

People shuffle back carrying beers, burgers, cotton candy, and lighted carnival trinkets. The Plymothian hands a beer to the American, eyeing her journal.

Plymothian: Are you taking notes?

American: Yes, this is going to make a great blog piece!

They watch the body-builder father carry a huge bucket of cotton candy to his waiting family.

Plymothian: Make sure you write about that guy, too.

The Father, Ruby and Erin return. The father brings a beer; the girls carry bright butterfly-shaped wands.

Father: They have beer!

He smiles, saluting the Plymothian and American. Erin accidentally hits the Plymothian’s nose with her butterfly as she wiggles by.

Plymothian: Are you twins?

Erin: No, Ruby is 10 months older than me!

American: [Under her breath] Aahh…Irish twins.

Bells chime as the final stragglers return. A carriage drives onto stage. From the lighted interior one sees the silhouette of three women undressing. They exit the carriage wearing tiny, shiny get-ups and climb into a spinning metal wheel. They romp to high-intensity techno, spinning at dizzying speeds. The male audience watches greedily; many females look at one another, eyes rolling.

Act 8:

After returning to the carriage, the spinning ladies are replaced by a group of acrobats in white-lycra and feathers. Buff men appear from the shadows to raucously lower the net by pumping mechanical arms around the stage. Erin squeals, covering her ears. To pulsating 80’s rock music the acrobats spin through the air. One shouts indiscernible, monosyllabic commands. When one of the acrobats falls into the netting below, the crowd claps supportively.

Erin: He fell! He fell!

American: I really hope that doesn’t happen again…it makes ME feel embarrassed!

Act 9:

The steadfast comedian returns to an empty stage, netting having been returned by the muscled crew. The comedian surveys the crowd. A small boy jumps onto his chair, waving eagerly. The crowd realizes the comedian plans to bring a crowd members onstage. With a few others, Erin and the American start earnestly waving.

Plymothian: He’s going to pull that little boy from the crowd!

Dejected, the American and Erin take their seats. The comedian hands the boy a unicycle. With surprising dexterity the boy hops on, unicycling backwards to the groups’ delight.

American: No fair! It was a set-up!

She and Erin pout. The little boy is darling, a crowd-pleaser. He gallantly bows for a jubilant crowd.

Act 10:

A handsome male footballer enters wearing a uniform and carrying a ball. He demonstrates football tricks, balancing the ball in different corners of his tall frame. He habitually kisses the ball between tricks.

Plymothian: Can you interview him for your blog, please? And bring me? He’s cute!

Act 11:

After the footballer, the crew sets a metal table center-stage. A man and woman wearing gimmicky outfits roller-skate alight the table. They nimbly twirl. He swings her head dangerously close to the table’s edge. The American is particularly impressed.

American: This is the coolest part of the whole show!

The Plymothian and Erin look at eachother, raising their eyebrows. Erin waves her lighted butterfly in the air, preferring it to the show. The crowd claps politely when the skaters depart; the American yelps appreciatively.

Act 12:

The comedian returns with a male assistant. He performs a series of ploys with a huge pair of white shorts, climbing in and out of them with an assistant. The Plymothian giggles with Erin.

Erin: He has a nappy on!

Plymothian: No, he’s too old.

Erin: No! He’s like, zero old! [She slyly giggles].

Act 13:

The crowd realizes it’s the finale when a crew of drummers appear onstage. For the first time, the circus performers seem engaged in their act. The drummer boys occasionally speak to each another, leaning in and laughing. A colossal ladder and net are set-up. Performers climb the ladder to climb onto swings and the catapulting through the air into the net, flipping as they go. The feats are dramatic and powerful. One particular performer jumps frequently, growing more confident. The other performers clap and call, as excited as the crowd. The stage feels electric. By the end of the scene, the tent is full of standing people. The performers finally bow, waving appreciatively.

As the tent lights, the American and Plymothian swig their last sips.

Father: Thanks so much for the popcorn!

American: Of course! I’m happy to share.

Erin and Ruby chirp goodbye. The American and Plymothian beam and wave, laughing to each other. The curtain falls as they step toward the flapping tent doors.


Emily Stewart is the Founder and Creative Director of BASEDtraveler.com, a lifestyles website and book series for military families, corporate expats, and other "expat-locals" living in garrison cities and "crap" military towns. Through blogs, city-guides and comic relief asides she helps travelers to find delight in their new localities. BASED: Bemusing Adventure Sough Every Day.

Make sure you check out her Facebook page and follow her on Twitter @BASEDtraveler