A Whale of a Tale, Moby Dick at South Coast Repertory

Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production Moby Dick at South Coast Repertory creates “wow” moments, a visual feast and a theatre treat!

Moby Dick at South Coast Repertory
Raymond Fox, Micah Figueroa, Javen Ulambayer, Kareem Bandealy, Jamie Abelson and Anthony Fleming III in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Moby Dick adapted by David Catlin. Photo by Liz Lauren. © Lookingglass Theatre Company and Liz Lauren.

Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Moby Dick in association with Actors Gymnasium is a visceral immersive and visually stunning dive into Herman Melville’s classic novel adapted into a 2 hours and 15 min show by director David Catlin.

I had the pleasure of experiencing the show’s west coast premiere at South Coast Repertory’s Segerstrom Stage in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Your ears and eyes will be engaged with the actors who use astonishing acrobatic skills to create movement on a ship, drowning, extracting oil and hunting. The haunting musical call of the Fates/sirens (Kelley Abell, Cordelia Dewdney, Kasey Foster) and recreation of the sea make the musical elements and the sea dominant players themselves. The use of fabric and unique movement transitions give the water a mercurial temperament and paint the waves as a treacherous beauty.

The actors ride the range of emotion with Captain Ahab’s (Christopher Donahue) driving mad obsession in hunting the white whale that injured him. He plunges the ship Pequod and its crew including Ishmael (Jamie Abelson), Starbuck (Walter Owen Briggs) into inner and outer turmoil. The madness leads up to some of the best moments of the show where the captain and crew meet their so called fates. Watch out how the characters of the Fates create the White Whale, the mesmerizing lighting cues (Lighting Design by William C. Kirkham) and how the audience is swept under the water in the process.

Moby Dick, South Coast Repertory Theatre
Anthony Fleming III, Christopher Donahue, Emma Cadd, and Jamie Abelson in Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of Moby Dick adapted by David Catlin. Photo by Liz Lauren. © Lookingglass Theatre Company and Liz Lauren.

The stunning aerial staging and circus athleticism choreographed by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi and played on Courtney O Neill’s brilliant set design is not to be missed.  If you are in Southern California catch the remaining performances of the show Feb. 14 –Feb. 19 at South Coast Repertory. There are numerous “WOW” moments that you will surely talk about later.

Audiences can continue to be enthralled by this production when it returns June 7, 2017-Sept. 3, 2017 to the Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago.

Make every day Valentine’s Day filled with love for your significant other or gal pal! Think about giving the gift of a shared memory with tickets to the theatre!

Plus, make it an entire night out with dinner at the Water Grill off Bristol Steet for an evening performance or at Wahoo’s Fish Taco (also off Bristol St. in Costa Mesa) for a matinee. Add some sea salt caramel chocolates, some roses, and an apple pie pop in a Kate Spade whale tote bag. Tie the entire presentation together with a framed printable or a card that says “I whale always love you.” Surprise your friend with the tickets and you will have a WHALE of a good time!

Moby Dick Whale Printable
Printable is available for purchase at Shining Inspiration Etsy shop

For tickets and more information please visit South Coast Repertory’s website. To buy this whale printable to frame yourself visit this Etsy shop’s page at https://www.etsy.com/shop/shininginspiration.

I hope you can make every day a Valentine’s Day! SEAS the day and create a shared memory with someone you love!





Living the Life of a Circus Performer-Jon Weiss from Circus Vargas

“Magikaria, A Fantastical Magical Experience!” presented by Circus Vargas has the thrilling elements of mystery, magic, and music.  The show showcases top notch industry professionals with family focused familiarity of fun and personal connection under the big-top now at the Irvine Spectrum from May 30 – June 10, 2013.

clownsPrint_0569In a world where people can get lost in technology generated entertainment or eight hour jobs it is refreshing to have the senses be triggered into producing contagious laughter or eye popping astonishment as you spend time with the Circus Vargas family and your own.

The show includes flying trapeze artists, jugglers, dancers and acrobats that all move with a riveting vibrancy of motion locking audience gazes as they defy gravity and master tricks.  In addition, the show features a ringmaster with Broadway singing and clown antics that are never scary but endearingly comical.  Don’t miss the motorcycle globe daredevil family or the human rocket where a performer is fired “75 feet in less than 4 seconds.”  The elaborate illusions will awaken your imagination and leave you wanting more.  The performers come from all over the world to share well-honed performing and technical artistry, their life and their love with you.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jon Weiss, circus extraordinaire who shared with me some of his experience of living life in the unique context of the circus.  Jon’s superstar career of being shot out of cannons, balancing objects and clowning around is made richer because of the love he shares for his job, community and family.  His multitalented based career and life including an impressive finish on season four of “The Amazing Race” and numerous television appearances spanning decades has made history, but he never loses site of making memories with his family.  Along with his wife Laura, they serve as hosts for the pre-show and Jon demonstrates mind-boggling balance using his “iron chin.”  Below Jon shared with me highlights from his career and living life with Circus Vargas.

What is the pre-show?

Basically we are inviting you into our home.  The pre-show that I do starts 30 minutes before the show so kids get to come in the ring with their parents and we teach them how to do circus stuff and expose them to what it is like in the ring.  After you try some of the balancing and juggling you will see the professionals actually perform it in the show.  You get a different feel for what it is like to do what they do.  I think it is also good in regards to being able to try different things.  When performers perform they make things look easy because they are highly trained and they make it look effortless.  For the pre-show we also bring our kids out there to do magic and stuff, it’s cool.

How is the show made affordable for everyone?

Here at Circus Vargas everyone wears many different hats.  Like on Monday night when we tear down the big top we all do it.  We make going to see our show affordable and efficient by running our business efficiently.  You will see the girls in the box office are also the trapeze artists and dancers in the show.  Our juggler works at the concessions.  When you see us set it up we all look like a bunch of laborers setting up a construction site so you don’t know who is who.  The funny thing is that if you get to meet us on a set up or a tear down you will think that we look familiar-that might have been the juggler or the daredevil or the clown because we all do it.

Does Circus Vargas feature magic every year?

The magic is unique to our show this year.  Magikaria means that there is an air of magic inside the big top whether it is the magic of the circus itself, the illusions that we present, we just say there is an air of magic.

What makes performing for you in Circus Vargas special?

For me performing in Circus Vargas is very intimate.  It is about creating that experience or that memory.  When everything is said and done in our lives it is the experiences and memories that we keep with us.  I think that is extremely important and for me to know that when I perform and work that I will be a part of someone’s memory is incredible.  The first show is no different than the last show with high energy.  No matter if there are 100 people out there or 1,000 people out there it does not make a difference.  They all expect a great show!

How has the circus experience evolved over the years?

The experience is different now from when I was a kid.  When I was a kid and went to the circus with my family we sat in the nosebleeds that were very far away and saw little specks on the floor because we were in the big arena environment like Madison Square Garden.  Now, you get to meet and talk to performers, get pictures and autographs and that is an experience that goes a long way.  I never lose sight of that when I work or perform and I want to make the experience memorable and great for everyone.  I think that is what we do really well here at Circus Vargas.

Do you have a circus memory that you can share ?

Talking about Madison Square Garden, it was 1986 May 2nd prior to a circus performance with over 5,000 people in the audience that day and it was the day I got married to my wife.  I was in full clown makeup and my wife was a dancer at the time.  I arrived in a clown car, the ring bearer was a bear, the bridesmaids were elephants and we rode off on an elephant.  We renewed our vows two more times after that.  We have been together since 1980, met in high school then I ran away to the circus, went to clown college and then she joined the following year as a dancer.  We never thought that we would make a career or life out of it and here we are over thirty years now enjoying the lifestyle with our kids and other families.

Can you describe the circus lifestyle and family?

To us as circus performers we travel with our families and kids.  It is a lifestyle, we don’t even think twice of it—going out there shooting out of a cannon or balancing a heavy object on your chin—it’s just our job and what we do.  We don’t take ourselves too seriously—it’s very important.

JonBalancingLife goes by very fast so the important thing is that you are able to share these memories and do things with your family.  I have the utmost respect for the people that have been doing this for years or generations.  I am only the first generation and was a civilian for 18 years before I joined the circus.  My three kids are already the second generation.  I fell in love with the lifestyle and the people and I was meant to be a real circus performer.  Anybody can put a costume on or clown makeup on but what do you really bring to the table?  Are you here for the right reasons?  It is about being in the circus and giving 100% and being part of this community?  I think what Circus Vargas does very well is that it is getting the right people for the right job.  They may know 50% of the business but the other 50% is their people skills, their ability to communicate and work together.

What makes a good performer?

The thing about a real good performer is that certain things you can teach and certain things you can’t teach—you have to have it from within.  That is how I got involved with the circus because I naturally have the ability to balance things that was molded into being a circus performer.  A lot of the circus people do the same thing but it is how it is presented.  How can you present something where you bring the audience into your act, make eye contact or do something special?  A lot of people do the triple somersault on the trapeze but it is not presented how it is presented here.  As a performer you have to look at it as how can I do it better, more consistent and how can I bring the audience in to enjoy the experience?  That’s a lot of fun when you can do that.

Besides being home-schooled, do the circus kids get to learn circus skills?

One of the great things about the circus is that you have some of the best people here in the business such as Olympian athletes or people trained in dance and acrobatics.  We do have classes where the kids take strength and training, gymnastics, and dance after school in the big-top which is great where we don’t have to drive them anywhere.  This is our community.  As you can see we have it setup with a fence and our back lot.  The location changes but the way we live our life stays the same which is unique.  The kids know they can’t go outside the compound and we have a lot of pairs of eyes around here.  Everyone looks out for everyone.

Can you share a Circus Vargas tradition?

We have a block party every Saturday night.  Tonight after the last show we all convene here in the midway where we have a big party.  We barbecue, socialize and bring a dish.  The great thing is that we have people from all different countries and nationalities where everyone brings a different dish.  It is an international buffet, German, Bulgaria, Kenya, Peru and the Argentinians who own the show bring all the meat.  We want to keep these traditional things alive because the kids and adults look forward to it.


Thank you to Nelson and Katya Quiroga-Tabares with Tabares Entertainment, Inc. who are the circus owners and impresarios that continue to bring a unique live show to a city near you.  I am humbled by the circus camaraderie and community that work together as a collaborative ensemble and family.

Bring your family and friends to be entertained by the Circus Vargas family at “Magikaria, A Fantastical Magical Experience!”  Don’t miss sharing memories that will last a life time.  The show will run from May 30 – June 10 at the Irvine Spectrum (115 Fortune Drive Irvine, CA 92618) and will travel to Woodland Hills and Santa Barbara.  Please check-out show times and purchase tickets by clicking here or in person at the box office.  Look for the blue and yellow big-top!

The show is two hours with a 15 minute intermission allowing time to buy and enjoy tasty concessions including popcorn, cotton candy and cool drinks to take in with you.  Don’t forget to buy a program where the performers will sign it after the show and take pictures with you.

The Fantasticks at South Coast Repertory Theater (Costa Mesa, CA)

The Fantasticks is indeed fantastic involving two teenagers in love, good-hearted yet manipulating fathers and curious circus players.  Throw in the carnival theme, magic tricks, a little bit of swordplay and live music and you got me hooked.  It’s a musical!


The rhythmic dialogue combined with the delightful songs cleverly disguises some messages that slip into your consciousness amidst the laughs and magic.  For instance, the second act that takes a slightly darker turn shows how love can transform with the passage of time and lessons sparking growth.

The show takes the leap from two teenagers wallowing in superficial and narcissistic folly to finding truth in having some worldly experience behind them. Trade fantasy for reality and naivety for some maturity.

Just like magic, romanticized love and the world are not always what they seem.  The magic used in the show is marvelous with many tricks making you look twice to wonder how it was done.

It was a joy to see all the actors fill their roles, especially SCR’s theater favorites Richard Doyle as the bumbling Henry and Hal Landon Jr as the straight man-Mortimer.  SCR audiences may know them as The Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”

I remember learning the Michael Checkov technique from Hal that included the use of a psychological gesture and movement quality.  Hal’s comedic dying in the show makes me wonder what preparation he used this time.

The show’s use of space and movement is delightful.  Special moments from the mute like creating the wall separating the two lovers help tie everything together.

Overall, the show is entertaining full of both substance and heart.  Go see the show and get hooked and hoodwinked.  To buy tickets click here.  The musical runs through June 9 with an opening this Friday!