Circus meets Broadway in Dayton camp

By Patricia Ann Speelman -

DAYTON — There’s Broadway with its tap dancing and trumpets and there’s circus with its stunts and magic.

The two come together this week in the Victoria Theatre Association’s Broadway Camp, a summer day camp for middle and high school students. Sidney teens, David Potts, 16, son of Karen and Dave Potts, and Annie Stemen, 17, daughter of Amy and Tony Stemen, are among the 55 campers who are participating.

Tuesday, they were belting out Cole Porter tunes under the tutelage of Sean Michael Flowers, of Wright State University, and Katie Kerry, formerly employed by the Muse Machine.

Cast members of whatever show is playing in the association’s Broadway series serve as guest camp instructors, and this year, that show is “Circus 1903.”

So campers moved from Porter to plate spinning, jazz hands to juggling, as the the week progressed.

Magician David Williamson, who is the ringmaster of the internationally touring production, Francois Borie, its juggler, and Terrence Williams, the production stage manager, invited the teens into the world of the circus.

“It was awesome,” Stemen said. Plate spinning has been her favorite part of the experience.

“I’m going to do it in the informance on Friday,” she said. The informance is a performance by campers for family and friends.

She and Potts were excited to be working with professionals in a business they hope to join.

“I’m going to be a musical theater major in college,” Stemen said.

Potts comes by his interest naturally. His mother directs plays at Holy Angels School.

They have learned dancing and singing in addition to how to balance things on their heads, employ cartoon physics and juggling. Williamson taught them magic tricks, but that’s not all.

“He showed us general concepts that all magicians use, how to misdirect attention and strategies magicians use,” Potts said. “That was really fun.”

Williamson noted that he looked forward to working with the campers.

“I love teaching magic to young people,” he said. His magic work has taken him all over the world from his native Xenia. When he’s not on the road performing, he makes his home now in Yellow Springs.

“This is the stop on my tour where I sleep in my own bed,” laughed the man who has spent the last six months touring Australia and the United States from Los Angeles eastward.

Other performers in “Circus 1903” hail from countries around the globe. Many of them are visiting the United States for the first time as part of this production.

Williamson said that in the show, he does a little magic, but he gets to “use my comedy side.” He improvises sketches with children from the audience with hilarious result.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a kid and profesisonally since I was a teenager. All that experience means I’m pretty well ready to handle anything that comes up,” he said.

There wasn’t time during camp sessions, however, for him to teach improvisation techniques.

“I’ll be teaching (magic’s) secrets, but that’s not the important part,” he said. “It’s what you do with it. Kids are fascinated by the secrets. Then we talk about presentation.”

Potts and Stemen were ready and willing to take on any challenges the camp wanted to give them.

“There are so many aspects of theater I don’t know. I’m always willing to learn,” Stemen said. “The circus aspect is good skills for your resume.”

Juggling was the most difficult thing she’d had to tackle during camp. For Potts, his difficulty was her favorite: plate spinning.

They also liked hearing from Williams what working for a circus is like.

“I thought he was really cool. He taught us how difficult it can be,” Stemen said.

That’s one of the goals of the camp, according to Diane Schoeffler-Warran, public and media relations manager of the Victoria Theatre Association.

“We try to make sure students hear from folks on tour to hear what it’s really like,” she said.

Teens at the camp saw a performance of “Circus 1903,” Thursday. Today, they’ll have a question-and-answer session with the cast.

Performances continue through Sunday in the Schuster Center in downtown Dayton. For tickets, call 888-228-3630 or visit

By Patricia Ann Speelman

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.