performers include fire manipulator, sword swallower, contortionist, mentalist, and aerialist.
An intrepid band of Circus performers organized by Robert (Count Smokula) Miles journeyed to the Caribbean in search of adventure. Little did they know the impact that performing in a land seemingly stuck in the 1950s would have on each of them.
Photo Courtesy Guantanamo Gazette
The 2013 documentary produced by Christina Linhardt and Michael Rose chronicles the lives of a handful of variety arts performers as they find their way to Cuba… well, Cuba adjacent, as Guantanamo Bay is United States soil on the edge of a land that we are still not much connected to. The strange arrangement of detaining suspected terrorists is only the tip of the iceberg that most of us prefer to stay a bit ignorant of. The prison, Delta Camp, is actually the main reason that Americans are deployed there. We seldom stop to think that they have families, children, lives off duty that need attention, as well as the damnable responsibility to oversee ‘suspects’ who are not arrestees, but detainees who languish in the harshest conditions in one of the most beautiful and undeveloped regions on Earth.
The opportunity to send the Vamphear Circus to entertain the troops and their families appeared to Miles via an acquaintance who was familiar with booking entertainment for Guantanamo. After a major search, he found a group of artists who agreed to hit the road for a one week tour. (Imagine Gilligan’s theme song here.)
MC’d by Miles (Count Smokula) on accordion in bizarre clown makeup, the circus came to town featuring Balloon Man: Hillel, grinder babe/arialist: Brandy Wirtz, juggler/reluctant producer: Philip Solomon and the gorgeous opera singing clown, Christina Linhardt. Working basically as installation artists, the troupe prepared a major outdoor venue with seating for thousands. A special crane was commandeered for Brandy’s high flying act featuring her climbing sixty feet up long silken banners. There were only two performances and the audience reception was extraordinary.
Stock footage from the US Government and marginal video shot by Hillel on a cell phone combine with other images shot by the cast to create a bizarre memory of how the joy of circus intertwines with the very real situation that is ongoing at Guantanamo Bay. Individual interviews with the participants paint a picture of these professional performers now totally out of their own comfort zones having to deal with entertaining the US Military and their families practically a stone’s throw from the most notorious prison in the world.
Most disturbing was an account of meeting a young woman US Navy guard who was fresh from boot camp, ready to serve. A woman monitoring Muslim men is volatile right off the bat. Within a week, she was reported to have been the victim of a “Number Five Cocktail” consisting of every bodily refuse that one can imagine. To hear sprite-like Christina Linhardt’s checking off the list of “spit, snot, piss, poop and cum” is shocking and at once shows the contrast between the average Americans pressed into duty at Guantanamo and their lives that require education, entertainment and basic human needs.
Selected for a documentary festival later in the year, GUANTANAMO CIRCUS’s accounting of life ‘on the road’ for these gallant performers, is beautifully edited with music from Linhardt’s personal work and the dedicated spirits of each of the performers.
Variety arts is such a special area of entertainment. Hillel’s trapped balloon sketch comments on the political issues of the prison, while the great good humor of Solomon’s getting participants on stage to hula hoop and Miles’s being swamped by dozens of kids happy to be on stage for a sing along is wonderful. Sadly, the requirement for the show to be G Rated, disallowed the naked body painting with Linhardt as the canvas.
Producers are hopeful for a paid public airing. Please leave a comment here if you have a connection to make that happen. It deserves to be seen.
GUANTANAMO CIRCUS (2013)
Produced and Directed by
Christina Linhardt and Michael Rose