Wanderlust Circus
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Wanderlust Circus

Portland, Oregon, United States

Portland, Oregon, United States
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The Wanderlust Circus brings a performance troupe of aerialists, acrobats, belly dancers and a ringmaster to the Majestic Theatre

Acrobats who undergo daring physical feats. Aerialists who gracefully defy gravity. A belly dancer who seduces with a flick of her wrist. These are just a few of the acts that will take the stage when Portland’s Wanderlust Circus comes to town Jan. 11 and 12 at the Majestic Theatre.

“(It’s) a theatrical circus fairytale of sorts,” said Wanderlust co-founder Noah Mickens.

According to Mickens — who doubles as the circus’s ringmaster, William Batty — Wanderlust will bring its usual caravan of performers, including two aerialists; four acrobats; a trick cyclist; Leapin Louie Lichtenstein, a cowboy clown who performs rope tricks; and the Wild Woman, a tribal-nouveau belly dancer.

Along with the performers, the circus brings a story: One of the circus members returns from the bayou with a mysterious woman — the Wild Woman, in fact — who possesses magical powers and causes a stir among the circus. “Chaos ensues,” Mickens said. “It’s all the basic stock conflicts of our troupe, in terms of how our characters interact from one show to the next. We’re coming into contact with this new element, the Wild Woman, and we do our very best to continue putting on a show in spite of the various complications and mishaps.”

The sideline story of the Wild Woman is just one of several fairytale elements running throughout the circus. For example, the circus is immortal.

“In the backstory of our circus, we are an immortal travelling circus,” Mickens said. “William Batty has been wandering the earth for more than 200 years under sort of a mixed curse and blessing, which is that he lives forever, but only as long as he stays on the road with his circus. And this extends to all the other members of the circus as well.”

With the circus’s backstory, Wanderlust is able to draw influence from several periods throughout history, from the Victorian age to the wild west to the 1970s.

“There’s a lot of performance happening right now that has that sort of time-travelling, sort of speculative-fiction quality,” Mickens said. “At the very same time it’s sort of Victorian, but also sort of 1920s and ’30s, but also very much like the present day or even the future.”

Mickens and co-founder Nick “the Creature” Habar developed the backstory when they formed the circus seven years ago.

“It felt kind of true. It felt sort of like a good fictional representation of our actual lives and what we were really doing,” Mickens said.

Before joining forces and creating Wanderlust, Mickens — as William Batty — was operating Batty’s Hippodrome while Nick “the Creature” was leading the separate, but related, Wanderlust Circus. After discontinuing the Hippodrome, the two consolidated the circus’ under the Wanderlust name.

Mickens has ringmastered circuses for the last 10 years, a period time in which he has cultivated his William Batty character. Early renditions of William Batty saw him as a suave, effeminate, Eastern European. His present incarnation, however, was established after Mickens performed his character while sick, giving his ringmaster a growling, raspy voice and a delirious exhaustion that fits with his backstory as a tired immortal always on the circus circuit.

“He’s supposed to be 250 years old,” Mickens said. “He’s seen a million things and he’s been on the road this whole time. He’s not allowed to rest. If he ever stops, he dies.”

But, according to Mickens, he’s also a visionary.

“He has this great plan for the future and a great sense of importance for what he’s doing. It’s not just some show, it’s this big revolution,” Mickens said. “He’s trying to spread the word and get more people involved in this lifestyle that’s all about self-expression and believing in the individual.”

Mickens noted that William Batty is really just a fictional represenation of himself.

“This is what I believe in as well,” he said. “William Batty is just a fictional character — a fiction suit, as Grant Morrison would say, for myself. It’s a way of saying who I really am and what I believe in and making it into a larger-than-life character.”

Mickens began thinking of himself as a circus person at age 14, while he and his family were living homeless in Los Angeles. Mickens began performing, taking up juggling and using abilities as a natural contortionist

to create his own street show. Because the circus revival was still yet to happen, street performing led him into the Portland art scene, where he was able to meet other circus people, eventually leading to the creation of Batty’s Hippodrome.

“I just got really into the circus,” Mickens said. “There’s something about it — just all of these people doing all of these things that nobody else can do. The extreme life achievement and the big audience emotion that’s inspired by people performing these incredible tricks right there in front - Corvallis Gazzette Times


"Queen of Knives," the first opera by Portland's Vagabond Opera in collaboration with Wanderlust Circus, is many things -- many, many things. It's a wildly heterogeneous mix of 1920s cabaret, Yiddish theater, klezmer, belly dancing, fire dancing, verismo opera and an inquiry into the nature of magic and science.

More simply, it is, in a word, awesome.

The show, in the black box theater at North Portland's Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center, involves a brother-sister knife-throwing act in an early 1960s carnival, the femme fatale who comes between them and the various other acts and roustabouts in their wandering bohemian demimonde.

The reality of the players, like that in the classic verismo "Pagliacci," is self-contained, moving through the outside world but not entirely of it. The tawdry troupers are castoffs and refugees, some -- Chaim Meyer, the carnival chief and barker (Eric Stern) and the dancer/femme fatale Blackbird Katrina (Ashia Grzesik) -- from the shtetls and ghettos of Eastern Europe, others -- the brother and sister Henry and Esmerelda (Scott Crandal and Catherine Olson) -- from the American Midwest.

Stern wrote both music and libretto, as he wrote in his program note, "by drawing tarot cards and writing what they had to 'say,'" thereby tapping into the magic of chance like a gypsy John Cage. The resulting mix is vital and, for all of its disparate influences ranging from klezmer to Bizet's "Carmen," surprisingly cohesive.

The seven-piece ensemble arrayed behind the singers and dancers -- Stern on accordion and piano, leading strings, sax, clarinet and trumpet -- moves through a world of music with a raw sound and turn-on-a-dime transitions. Each of the two acts has a couple of catchy numbers that ought to live on in Vagabond shows; Katrina sings one from the second act celebrating the power of science, with references to the Fibonacci sequence, Schrödinger's cat and pi to 98 digits -- the scene is a terrific combination of freaks and geeks of a different sort than the ones on TV.

It's a long show, 2 1/2 hours, and some of the plot-development sections could probably be compressed with tighter musical episodes. But the anything-goes sprawl of the piece is also one of its virtues, with sultry numbers by belly dancers Ruby and NagaSita set seamlessly in the rest of the action.

-- James McQuillen - The Oregonian


The Wanderlust Circus has another evening of music, stunts, dance and performance in store on Friday, and this one's as local as it gets.

"The Rose Rush" is a new show in which, as the press materials say, "a cunning Captain of Commerce comes gunning for the Creme de Cascadia." Oh no!

Let's continue: "Just when the hilarity hustlers at Wanderlust Circus started to get comfortable in their new home at the Bossanova Ballroom, danger comes knocking in the form of success. Their sleepy little town of Portland is all the rage worldwide, and now a big-time developer wants to buy the ballroom right out from under them!"

This sounds like a documentary.

Eric Stern of Vagabond Opera is the special guest villain, a "devilish devo developer." The cast includes Kazum, AWOL Dance Collective, Russell Bruner, Jay Lieber, Jessica Hoage and the one and only William Batty.

Doors at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 advance, $20 at the door. The Bossanova Ballroom is at 722 East Burnside St. Tickets and info: bossanovaballroom.com or wanderlustcircus.com. - The Oregonian


Culturephile note: Whilst gathering data for our Fall Arts Preview Anne Adams found that she had tons of material leftover from her interviews. Frankly, this stuff was too good to waste, so we decided to give our local arts spokesfolk a chance to tell us more about themselves in a series of Fall Arts extras called Speaks Volumes. _

Noah Mickens is excited—after all, he’s just bought a new issue of Batman and Robin 13. "It’s got a complex, and kind of brilliant, story arc, I’d say. If you think about it, there’s no other contemporary story form which matches comics for sheer volume. I mean, every month 5 Batman comics come out, and that’s been going on for SIXTY YEARS. So you get these insane stories that are so much longer, so much more involved, connected, and integral, than any other form of modern fiction. Not a novel, not a television series—nothing sticks with the same characters for that long, or develops a story that far. It gives the authors freedom to just go crazy."

Mickens, emcee of Wanderlust Circus and longtime local cirque-vaudeville impresario, arranged to meet me at Guapo Comics and Coffee on 63rd and Foster, an appropriately far-out haunt for the blueish-violet-haired character, who seems to have taken a few style cues from The Joker. Never mind that Mickens’ life is also the stuff comicbooks are made of.

He’s just returned, he explains, from Oregon Country Fair, where he hosted 12 shows in 3 days. His blue hair is showing brown roots, and he looks a little tuckered around the eyes, but the way he talks casually over coffee is strikingly similar to his stage banter, favoring long, carefully-composed sentences, sprinkled with colloquialisms like "fellow," and turns of phrase like, "mind you." I get the impression that there’s no turning off this persona; the circus performer has long-since melded with the man. I’ve prepared a set of questions, but as Mickens begins, it’s clear that I’m going to get the whole story—and then some—in a fluid stream of eloquent narration. The "s" on my laptop has recently become lazy so I struggle just to "transcribe" the many interesting things that Mickens has to say. This is what I manage to catch:

Well, first of all, I should clarify that I’m one of the two producers of Wanderlust. My partner Nick The Creature is an equal participant in the whole process, and we have a lot of the same duties. But if you had to generalize, I’m kind of the Theatrical Director, where Nick’s kind of more on the technical side. Also, I’m the Ringmaster.

I’ve been doing circuses in portland for 9 years. The first circus I did here was called Cicuri Curajul; the second was Societas Insomnia; the third was a traveling freak show called The 999 Eyes of Endless Dream. The fourth circus was called Batty’s Hippodrome, and now I do Wanderlust Circus. At the time I was doing Batty’s, I was creative director of Someday Lounge. I met Nick there at a Batty’s Hippodrome show. Nick The Creature had been running a circus in California called Circo Romani, and he got in touch with me on Tribe—remember Tribe? It was kind of pre-Facebook, post-Friendster. Anyway, he wrote to me saying he ran this circus, and that he was gonna come to Portland and try something out. Now, when it comes to circus in Portland, I am the guy to come to—so I was getting a lot of inquiries like that from various people. I took note of it, but i didn’t realize what a big deal it was going to become until later.

So Nick The Creature is a very stylish guy, and he showed up to one of my shows all decked out, in these beautiful clothes, and introduced himself to me while we were setting up. And he said, "Can i help with anything?" and I actually wanted to test him a little bit, so I said, "Yeah; you can put those folding chairs out." Then I went backstage to do other things, to prepare for the show, and when I came back out, Nick the Creature had laid out the chairs so beautifully. Perfect rows, a nice aisle down the middle—and he was waiting for more work.

I have complex feelings about this: about wanting to be a big deal, versus wanting to just get things done. A lot of people just want to do the fun stuff, want the attention. I need to work with people who are practical, who will do whatever tasks it takes to put on a show, whether the tasks are glamorous or not. So when I saw that—well, I thought maybe we have somebody we can work with here.

Nick and I are both the kind of people who, when we wake up in the morning, the first thing we do is, we’re on the computer. Before coffee, breakfast, anything, I turn on the computer to see if anything crucial is developing. Pretty much the whole rest of our day is an endless triage of new developments coming in, and having to deal with the things that are already on our calendar. And then there are the actual shows that happen in the evening. So it’s the constant paper chase, as we call it.

After I met Nick, I ended up having some creative differences with - Portland Monthly


Most of the time, entertainment falls into easily defined categories. Want to hear music? Head to the rock club, bar or concert hall. Theater and dance? You're going to a performance space. Movies? Well, duh.

But beyond the comfortable familiarity of those pastimes, there's a rowdy, eclectic and unpredictable crowd of performers putting on shows for Portlanders who crave something a little, well, different.

Take, for example, Vagabond Opera, a collection of classically trained singers, and musicians who play accordion, saxophone, cello, stand-up bass and drums, dressed like riverboat gamblers by way of a Weimar-era Berlin nightclub. Belly dancers sway, opera singers croon. And the sound stirs in influences from Bohemian cabaret, circa-1920s Parisian jazz and Ukrainian folk-punk.

Or Trashcan Joe, a combo that plays old-time jazz on instruments made from -- you guessed it -- trash cans. There's the Trashcanjo, a four-string banjo; Trashcan Bass; the Zob Stick, a stick stuck in a boot, with bottle caps nailed at various points along its length; and the Ford Tuborgan, a portable pump organ/washtub hybrid.

And let's not forget the Wanderlust Circus, which regularly puts on shows featuring daredevil aerialists, genius jugglers and agile acrobats. The top-hat-wearing ringmaster is "William Batty," otherwise known as Noah Mickens, longtime veteran of Portland's underground vaudeville/circus/cabaret scene.

Though he's been involved in such performances for years, Mickens is just as confused as everybody else about what to call this old-fashioned, new-style genre of entertainment.

"Lately, I favor 'Bohemian,'" says Mickens, who's tall and skinny, with hair dyed a shocking pinkish-red. "I like that Old World-ness. It connotes the undergroundness of us. We have this strange connection to old-fashionedness, but we're not doing historically authentic revival."

Recently, the Web site Oregon Music News (oregonmusicnews.com) held a contest to name this genre, whose participants also include MarchFourth Marching Band, Miz Kitty's Parlour, Rose City Vaudeville and performers such as Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein, a clown/trick-roper/fancy whip-cracker/unicycle-rider/juggler. Suggestions were all over the map: Mod Vaude, Nouveau N.W. Gypsy/Vaudeville Neo-Traditional Post-Vaudevillian Indie-Alternative, Goulash, Nouveau Cirque, Kitchen Sink, Motley and Nouveau Boho.

Lisa Marsicek, who hosts the monthly Miz Kitty's Parlour at the Mission Theater, says she thinks of her show -- with guests ranging from fiddlers, jugglers and puppeteers -- as an old-style variety program.

"I've always been interested in old-time, classic music," Marsicek says. "That led into an interest in older forms of entertainment, the kind they had before TV."

"White Album Christmas"
Drop by a few of these shows, and the word "variety" definitely comes to mind.

If you were among the sold-out crowds, for example, at the "White Album Christmas" shows at the Bossanova Ballroom in December, you would have seen high-flying aerialists soaring above the room, stilt walkers, fire-eaters, acrobats, jugglers and the white-suited Nowhere Band playing the Beatles' "White Album" in its entirety with brassy energy and showmanship.

This was the second annual "White Album Christmas" show put on by the Wanderlust Circus, run by Mickens and his production partner, "Nick the Creature" (real name: Nick Harbar). The pair are busy all year, with shows popping up almost faster than fans can follow. But the "White Album" event is a biggie. Mickens, wearing his "William Batty" top hat and long coat, whips up enthusiasm in a gleeful, raspy carnival barker's tone: "Years ago, I had my heart replaced by an applause-O-meter!" he tells the packed room, who cheer their approval.

In contrast to the spectacle and flash of the Wanderlust Circus, the mood tends to be low key and playful at Miz Kitty's Parlour in Northwest Portland. Marsicek dresses up in corset, ostrich feather boa and striped stockings to be "Miz Kitty," who presides over a sort-of brothel, and, as her site says, transports "the 21st-century audience into the realm of the Alaskan Gold Rush."

"I get to dress up like a prostitute from the 1880s," says Marsicek, "and say dirty things." Well, not so much dirty, she adds, as "sassy and saucy."

Marsicek has been putting on the shows since 2002, when home base was the Artichoke Music store. As the audience grew, she moved to Mississippi Pizza. The audience kept growing, until Miz Kitty moved her Parlour to the Mission Theater in 2007.

"I've had everything from solo opera performers to rock bands, jugglers, people shooting bows and arrows with their feet, belly dancers, hula hoopers, puppet shows," Marsicek says. "It's like a Portland sampler."

On a recent Saturday, "Miz Kitty" introduced an out-of-town musician, Kentucky old-time banjo player Rich Kirby. While the crew was changing the set, Marsicek raffled off vinta - The Oregonian


[WEIRDNESS] HIPPODROME CIRCUS ARTS OPENS On Saturday, Nov. 17, a star-studded circus extravaganza will mark the opening of the Hippodrome Circus Arts Center, the latest venture to occupy the immense, storied bottom floor of the building at 315 SE 3rd Ave. that houses Branx and Rotture. It’s the pet project of Noah Mickens, booker for Rotture (and, formerly, Someday Lounge) and ringmaster of local circus group Batty’s Hippodrome.

“Portland’s had a lot of circus talent for a really long time,” Mickens says. “Places already exist that are circus schools, to a limited degree, like Do Jump!...but there aren’t a lot of venues to perform in.”

The Hippodrome will provide a large, versatile and (importantly) all-ages rehearsal and performance space for those performers—people like rope artists Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein and the acrobats of Kazum!—along with non-circus acts that are too large for Rotture.

When asked why we should expect Hippodrome to last longer than the building’s prior tenants, Mitkins told WW , “None of those venues had me.” Fair enough.

IN REMEMBRANCE OF CLUBS PAST

The space at 315 SE 3rd Ave. has had nearly as many lives as a performing cat.
Euphoria (1978-1986)
Annie Pearl’s (1995-1996)
The Mercury Room (1997)
The Warehouse (1996- 1998)
B Complex (2001-2003)
Meow Meow (2004-2006)
Loveland (February-August 2006) - Willamette Week


What's the most titillating aspect of a circus show, the trapeze act or a glimpse of the trailer out back?

Noah Mickens and Nick "The Creature" Harbar, hosts of the Valentine's weekend's "Cirque L'Amour" dinner theater/circus, think that for most people, it's the latter.

"Of course the audience can tell it's part of the show," says Mickens -- but that didn't stop him from including a character in December's "White Album Christmas" circus who just showed up and weaseled his way into the show. By scripting apparently off-the-cuff moments to make a narrative of the acrobatic, magic and performance acts, Mickens and Harbar play on the audience's desire to romanticize circus life.

"In a way, it obscures our real lives more so," says Mickens, 34, who in real life wears brightly colored suits that match his dyed hair. Harbar, 28, was born into a popular musical Gypsy family in Texas and sports dreadlocks and makeup. The two first teamed up in 2006 under the name Wanderlust to create Batty's Hippodrome, a variety circus staged in Portland nightclubs.

With their new home at the eastside Bossanova Ballroom comes new opportunities. Since the venue rents out to only a few events each month, there's time for the setup and rehearsals necessary to create an integrated experience like "Cirque L'Amour," which will feature live musical accompaniment and dinner courses served in between acts.

Plus, the building's woodwork and Old World feel add atmosphere. "The shirt fits," as Bossanova owner Phillip Ragaway puts it. Harbar and Mickens have more shows planned at the space.

Harbar had a similar outfit in San Francisco called Circo Romani, but with about a dozen circuses in the Bay City, he lit out for greener pastures in Portland. "I was afraid of getting lost in a sea of cool, weird circuses," Harbar says. Now he hopes to give Portland performers a classy venue to complement long-running shows like those put on by 30-year-old acrobatics group Do Jump.

And despite a recession, it seems like good timing. Leapin' Louie Lichtenstein is a Wild West-style rope performer and 20-year veteran of Portland's scene who played 12 countries last year. Lichtenstein, who will appear in "Cirque," says there's "a worldwide wave" of enthusiasm for circus arts. Mickens feels the effect. "I haven't had a regular job in years," he says, "and I'm doing better than ever right now. I feel more successful and happy and pleased with how things are going than I ever have."

"Cirque L'Amour," dinner by Le Pigeon begins at 6:30 p.m., show (with live music from the Stolen Sweets) at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 13-15, Bossanova Ballroom and Supper Club, 722 E. Burnside St.; $37-$396 advance, 21 and over only; 503-206-7630, www.brownpapertickets.com. Plus: 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday show by Swing Time; free with "Cirque" ticket, $10 without. - The Oregonian


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The Wanderlust Circus Orchestra is the house band for Portland's proudest bohemian brigade, Wanderlust Circus. Our music crashes and reels like a calliope freight train off the rails weaving miraculous feats of skill through the extravagant orchestral warp of our live novelty band, featuring members of 3 Leg Torso, Juan Prophet Organization, AnnaPaul and the Bearded Lady, and The Shanghai Woolies. Tap-dancing sax king Shoehorn is featured alongside saucy songbird Anna Leander and frenetic frontman William Batty, sweating and sighing through standards and originals in the Spike Jones fashion; while the finest acrobats, aerialists, and vaudevillian virtuosi in the Pacific Wheel Circuit show off their explosive best. Bring grandma and the kids - all are welcome at the font of joyous panic.

T.J. ARKO - xylophone
(3 Leg Torso)

GRIFF BEAR - violin
(Bhattsi)

PAUL EVANS - soprano saxophone, piano, percussion, melodica
(Vagabond Opera, Anna Paul and the Bearded Lady)

JOE HAEGELE - drums
(Shanghai Woolies)

JEFFERY HOLT - bass
(Juan Prophet Organization, Pelu Theater)

ANNA LEANDER - trombone, vocals
(Anna Paul and the Bearded Lady)

NOAH MICKENS - vocals
(Nequaquam Vacuum, Steve MacKay Ensemble)

SHOEHORN - tenor saxophone, tap board
(Shoehorn and The Hat Band)

KRISTOPHER WHITE - guitar, vocals
(Juan Prophet Organization, Pelu Theater)