Clown troupe invades Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
on April 9, 2010
Eight-foot tall kids wearing brightly colored costumes and wizard-style hats were the focus of everyone’s attention at Frank H. Ogawa plaza in downtown Oakland on Friday. This was not an elongated Harry Potter costume party, but rather a cadre of Prescott Circus Theatre stilt dancers showing off their stuff.
The Prescott Circus Theatre was founded in 1984 by Aileen Moffit, then a teacher at Prescott Elementary in West Oakland* from which the performance troupe gets its name. Since 2001, seven other Oakland public elementary schools have joined the circus, which is now managed by former Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey clown, Jamarr Woodruff.
“I ran away from the circus to come teach the youth of Oakland circus,” Woodruff said. “With children, it’s in their nature to be able to receive and to be able to learn things quicker and easier.”
One of the first schools to join up when Prescott Circus Theatre began to expand was Piedmont Ave Elementary in North Oakland, where close to 30 students learn to juggle, stilt dance, do acrobatics and perform as clowns in their two-day a week after school classes. All of the classes are offered free of charge.
“I clown around a lot and when I clown around at the wrong times I get in trouble, so I went to circus so it’s the right time to clown around,” A’Shari Jackson, 11, said. The fifth grader has been with the circus for two years. “Now I don’t clown around at the wrong times,” A’Shari added.
When asked if this helped her schoolwork A’Shari said she wasn’t sure. Her coach, Suzanne Santos, begged to differ.
“What about when you give presentations?” Santos, a graduate of the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco, reminded A’Shari. “Aren’t you braver?”
A’Shari grinned and nodded her agreement. Despite her antics on stage and her love for clowning, A’Shari said her favorite subject was non-nonsense math. And what does she want to be when she grows up? Performer? Actress? Lion tamer?
“I want to be an engineer,” A’Shari said with confidence, “the kind that helps plan making buildings.”
Note: Friday’s performance was called Higher Ground and was arranged by choreographers from Zulu Connection, an organization out of New Orleans. For a schedule of future performances, see the Prescott Circus Theatre website.
Students are: Lily Borghino, De’ Janae Evans, Jakaela Foster, A’Shari Jackson, Juan Milton, Okwaas Muhammad, Tyrese Taylor
Staff members are: Suzanne Santos and Yolanda Steele
*The original posting of this article located Prescott Elementary in East Oakland. It is in West Oakland. Oakland North regrets the error.
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