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Describing the Big Top Tent

Reve review clips from impressive reviewers

Full reviews of
"A Little Business at the Big Top"

"The circus is in town. Big, burly men erect the big top, winching the tall tent poles into place and driving the stakes and pulling the canvas taut into a cathedral that ripples in the wind. The audience arrives, and watches the performers and animals enter the center ring: a lion, a playful chimpanzee, an elephant. A Strong Man whose muscles bulge on cue. A beautiful showgirl in a feathered headdress. Acrobats, aerialists, clowns, jugglers. And a ringmaster, the manager of the circus who likes to sneak whiskey from a flask and who tightens his belt around his pot belly when he puts on the top hat to enter the ring.

In a corner of the tent, a shy Man runs the concession stand, selling sodas, popcorn, cotton candy. As the show starts, he stands at attention, ready to serve his customers. And daydreams a bit.

Soon, a dog sneaks in and befriends him, begging for snacks and affection. He likes the dog, but is called away for his other job—cleaning up after the animals. The ringmaster doesn't like the dog, and beats him. The Man cares for the dog. A Woman, one of the aerialists stops by after her act, riding on the handlebars of a bicycle over a tightrope. She likes the Man. They flirt.

But the ringmaster, now a little drunk, likes her, too. He sees her at the concession stand, grabs and gropes her. The ringmaster grows more insistent, but the Man comes to her rescue. They fight. The Woman runs.

They scramble into the big top just as the knife juggler climbs onto his unicycle. A chase—the Woman running from the ringmaster; the Man trying to save her. Up onto the aerialist platform, high above the center ring. The audience watches, rapt. The ringmaster is drunk, wielding one of the juggler's knives. The Man and the Woman are cornered on the platform, but escape across the tightrope, pursued by the ringmaster.

When all hope is lost, the Man remembers his friend, and whistles for the dog. He sprints to the rescue, as the rest of the circus performers form an acrobat's pyramid and vault him up to the high wire. He bites the Ringmaster, who falls into the bucket of animal dung. The Man and the Woman are saved. The audience applauds. They wave and leave the center ring, hand in hand.

It's a good, old-fashioned story, the kind that might be told in a Buster Keaton silent, or perhaps a Saturday morning Looney Tunes. But here, it's all told by David Gaines. One man. On a bare stage. Without words.

Imagine that.

It's a tour de force of storytelling and physical theater, imbued with wit, hilarious physical humor, and even a few touches of genuine pathos. Gaines is an extraordinary theater artist. He sets up the storytelling language early on, switching between characters with a quick pirouette, setting scenes with a looky-here whistle and a few gestures, using grunts and gibberish to suggest dialogue without actually speaking any words.

It's dazzling. And you have one more chance to see him. At least until he comes back to town with a new show. "
- Milwaukee Magazine

"A Little Business at the Big Top is a one man show, currently playing at the Geva Theatre and features accomplished performance actor David Gaines. He is a Fringe veteran who travels the world performing solo shows. Sans stage props, David Gaines prompts imagination. The man is pure electricity, the mime child of Steve Martin and Charlie Chaplin. While at first, for me, the lack of dialogue and set design was a hard pill to swallow, but a few minutes into the show my brain filled in the details (like the food fight scene on Hook!), and all of a sudden the scene flooded in. I saw the circus tent, the animals, the tight rope. My imagination hasn't seen this much action in ages. Thanks, David.It was truly magical!"

- Kevin Daniel, Rochester Fringe Festival

"A one-man show with no props and only minimal sound effects created a near perfect visual representation of a circus love story. Each character was recognizable from the others. His use of repetition and blocking brought it home. However, the story needed a shorter time between introduction and the actual story. Overall the pacing was slightly too slow. Quick changes and timed progression are key in fringe shows. Probably your best bet with kids though."

- Indianapolis NUVO
- (http://www.nuvo.net/indianapolis/indyfringe-live-reviews/Content?oid=3405994).

"Another Fringe favorite, David Gaines, is back with a new mime show, "A Little Business at the Big Top" at TOTs. The creator of last year's popular "7 (x1) Samurai," this time Gaines plays all the characters in a circus, with a sweet story to boot. The kids in the audience were mesmerized, and so were the adults."

- Indianapolis Weekly Vue
- (http://weeklyview.net/2015/08/20/fringing-indy-2015/)

"A sublime delight for the whole family. The show is sure to charm young and old alike."

- Wendy Carson ‪#‎indyfringe15‬‬‬‬

"What can one say to describe the sheer genius of David Gaines? He manages to convey rich stories and delightful characters without uttering a word. His use of sound and mime create more elaborate drama and comedy than you would believe possible.

That talent is on brilliant display in "A Little Business at the BIG TOP," playing on the Theatre on the Square main stage, in which he plays all the characters at a circus.

If you saw the amazing whirlwind that was his past show, "7(x1) Samurai," or even are new to his talents, do not miss this opportunity. It truly is a delight for all ages. The two young children sitting near me at Saturday's performance were entirely rapt by the whole thing (and they had been hesitant to see it when they found out it was a mime show).

Again, see this amazing show! You might regret missing out on the experience."

- http://playswithjohnandwendy.com/page/6/

"In the one-person show, David Gaines plays several dozen characters at a circus - the manager, the performers, the vendors and even the animals. He even does the live sound effects, which is a fun touch. Gaines does a terrific job distinguishing between different characters with a goofy face and a specific mannerism.

My favourite characterizations were the crusty manager, the nervous concession worker and the dog with the wagging tail. He effortlessly switches between characters by turning his body to become a different character. It is a testament to Gaines' ability that the audience is never lost in this wordless piece.

This show had a surprising amount of conflict for a wordless show. My only complaint was that he repeated a poop joke several times (lowbrow humour which doesn't belong in this creative piece). A Little Business at the Big Top is a highly polished Fringe show that is worth seeing."

- UMFM 101.5 – Justin Olynyk

" Masterful! David Gaines solo performance was clever, skilled and totally engrossing. Using only his body, facial expressions and some gibberish, he transported the audience to the circus, both in the ring and the melodrama behind the scenes. Over the course of an a little more than an hour, the players were so well defined that Gaines was able to fully act out a very readable cartoonish version of of good guy gets girl with the help of a dog and a monkey while the bad guy is doomed.

Gaines style was reminiscent of mime, but in a much more evolved form. In questioning the author/performer as to what he would call his style, descriptors such as "non-verbal theater," "cartoonish," "gibberish," and "the marriage of Chaplin and Popeye played in an absurd and frantic style" were all possibilities. I would summarize it as brilliant non-verbal theater finely honed by a masterful actor. Audience members, including several children, were in stitches.

Each character was introduced with enough detail that it was easy to identify them. As the performance progressed, fewer and fewer gestures were needed to recognize each. The damsel was first shown through the use of movement indicating a dress, her gloves, the fastening of a ponytail, a heart-shaped face, and a smile accompanied by 'bing.' By the end, she could be defined by two characteristics, the heart-shaped face and smile with a 'bing.'

Exploring the essence of each character to make them recognizable by only a gesture or two allowed the stage to be filled with multiple players, all easily identified. Gaines ability to showcase interactions between characters employed an action by one, followed by a 360 degree turn and a slow motion reaction by the other party. The time to change from one character into another was almost as fast as it would take one to follow the action and reaction by two corporeal actors. To get a better feel for the unique style of David Gaines, watch his solo performance of Kurosawa's 7 Samurai movie via the link below. The epic movie is retold at comic breakneck pace by one self-described "exhausted and ridiculous actor."
- DC Metro Arts

★★★★ "For a moment, I was really worried for David Gaines up there on that highwire. Of course, there is no highwire. But it's a testament to Gaines' skill as a mime that you'll believe in the wire, the elephant, the chimpanzee, and the host of other characters that populate his family-friendly physical theatre performance. There's not much going on story-wise in this wordless show. Our main characters are an unassuming concession stand worker and his tightrope-walking love interest. A big bad circus manager comes between them, and hijinks ensue. But in a throwback to classic cartoons and clowning, Gaines brings those hijinks to life in glorious detail without the use of a single prop. His every facial expression, gesture, whistle and whoop is calculated to draw us into the world he creates. It may not be quite the Greatest Show on Earth. But it is utterly delightful. Step right up ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys of all ages."

- CBC News - Joff Schmidt

Free Press Rating:
Average Reader Rating:

"The main attraction of A Little Business at the Big Top is the way actor/mime David Gaines brings to life an entire circus on the empty Warehouse stage without uttering a word or depending on any prop. Like the circus car dispensing a steady line of red-nosed clowns, the American lets out a seemingly endless succession of denizens of the big top, from tent-raisers to trained animals, high-flying acrobats to popcorn-munching patrons. We even see the lowly pooper-scooper at work. A Little Business offers an hour of old-school entertainment in which Gaines, who scored a major fringe hit with 7(x1) Samurai here in 2010, communicates solely through facial expressions, physical movement, sound effects and gibberish. He tells a simple, family-friendly story about a bullied food vendor smitten by a beautiful aerialist who needs high-wire rescuing from the unwanted advances of the creepy, cigar-chomping ringmaster. It's not the greatest show on Earth, but it is pretty darn good for the way it accomplishes so much with so little."

— Winnipeg Free Press

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