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Artful Musings: Circus Maximus


Artful Musings:
Circus Maximus

By Maja Wood

Jake WardJake Ward is the creator of the devilish, adults-only, North Bay Cabaret variety shows. And he's also the co-founder of the wholesome, family-friendly, Circus Maximus performance troupe.

“I was home-schooled all the way through high school,” Ward says, “and I had a very isolated, religious upbringing. The only kids I could socialize with were other Christians, and only the home-schooled ones.”

“That explains a lot,” I comment.

“Yeah, that's what everyone says.”

The loving, warm, creative, making-crafts-with-mom environment of his childhood comes through in the sweetness of the Circus Maximus shows. There are trapeze artists and clowns, strong men and jugglers. And lots of smiles.

And then there's the Cabaret. Burlesque and sirlesque, vaudeville and fire dancers, poetry, music and lots of raunchy comedy. While Circus Maximus reflects Ward's protective and innocent childhood environment, the Cabaret has an eye-opening, jaw-dropping, anything-goes atmosphere, reminiscent of the world he encountered when Ward left his childhood home.

“When I first went out in the world, it was pretty mind-blowing” he says. “Suddenly, there were all these new experiences and new information coming at me, and I really had to reassess everything I had ever thought I knew and believed in. You start wondering, 'What do I really believe; who am I really?'

“My parents and I have a great relationship. But there are things I was taught, and I believed in, that I definitely disagree with now. Like, I was brought up believing that homosexuals are sinners. And I had to do a complete 180 on that. When you have an experience like that, where you question your whole world and everything you think you know, it's confusing and disorientating, but it's also amazing. It leaves you open-minded and non-judgmental. You know that you might not know what you think you know.”

One thing Ward does know for sure is that live entertainment has a spiritual element. Granted, many of the acts in the Cabaret are far from saintly. Nevertheless, there is something sacred about those times when people connect through song and dance and laughter, whether it's divinely inspired or just downright raunchy.

“I absolutely love what I do,” he says. Yet, like many people, Ward discovered his calling through a fluke.

He and his younger brother started a band called Conspiracy-A-Go-Go, but the only way they could get any gigs was if he went to the venue himself to try and book them. One thing led to another, and Ward starting helping out friends and booking their shows and creating events. The band eventually broke up, and his brother became a missionary. But Ward found his happiness through putting on shows, and that's what he continued to do.

He went on to create the North Bay Cabaret, which will be celebrating its 2-year anniversary in June. The performances are held the third Friday of each month at the Whiskey Tip in Santa Rosa. This month, on March 18, the Cabaret will host a special David Bowie-themed show.

“After I started the Cabaret, people were telling me I'd be pigeonholed and that I wouldn't be able to put on other types of events,” Ward says. “And that really bugged me. Why should that be the case?” Perhaps people need to compartmentalize in life, he adds, but there's no reason to think 'This compartment is who I am and this is all I am.' You can have a lot of compartments.

So Ward partnered with Krysta Hodson and the two founded Circus Maximus, which will be holding its third show, Juxtaposé, in The Glaser Center, April 9.

“I love entertaining kids. They're not at all cynical, the awe and laughter is so real,” he says. “It's very rewarding. One time, a dad come over after a show and asked if he could take a picture of me with his kid. He said, 'My son wants to grow up to be a ringmaster now.' That was so cool.”