The Pioneer

The Pioneer

Circus Vargas in California

Gary Pilecki

Justin Pilecki

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At Circus Vargas, the clowns are the leaders of audience participation.

Circus Vargas, a traveling California based circus, brings about memories both old and new of spectacular entertainment to all that drive by its big, blue tent currently in San Jose.

Those who stop by to see the circus are greeted with the wonderful smell of popcorn and cheering from inside.

Circus Vargas has been in business since 1969, thanks to its creator Clifford E. Vargas.

He ran Circus Vargas for twenty years until he passed away in 1989, after which his friends and circus executives Joseph Muscarello and Roland Kaiser ran the circus until 2003.

Today, Circus Vargas features a wide variety of acrobatics, trapeze artists, balancing acts, daredevils and some audience participation—by both children and adults.

One of the main draws to Circus Vargas are their clowns, who lead the audience participation.

“People come to the circus for the entertainment,” said Matti the Clown. “The circus is for the whole family. I get to work with the audience, so there is a new person each day.”

Kids from the audience get to wear stage props and dance to some music, each set unique for each child.

For the adults, the clowns give out percussive instruments, such as snare drums and tambourines, and woven caps adorned with bells.

Several skits feature Matti the Clown.  For example, he pretended to be a musical conductor and split the entire audience into two sections and instructed each side to clap to distinct rhythms. The audience was thrilled to be a part of the show.

Circus Vargas has eager employees that are anxious to put on an energetic show.

Circus Vargas performers getting ready to entertain the crowds of people waiting for a show.

“The circus is the kind of entertainment that stands the test of time,” said Laura Weiss, one of the circus performers. “Working here is a lot of fun.  It’s like a permanent working vacation. Every city we go to is different, and outside of the shows we get to spend time on activities unique to the city like fishing.”

The work in a traveling circus is unique in that the locations are constantly changing. Few jobs are similar and life on the road can offer many perspectives to learn about new and interesting cities.

Ringmaster Ted McRae has been performing with Circus Vargas for 5 years. In addition to being ringmaster, he sings and plays drums.

“I write all the songs that I sing, aside from the national anthem,” said McRae. “There is the main song, ‘Circus Vargas’. I have another song called ‘Do You Believe in Angels’.”

McRae started at Circus Vargas with lions and tigers, but became ringmaster when the owner overheard him singing backstage. He sings with strength and vigor and has had no formal training.

McRae also plays drums in the background of many acts, adding a percussive energy.

Vittorio Arate, general manager of Circus Vargas, has been in the circus business for six generations. He was an acrobat and performed on the tightrope when he was younger.

His daughter is now the owner, but since Circus Vargas is a family business, he takes on many high level responsibilities.

“Of live entertainment, the circus is exciting because it has more variety,” said Arate. “It has clowns, acrobats, daredevils, and more.”

Today, a lot of live entertainment focuses on one or two things, whereas the circus showcases a great variety aimed at entertaining people of all ages, according to Arate.

Circus Vargas will be in San Jose at Westfield Oakridge, Santa Teresa Blvd on August 4 to 8.

California State University East Bay
Circus Vargas in California