It Takes Two: Interview with Ben Franklin and Joshua Dean of 2 Ring Circus and 2toFly

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Cirquelesque is coming to Charm City! Some of New York’s finest circus/boylesque artists are coming this weekend to perform at Boys Night – All Male Cirquelesque Revue this Saturday night, March 24th and then teach workshops on putting an act together using acrobalancing and costuming on Sunday afternoon. I got to chat with two of the performers, Ben Franklin (yes, his real name) and Joshua Dean, who also are members of 2 Ring Circus, working with theatre companies around the country to add circus and spectacle to their musicals.

2 Ring Circus. Photo by Cristian Buitron.
2 Ring Circus, featuring Joshua Dean (far left) and Ben Franklin (second from right). Photo by Cristian Buitron.

Lucrezia: You just wrapped Seussical

Ben: Yes, in North Carolina. Josh has been home since we opened the show. He was the choreographer. I stayed for the run and played the Cat in the Hat. It was a lot of fun – a circus version of the show where people flew through the air while singing, walked on globes, hula hooped and more.

That sounds perfectly Seussical. 

Ben: We thought it fit the show very well and found out that it worked great.

How long have you been doing circus and what got you started?

Ben: Joshua started about 15 years ago. He was doing a production of Annie Get Your Gun that was using some circus acts. He started taking classes and after wanting to do a bit of a change, he dedicated himself to it. Then, since we are a couple, he started training me so that we could work together. A year ago, we were hired to create the circus for the same director for his newest production of Annie Get Your Gun. It was a full circle moment.

Was that the beginning of 2 Ring Circus?

Ben: 2 Ring Circus has been around since 2011. We started off creating our own shows that we toured both around the US and internationally.

How did the collaborations with other theatre companies start?

Ben: Our goal with that was to create shows that combine both circus and musical theatre. So we would sing, dance, act, play instruments and do all manner of circus acts. Our friends from our time in that world started contacting us to use us in various productions. Then we started creating our own and that has led to where we are now. We’ve just kept running in the direction we were pointed. We like to say that we say “yes.”

Who doesnt like people who say yes? When you collaborate with other companies, do you bring people in or train the cast thats there–or a combo of the two?

Ben:  It’s a combo of the two. We always bring in some ringers to make the level of circus skill high, but we teach other members to flesh out the rest of the ensemble and have a lot of different options. But, every show is different. We always tailor to the specific needs of that particular show. Storytelling is the most important thing for us.

Whats easiest to teach folks to do?

Ben: It depends. Everyone is different. A lot of people do well in the air quickly on the Spanish Web or Hammock, especially if they have dance training, but we’ve taught people to crack whips, juggle cigar boxes, walk on balls and all manner of acro.

What are the circus acts/apparatus you do and whats your favorite?

Ben: That’s a big question. We’ll go person by person.

Joshua:  Silks, Trapeze, Straps, Rope, Hammock, Spanish Web, Lyra, Net and unique aerial apparatus (anything you hang from the ceiling), Cyr wheel, Duo Acro, Whip Cracking etc.

Joshua Dean. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.
Joshua Dean. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.

Ben:  Hula Hoop, Duo Trapeze and Lyra, Duo Acro, Spanish Web. Every act has its special thing that you like. Josh is primarily the aerialist.

Joshua: Ben is the hula hooper and ringmaster.

What makes a great circus act?

Joshua: It comes from entertainment. Whether you are using a noveau-cirque, traditional or cirquelesque style, as long as the act achieves that surprise and entertainment value, then you are succeeding. Also uniqueness. What are you bringing special to the act or skill? A new, fresh perspective can make an act special.

What would be your dream show?

Ben: A new project that we could put our own spin on. Complete freedom of imagination.

Whats coming up for 2 Ring Circus? 

Ben: 2 Ring Circus is actually taking a little breather. We did 5 productions in just under a year and a half. We are hoping to do an original piece in the near future. 2toFly (Josh and Ben as burlesque artists) are headed to the Seattle Boylesque Festival in April and then Las Vegas to enjoy the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend.

You guys are also doing Mr. Gorgeouss show at the Creative Alliance on the 24th, yeah? 

Ben: Yes! Our Boys’ Night Show, that we have been producing and performing with Mr. Gorgeous and Jason Mejias for almost 6 years, is heading down to Baltimore. Our little all-male cirquelesque revue is one of our favorite things to do. We can’t wait to share this with the Baltimore community.

What will you be doing for that show?

Ben: There are a few group numbers, aerial acts, duo acro, Mr. Gorgeous will do some more of his amazing burlesque. Josh and I will be performing our Burlesque Hall of Fame winning act and it’s all hosted by the hilarious Eva Starr. I’m doing a hula hoop strip. It’s a blast, so much fun, no seriousness, just laughter, circus and skin.

Ben Franklin. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.
Ben Franklin. Photo by Mark Shelby Perry.

Thats awesome! Then you all will be teaching a partner acro class the next day

Ben: Yes, Josh and I are teaching a class called It Takes Two. It’s about working as a team to create something new and exciting, then we add the acrobatic touch.

So once again storytelling while adding circus elements.

Ben: That’s kind of what we do. Mr. Gorgeous will be teaching a spandex sewing class. He’s incredible at that. He also designed the costumes for Seussical. They were amazing to wear!

Is the acro class all levels?

Ben: Yes. We can work with all skill levels. We did a version of this class up in Canada when we headlined the Edmonton Burlesque Festival. It was great and we had all types. We even had two of our students send us the video of the new act they created after taking our class. It was awesome! We love Champagne Sparkles and Silk E. Gunz!

Sweet! Where do you think circus is heading and where would you like to see it head?

Ben: We think that it is headed everywhere. You see it in theatre, movies, pop star tours and on TV. The possibilities are endless. We hope to see circus as a funded art like music, classical dance, etc.

If folks want to know more about 2 Ring Circus, 2toFly or you as individual artists, they should

Ben:  Check out our websites:  www.2ringcircus.com, www.2toflyburlesque.com, www.boysnightrevue.com, www.aerialjosh.com, www.iambenfranklin.com or on Instagram: @2toflyburlesque, @boysnightrevue, @2ringcircus, @aerialjosh, @iambenfranklin.

Mr. Gorgeous Presents: Boys Night – All Male Cirquelesque Revue plays one night, Saturday, March 24, 2018 at 8:00 PM at The Creative Alliance – 3134 Eastern Avenue in Baltimore, MD 21224. Purchase tickets online.

It Takes Two: Burlesque Acro Workshop with Ben and Joshua is Sunday, March 25 at 12:00 PM also at The Creative Alliance. Purchase tickets online.

The Wonderful World of Spandex workshop with Mr. Gorgeous is Sunday, March 25 at 1:45 PM at The Creative Alliance. Purchase tickets online.

 

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Lucrezia Blozia
Lucrezia Blozia has been part of the local alternative performance scene since the early ‘90s (she started when she was 6). She was the leading, ahem, lady at notorious pervpunk theatre company Cherry Red where she honed her skills in plays like “Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack” and “Poona the F*ckdog and Other Plays for Children”. She was part of girl group Eva Brontosaurus in both New York and LA where the trio opened for Margaret Cho’s monthly burlesque show, The Sensuous Woman. She’s proud to have originated roles in all five years of Hope Operas and played everything from a flipper derby girl to a were-squirrel to a Pam Greer-type cop/barista. She’s a regular collaborator with Landless and Borealis Theatre Companies and Astro Pop Entertainment. She loves you and is surprisingly easy to work with for someone so simultaneously humble and exquisitely beautiful (oh and talented). You should hire her.