Flea Circus


We all went to this Lotus Blossoms kids’ fair event yesterday.  (Lotus is the big Fall world music festival, and it has occasional spin-off events throughout the year).  I was charmed and impressed.  A big elementary school gym filled with booths offering different crafts & activities from world cultures.  Some pretty neat stuff: making masks following traditional Indian Diwali patterns; learning about African drumming; etc. Sarah was helping to man the booth of C&I’s preschool which featured tile painting prints, a kind of magnetized drying rack to experiment with magnets, and the tank with their classroom’s two axelotles (salamanders).

One highlight was Jungle Joe’s Flea Circus.  It was basically a riff on a kind of carnival scam.  Jungle Joe was an amusingly hammy ring-master guy in a grass skirt who walked his various prize fleas — Fleatini, Fleaberry, etc — through their stunts and tricks: diving from a little platform into a tiny pool, balancing on a chair on his foot, and so on. He also had a stuffed flea and some illustrations of flea anatomy.

He’d take out his magnifying glass and check to be sure Fleatini was doing OK after her last stunt.  There were, however, no actual fleas.  Celie and Iris did not pick up on this. After the show they asked Jungle Joe if they could see the fleas and he had to explain that they were resting.

Iris was on my shoulders for most of the show.  At one point Jungle Joe explained that he was going to do a handstand on a chair with one of the fleas balancing on a tiny chair attached to his shoe.  Iris tapped my shoulder and leaned over to observe, “Daddy, he must be very professional if he can do that!”

My other favorite aspect of the event: no commerce of any kind.  Nothing to buy.  No tickets.  No snacks (except for some free samples of exotic fruits).  Not even any representational transactions — no FREE tickets, even.  I thought that was fantastic and completely changed the tone, as compared with typical school-fair sort of thing which for the kids revolves absolutely around the tickets and the snack food.

3 thoughts on “Flea Circus”

  1. Love the commerce-free space! If I ever tried to explain that to people around here, they just wouldn’t get it.

    So are flea circuses generally pretend??? Or just this one?

  2. To best of my understanding, there is/was such a thing as an actual flea circus with real fleas. I.e. it’s not like sea monkeys or something. What I’m not as sure about is whether the “fake flea circus” is a common phenomenon.

    Ok, let’s see… from wikipedia (glad this one didn’t have “loose fleas in the exhibit maintaining the illusion”):

    Techniques without real fleas

    Some flea circuses may appear to use real fleas, but don’t. A variety of electrical, magnetic, and mechanical devices have been used to augment exhibits. In some cases these mechanisms are responsible for all of the “acts,” with loose fleas in the exhibit maintaining the illusion.

    Some “flea circuses” do not contain any fleas at all [2] and the experience and skill of the performer convince the audience of their existence.

    In much the same way that we know that a magician can’t really cut a girl in half, her or his showmanship allows us to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the show. When performed correctly, you will still enjoy the show even if fully aware of this deception.

  3. What a lot of bull!
    Of course flea circuses are real. My own great grandfather performed in one. You can read about his tragic demise in one of the links on my blog.


    Paddy O’Flea

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