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Inspired By The Rich History Of Chess, Circus Flora Presents 'The Pawn'

The Big Top is back in Grand Center for Circus Flora’s 28th season with “The Pawn,” a show inspired by the venerable game of chess.

“Chess is a nice way to craft our story,” said Circus Flora's new artistic director Jack Marsh. “We have a large cast of …40 to 45 performers … so a game that has 32 pieces and its own inherent dramatic system in which two sides battle each other, all the pieces have different characteristics, they move in different ways. It seemed very much like it aligned with the circus and what we do. We have so many different types of people with so many different talents, and putting them together and having them face off against each other seemed like it had the right narrative possibilities for us.”

For the first time this year, Circus Flora founder and artistic director David Balding will not be at the helm. He passed away May 9, just as rehearsals for “The Pawn” began.  But his presence will be felt in the performance of the show he helped plan.

The son of Cecil MacKinnon (Yo-Yo the Narrator), Jack Marsh grew up in the circus with Alex Wallenda of The Flying Wallendas. While non-circus folk might wonder at their long legacy of circus performing, to Marsh and Wallenda it seems only natural to stay in a profession they grew up around.

“My parents were very good at seeing what we were gifted in and trying to encourage that behavior… but if we didn’t want to do something, we always had the option to do whatever we wanted to,” said Wallenda. His family can trace their circus lineage back eight generations.

“You look from the outside at circus families and maybe it’s a bit surprising that all of the kids are then growing up to follow in their parents' footsteps, but if you’re in that atmosphere there’s just this wonderful spirit on the back lot of learning and trying things and enjoying yourself,” said Marsh.

In “The Pawn,” Wallenda plays a rook—a fitting piece to play for a trapeze artist on a high wire, since rooks can only go backwards or forwards. He and his family will again be performing a pyramid on the wire, with his sister sitting balanced on a chair.

While Circus Flora developed the idea of a chess-themed show independently of the Chess Club and the Chess Hall of Fame, the two organizations have served as resources for the creative development of the show, said Marsh. The Hall of Fame in particular inspired the show with its displays of old chess sets from around the world.

“There are just all these fascinating chess sets that are out there,” said Marsh. “It’s not necessarily just the strict medieval looking chess set that we’re most familiar with.  Dating back centuries and centuries they used lots of different colors, they used lots of different ways to represent the pieces, including elephants and camels and horses.”

The creative team took the animal themed chess sets and ran with it, finding a camel act to add to the show along with a dog act and their usual horseback acrobatics.

Using all of these acts as a backdrop, the plot of the show follows a young clown as the pawn as he makes his way through the “crazy world” of the chess game, said Marsh.

Related Event

Circus Flora Presents "The Pawn"
May 30 - June 22, 2014
Tuesday - Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 1:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Sunday at 1:00 and 5:30 p.m.
"Little Top Wednesday" at 10:00 a.m.

Big Top on Powell Hall Parking Lot
For more information, call 314-289-4040 or visit the Circus Flora Website.

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

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