As Humor Abuse closes in on its final performance this weekend, A.C.T. Publications Manager Dan Rubin reflects on what he learned while researching the history of San Francisco's beloved Pickle Family Circus. Rubin interviewed several members of star Lorenzo Pisoni's multitalented family for the latest edition of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s behind-the-scenes theater guide. Click here to order a print or electronic copy, which includes 16 of Pickle photographer Terry Lorant's dazzling photographs of the Pickle Family Circus in its heyday.
Lorenzo Pisoni's parents, Pickle cofounders Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider, juggle in the Pickle Family Circus.
Photo by Terry Lorant.
San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus would juggle. I am left with many things from my research into this amazing organization—an investigation that led to interviews with the two cofounders, Larry Pisoni and Peggy Snider; Peggy's daughter, Gypsy, who was 8 when the circus began; and, of course, their son, Lorenzo, who was literally born into the PFC, started performing at age 2, and is starring in the one-man clown show Humor Abuse, a show about his childhood, on the A.C.T. mainstage now.
My research reminded me of the powerful artistry of talented and inexhaustible young people. It reminded me of what can be accomplished with next-to-no funds if the drive is there. It reminded me of how brilliantly executed ideas will always trump brilliant spectacle. It reminded me of the power of intimacy, of community, of communication, and of carnival food—and how we need events to bring all those elements together. It reminded me that good things don't last forever, that inexhaustible youth become exhausted, and that the 1970s were a long time ago.
It also taught me that there are many ways to parent and that "babies will naturally cling to a trapeze bar if you let them because we are not inherently afraid"; that theater probably has more need for the circus than we realize; that there are circuses around the world (like Gypsy's Montreal-based Les 7 doigts de la main) that are thriving.
I am left with many things, but the takeaway I keep returning to is this: everyone in the PFC juggled. Larry and Peggy began as the Pickle Family Jugglers, passing the hat around Union Square, and the jugglers mentality permeated their circus: every show would end with an epic Big Juggle, involving everyone, even the roustabouts. Backstage and during rehearsals, Pickles would take juggling breaks "like normal people take coffee breaks," wrote one journalist. They would do this to loosen up, to activate their muscles and their minds, and to connect with their fellow Pickles, for the solo juggle was rare: they were almost always juggling with someone else.
"What is the trick to juggling?" I opened my interview with Larry. "Trick? There's no trick. It's all practice." When I was in the toy store last December buying soft footballs to donate to the fire department's holiday collection, I picked up a set of juggling balls for myself. I've been bringing them back and forth from the office to home, taking them out when I need a break. And I have to say: it really is just practice.
Now I need to convince my colleagues. Because we could all stand to be a little more like the Pickles.