Workshop: Buster Canfield & His Circus of Amazing Fleas (Theatre Direct)

A charming and kind¬†Circus of Amazing Fleas from Toronto’s Theatre Direct

First, readers will be grateful to know that the charming Buster Canfield has not, as actual flea circus ringmasters sometimes would, harnessed the fleas in fine metal wire collars to wear for the rest of their lives. I feel relatively confident that Theatre Direct wouldn’t permit it; they don’t seem the type. Nor indeed are there any fleas in his act at all, as there typically aren’t in the case of modern flea circuses – instead, there are magnetics, elastics, sleight-of-hand, patter and pure showmanship.

The form as it exists today is an opportunity for a performer to show any number of performance talents, including comedy for certain, and flea circus is having a bit of a resurgence along with storytelling and knitting, other older pastimes and entertainments that still have a lot of good times left in them.

Performer Eric Woolfe, the only human in the show, is clearly having a fabulous time and wanted very much for his audience to have one as well at the first, workshop performance of Buster Canfield & His Circus of Amazing Fleas in its full length version. As with any workshop, the audience comes understanding that the performer, writer and director are trying things out. As is typically the case here at Mooney on Theatre, we don’t really review workshops so much as ¬†give an overview of the performance and offer whatever encouragement we have (which in this case is considerable).

Woolfe works the crowd ahead of the show, introducing himself to kids and showing them oddments of close magic as their individual levels of attention span permit. When the show begins, Woolfe (as Canfield) stations himself at the flea circus and coaches his imaginary fleas through a variety of feats of strength and balance, while maintaining a patter that’s packed with jokes, puns and wordplay (some of them supremely nerdy). The final flea set to perform gets stage fright. Buster Canfield uses the opportunity to tell that frightened flea a long story about how he came to be the ringmaster of a flea circus in a long digression (using puppets) about how the young and/or small can do great things with dedication and believing in themselves. Then the final flea performs – flawlessly, of course – and the show finishes.

As children’s entertainments go, the flea circus part of this one is one of the few that help my interest (and sense of humor) absolutely as much as my three-year-old’s. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it evolves after enjoying the workshop so much. One specific I cannot help but note: after hearing that one of the young audience members was himself a budding magician, Woolfe came all the way up into the audience where I was sitting and encouraged the youngster to show him a trick. The kid did – and did pretty well, I might add – with Woolfe cheerfully playing the amazed innocent as the illusion progressed. It was so charming and kind, and the young fellow felt so pleased and proud of himself afterward, that I found myself hoping hard the show woud be as pleasing and kindhearted as the interaction I saw in the audience, and was glad to see that it was.


– Buster Canfield played at Theatre Direct, 601 Christie St on 16 March at 2pm