Waterfront Museum returns to Red Hook with variety show

for The Brooklyn Paper
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After a year of major preservation work in dry-dock, Red Hook’s Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge is back in Red Hook at a new location, 699 Columbia St.

With the return of the barge comes the seventh year of CIRCUSundays aboard the historic 1914 Lehigh Valley Railroad Barge #79. And according to Karen Gersch, artistic director and Ocean Mistress of Ceremonies, the shows are going to be better than ever.

Gersch, who, as an acrobat, juggler and clown is a former founding member of the Big Apple Circus, a current member of its Clown Care Unit, and the head of her own company, Acrobrats, books the 40 or so acts that will appear at some time during the five circus Sundays this June. And Gersch has assembled an impressive roster of talent.

Chris McDaniel, whom Gersch calls "a look-alike Wild Bill Hickok," will demonstrate roping and bullwhipping artistry.

"He’s an interactive artist," Gersch told GO Brooklyn. "A volunteer from the audience will get roped." Gersch wouldn’t reveal whether a volunteer would have the opportunity to whip, or be whipped.

David Sharps, the showboat’s captain, will demonstrate the art of juggling Chinese vases.

Donna Pennoyer looks like a "Carmen Miranda on stilts," and her husband, Drew the Fool, does a "beautiful clown on rolling globe act," said Gersch. The Fool balances on a globe while playing the ukulele.

Indeed, many of the acts include clowns and clowning: Torkova the Magician, who was awarded the 2002 Magician of the Year award by the Society of Magicians; Dikki, who walks on a slack wire; Ron Hoffman and Julie Pasqual, who, as the Peppercorns, will perform acrobatic swing dancing; Brooklyn’s own Baltic Street Band, performing different kinds of music on a variety of instruments, from tuba and banjo to homemade percussion and flute; and Billy Bones the Good Pirate, who will be running a pirate’s academy with the audience.

"We’re going to turn the entire audience into a pirate academy from where they’re seated," said Gersch.

For those who prefer deeds of daring, Fran Sperling will demonstrate her aerial artistry on the single trapeze.

Gersch, who occasionally does "a little balancing and juggling" to fill in if there’s a need, said, "This year I’ll be enhancing my role with an ocean throne" decorated with seaweed, shells and sea creatures.

"Because our space is small, I’m often standing on the stage. I have not liked being so omnipresent, so I’ve decided to seat myself," she said. "But it wouldn’t be right for me to seat myself with the audience. Therefore I will have a small throne at the edge of the stage."

Another circus attraction will be an exhibition of William King’s color photographs of the past six years of CIRCUSundays.

CIRCUSundays, said Gersch, are more than circuses; they’re also vaudeville and variety shows. But it’s really the boat that makes them so unique.

"The space is set up more like a theater than a circus," said Gersch. "We have blue velvet drapes, a wooden floor, professional theater lights and a lot of natural light because the doors are open."

On one side of the stage, the audience sees the water, on the other side, the pier - where the overflow watches the show because there is no more room on the boat.

The space also contributes to a feeling of intimacy.

"You’ll never see a circus as close," said Gersch. "You’re right there."

And, of course, this is a family-oriented show.

"We put children on the floor down front," she said. "There’s an old-fashioned feeling. People picnic and gather outside. Shows change every weekend, so some families come back every Sunday.

"The magic of the place," Gersch said, "makes it such an enchanted show."


CIRCUSundays presents two shows, at 1 pm and 4:30 pm, on June 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29 at the Showboat Barge, docked at the Columbia Street Marine Terminal in Gowanus Bay, entrance at 699 Columbia St., in Red Hook.

Shows go on rain or shine. Advance ringside reservations are $10, $5 tickets at the door. First-come, first-served seating. A free Con Edison shuttle bus offers transportation from Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. For more information, call (718) 624-4719 or log on to

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