Staging a Circus-Variety Show Off-Broadway

As a performer, being given the opportunity to present material in front of a live, paying audience that wants to see you is one of the greatest thrills. My family and I, over the past four years, have written and performed two off-Broadway shows, entitled “Circus Bicuspid” and “Circus Bicuspid Back for Seconds.” The shows were presented by our foundation, The Dr. Molar Magic Foundation (please visit for more information about what we do), and all of the profits went to fund our programs.

Sunday in the Park with Clowns Theatre Row Show Page Image

This past May, we staged our third off-Broadway production, entitled “Circus Bicuspid presents Sunday in the Park with Clowns.” Not only was this the longest show we have ever written (and had the longest development time; approximately three years), but it was presented at a major off-Broadway house, Theatre Row, on 42nd street in the heart of New York City’s theatre district. We did two sold out shows in one day, and it was an exhausting and wonderful experience. Friends of mine who are theatre fans have asked me to detail what that day was like, and found it rather interesting. I’ve decided to write it down and share it with you, as it shines some light on the hectic procedure of putting on two large scale productions in one day. Enjoy!

9:00 AM-Leave house and begin the drive into Manhattan. We have two cars loaded to capacity with props, costumes, and set pieces.

10:00 AM-Arrive at the theatre. We begin load-in through the stage door on 41st street. Everything is brought into the theatre and put haphazardly on the stage. We will sort everything out later; now we just want to focus on getting everything inside.


10:45 AM-Load-in is complete and the cars are parked nearby. Costumes and makeup are moved backstage into the dressing rooms. Costumes are hung up on racks. Trunks and suitcases are opened and items are sorted depending on what bit they are part of and where they are located in the show. Items that will be used after intermission are placed backstage. Empty trunks are also moved backstage. Set pieces are put in their appropriate spots.

12:00 PM-The stage is completely set-up for Act I. Act II props and costumes are located in their appropriate spots backstage. The show opens with a Rube Goldberg machine which drops popcorn into my mouth; we test the machine several times to make sure it works. Tape is placed on the stage floor to indicate where we are supposed to stand or place different props.


12:15 PM-We run through all of the lighting and music cues in the show. Sound levels are adjusted to prevent slapback, and appropriate light levels for juggling and hula hooping are noted.

12:30 PM-The house opens. Everyone heads back to the dressing rooms and begins to get into costume and make-up. Pockets are loaded with props we have on our person.


12:58 PM-House lights flicker.

1:00 PM-Show starts.

2:30 PM-Show ends. We wash the shaving cream from our pie fight finale out of our hair and off of our faces (we are wearing jumpsuits over our costumes during the finale).

2:35 PM-We head back out to the stage. We talk briefly with the people that have stuck around to say hello.

2:45 PM-Everyone has left the theatre. We clean up from the pie fight onstage and reset for Act I. All of the props from Act II are moved backstage and are reset. Sticky spots left on the stage from the marshmallows used in the opening to Act II are scrubbed clean. We clean all of the shaving cream off of the jumpsuits and hang them up to dry. Make-up is completely removed and we change back into street clothes.

3:45 PM-We eat sushi in the theatre for a late lunch.

4:00 PM-I take a nap in the seats.

4:45 PM-Costumes are put on and make-up is reapplied. Pockets are loaded once again.

5:00 PM-The house opens.

5:28 PM-House lights flicker.

5:30 PM-Show starts.

7:00 PM-Show ends. Once again, we wash the shaving cream from our pie fight finale out of our hair and off of our faces.


7:05 PM– We head back out to the stage. We talk briefly with the people that have stuck around to say hello.

7:20 PM-Everyone has left the theatre. We change out of our costumes and make-up and put on our street clothes. The stage is cleaned again and the trunks and suitcases are brought out from backstage. We begin to break the show down and pack it up.

8:00 PM-The show is completely packed up and sits on the stage. The cars are brought around to the stage door and we begin load-out (in the rain, by the way).

8:45 PM-Load-out is complete and the theatre is just as we left it.

9:45 PM-We are back home after a very long, very exhausting, and very exciting day.

– Matthew “Phineas” Lish

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