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Not Your Typical High Tech Company
Emily Berk

It's not your typical high-technology start-up that chooses to do business on the coast. Some very special ones do. Earth Circus is neither an ordinary circus nor an ordinary high-technology company. Earth Circus' charter, according to Wendy Fink, co-director, is to create "amazing events" that integrate performing arts with technology. Currently, Earth Circus is developing a night light show that utilizes computer-controlled phosphor-luminescent light wire. Kenny Forrest, who came up with the idea of using the light wire in costumes and controlling it via computers, Greg Solberg, their programmer, Fink and Anne Reeb, Earth Circus' other co-director, collaborate on all phases of the light shows, from design to implementation to presentation.

      The phosphor-luminescent light wire is a powerful artistic medium as well as a technological accomplishment. When it is turned on, the light wire shines as brightly as neon but is as flexible as the plastic tubing in which it is sheathed. Because the wires are flexible, Earth Circus can build them into performers' costumes, sets and props. The lights can be controlled either via embedded computer chips, interactively via the press of a button or turn of a joystick wielded by a performer or via sound commands. Unlike neon, which takes some time to turn on and off, Earth Circus' light wires turn off and on nearly instantaneously. Under computer control phosphor-luminescent wires can create shape-shifting patterns faster than eyes can follow.

      The first phosphor-luminescent creature many Coastsiders met lurked near the harbor at the party celebrating the opening of the Circus' new performance space in Princeton. Celebrants would turn a corner and suddenly this vision came flying at them. Six feet across and flapping furiously, the Earth Circus butterfly flitted glowingly. At the parade later, visitors learned that the butterfly rolled along on a large power-ski invented by Kenny Forrest. The butterfly was controlled and propelled by a roller-blading performer. The spectral horse that galloped by seconds later was less colorful, but just as impressive. A closer look revealed that this specter was formed of half a dozen or so wired patterns attached to an ordinary bicycle.

      Its sophisticated performers show off Earth Circus' fancy technology to the fullest. Earth Circus' standing troupe of ten is augmented as needed by other talent from the Bay Area. Together, they include stilt-walkers, trapeze artists, puppeteers, singers, actors, dancers, skaters, magicians, jugglers and clowns, and others.

      Reeb and Fink, Earth Circus' co-directors, were professional dancers based in San Francisco when they chose to relocate to the coast because of the quality of life here. "It's a great place to live and you still have the city close by. We still do a lot of performing in San Francisco," Fink said. Earth Circus was founded in Half Moon Bay in 1990 as the non-profit Earth Circus Performance Troupe, which created and presented theatrical shows designed to teach school children about environmental issues. The environmental education work of the non-profit performance troupe continues. Earth Circus is currently raising funds to support development of a show called "Imagine That!", which aims to entertain while educating students about creativity and invention.

      In 1997, Earth Circus spun off a for-profit business, called Earth Circus Productions, to create circus and musical entertainments for corporate events, trade shows and similar venues. Events featuring existing characters can be booked as little as a week or so before show time. However, they may need a month or two to create original performances such as the Venetian-themed event they staged recently at the Ed Hardy Gallery in San Francisco.

      Other recent Earth Circus productions have included appearances at the Glastonbury Festival in England, the Galway Arts Festival in Ireland, the 1997 Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, in which they created a children's parade with Michael Lederman's Coastal Theatre Conservatory, the Special Olympics in San Jose, the 1997 and 1995 Black and White Balls, and, for the last two years, the Princeton Street Fair. Appropriately, Earth Circus looks with special fondness at San Jose's Tech-Museum of Innovation, where they have performed numerous times. Just recently, they were featured at the special opening party for contributors and investors to the museum. For the appearance, Earth Circus performed in their new light costumes.

      Earth Circus Productions recently opened its new performing arts studio at 182 Harvard Avenue in Princeton, where they will offer a series of classes, workshops and performances. Their agenda is ambitious. Classes in the performing and visual arts such as acting, puppetry and dance are scheduled to begin at the studio in the middle of this month (January). They hope to extend the array of classes at the new studio. Earth Circus also plans to host a "big event" the last Saturday of every month, starting this month as well. And they're scheduled to shine their light at the Half Moon Bay Talent Show on January 9.

      Earth Circus Productions is looking for corporate and individual funding to help support development of new costumes and sets for the night light show. For more information about Earth Circus, call 650-726-6679, or write: PO Box 3167, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019. Earth Circus' web site is at