By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In Circus Amok, the form is queer, while the content includes police brutality, pedestrian barriers, bricks falling from school facades, the malling of Manhattan, and the jaywalking laws. Amok gives the old tried-and-true circus bits some edge: A hapless New Yorker is run over by the mayor in a car followed by the press (clocking his speed), the ambulance pulls up, anduh-ohall the doctors and nurses are clowns! A cop gives the injured party a ticket, and he's a clown!
The South Bronx crowd not only handled it, but loved it. Miller says Amok got negative reactions at only one show this year, Pier 25 in Tribeca, their "most moneyed audience." People there complained that the bits about police brutality and schools falling down scared the kids. "For these Pier 25 people, we were bringing this scary imagery into their protected world," said Miller. "For the rest of New York City, we were talking about things that happen in their lives."
Then, when they performed in Williamsburg, the Hasidim walked out. They'd come early and asked Miller how much skin was going to be seen. "I thought they were just asking about women," she says. She forgot to tell them about the man in a bra and girdle. When he entered, they exited. Miller was disappointed, because she wanted to perform for the Hasidim. They're her neighbors. Amok may return and do a "properly clothed show" just for them.
Still, Miller judges the season a big success. For one thing, in this, their fourth year of outdoor performances, they had a lot fewer people yelling, "Faggot!"
In the middle of the Circus Amok show, performer Scott Heron appears in bowler hat and plaid jacket with slacks to walk the tightrope. It's just inches above the mat but he makes up for that in degree of difficulty, doing a striptease to reveal the prom dress underneath. Jumping down, he adds silver heels and walks the rope again, a feat never duplicated by the Flying Wallendas.
After the show, one man remarks on how great it was for the kids, who were beginning to somersault and cartwheel toward home.
"Not only the kids," says a woman. "They have a message." She had particularly noticed the cross-dressing. It was the thing she most liked, and she knew just what it meant: "It doesn't matter who you are, how you dress, whatever you do, we all have these other problems, and they're real."