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Circus folk give soulful performance

by Lee Adams

On June 28 at the Children’s Museum in downtown, UniverSoul Circus ringmaster Shuckey Duckey stood on a tiny stage in front of a room full of wide-eyed children who craned their necks from their seats on the floor.

‘“We got a circus that’s on like a pot o’ neckbones,’” he told the group as they hung on his every word.

He continued to entice the little ones, urging them to come out to the show to see Onionhead, the clown from the hood, and acrobat Lunga who can, ‘“twist herself as if she has no bones in her body.’”

As he described the hip-hop circus under the big top in the parking lot of the Greensboro Coliseum he said, ‘“You got yourself a circus with a whole lotta flava.’”

‘“It’s so energetic, so off the hook, it’s so inspirational,’” he said.

But he had me at ‘“neckbones.’” Any professional act described using the phrase ‘“on like a pot o’ neckbones’” I have got to check out for myself. So I went to the circus Wednesday night to see if it was as good as Shuckey Duckey claimed.

As I arrived for the 7:30 show the sun was beginning to fall behind the big blue tent. Inside Shuckey Duckey had the crowd going.

‘“When I say ‘Shuckey Duckey’ you say, ‘quack quack.’ Shuckey Duckey!’”

‘“Quack, quack!’”

‘“Shuckey Duckey!’”

‘“Quack, quack!’”

‘“Shuckey Duckey!’”

‘“Quack, quack!’”

As hip hop and soul blared out of large speakers the mostly African-American crowd of about 2,400 went wild as large, inflatable balls were thrown into the audience and batted around.

There were several traditional acrobatic acts, like the Gabonese Troupe who performed an astounding highwire act carrying one another on their shoulders and walking across the wire on stilts. The Cossacks horse act had the performers spinning in a whirlwind around the one-ring arena and the elephant trainers had the animals dancing to the beat of hip-hop.

The large open space of the tent may be much smaller than the inside of the coliseum but it creates a more intimate atmosphere between performers and audience members. The showmen and women seemed so close you could reach out and touch them. Taking a bow atop the rising ring at the end of their act the Shanghai Swingers trapeze artists were just about at arms length and they looked into audience members eyes while passing out smiles.

The audience was a part of show through much of the night as Shuckey Duckey engaged them in the fun. At one point five females and five males were brought to the center of the arena for a ‘“house party’” where they danced as couples in a Soul Train line. The crowd let out howls of cheers and laughter at the volunteers who strutted their stuff.

In another part of the show Onionhead the clown dressed as ‘“player clown’” in a white suit and carried a bouquet of flowers. He told Shuckey Duckey that he was ‘“looking for a good woman’” as he perused the crowd. When Shuckey Duckey asked what a ‘“good woman’” is Onionhead told him she is a woman ‘“that will cook for the player, wash the player’s clothes,’” and ‘“wash the player’s feet.’”

The women in the audience booed Onionhead and he finally approached a woman in the audience and took her by the hand. But he wouldn’t give her his bouquet. Instead he hit her up for $2.

In another act displaying the progression of music the Dynamic Duo, two guys that go by the names CounTrie and Lucky, rolled up in a low-riding black Chevy S10 pickup. Dressed in business attire, they got out of their ride pulling hats down over their eyes and carrying briefcases. The two began a show with Motown hits, changing their appearances with clothes from their briefcases. As time moved on, Lucky portrayed a young Michael Jackson wearing a large afro and singing the 1970 hit ‘“ABC.’” CounTrie portrayed Jackson when he was in the prime of his career in the ’80s. Then the two progressed to rap with breakdancing moves and hip hop where they wore gold chains on their bare chests.

There was a method and a purpose to the music. There was a purpose in Onionhead’s fun-poking antics. The whole show, in fact, offered encouragement and hope to blacks.

Later in the show Shuckey Duckey told fathers that they are important in the lives of their children, their families and their community. He encouraged them to be involved in the lives of their loved ones and told them they do make a difference. He addressed children telling them they are the future and that with God all things are possible. A volley of cheers arose from the crowd.

As the performers took the ring to perform a skit, Shuckey Duckey addressed the audience again, telling them the black community has overcome a great deal in its history, including slavery and persecution. Now, he said, the black community is hurting itself with black-on-black crime, among other things.

As low, red lights came up on a shirtless black man being held by white slave traders on either side, the men asked him what his name was.

‘“Kunta,’” he said, ‘“Kunta Kinte.’”

They struck him with a whip.

Martin Luther King Jr. was portrayed in another scene and Rosa Parks in another in what was a riveting play about the trials of the black race.

At the end Shuckey Duckey got the crowd going one last time with chants and cheers as he introduced the night’s performers and the show was soon over.

Carole Calhoun brought her two teenage daughters, Sarai and Ariane, to the circus. ‘“It’s educational and uplifts the community,’” Carol said of the circus.

Their family came to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus earlier this year. ‘“I enjoyed this one, It’s more lively,’” she said. ‘“Barnum and Bailey has become routine.’”

The teens agreed, adding they liked being closer to the action. ‘“You can actually be in the show, too,’” said Sarai.

To comment on this story, e-mail Lee Adams at lee@yesweekly.com.

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