Monday, June 23, 2014

Ben Sota of Zany Umbrella Circus on Factory 14S Part I

This summer's Factory 14s workshop at the Mattress Factory is an amazing opportunity for 14-18 year olds to really see behind-the-scenes at the Mattress Factory. Participants get to explore all of the exhibitions, meet incoming exhibiting artists, hang out with and learn directly about the creative process of an artist and use all of that inspiration to create their own work and performances. The Circus + Activism workshop is going to be a wonderful learning experience - but mostly it will be tons of FUN. To find out more or to register via e-mail, contact

In a two part series, Zany Umbrella Circus Artistic Director Ben Sota, who will be leading the Circus + Activism workshop from July 21-August 8, will discuss his interest in circus performing, the history behind Zany Umbrella and why he wants to spend this summer at the MF. 


Can you tell us more about Zany Umbrella Circus? What was your motivation to start this company?  What is your favorite part of the circus?

 Zany Umbrella Circus is a tented circus company that I founded in 2002.  The circus has toured nationally and internationally, and has performed at both the White House and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  As an organization, Zany Umbrella Circus is known for social circus, and touring and developing locally specific programming in an experimental theater format. As a performance art company, Zany Umbrella is interested in further addressing issues of social change and community participation and involvement. With its mission rooted in compassion – the company has performed in war zones, disaster relief areas, areas of famine and areas where xenophobia exists – Zany Umbrella uses performance art in the form of circus and physical theater to educate and connect people to each other.

In my twenties, I was motivated to form the company because I felt I needed a vehicle to express my artistry.  My favorite part of the circus is that I love how circus performers collaborate and rely on each other.  Circus performers really trust one another and I think the circus has the innate ability to function as a microcosm that represents humanity at its best.

Why do you want to spend the summer at the Mattress Factory? 

Last fall Felice Cleveland, the museum's Director of Education, invited me to teach the inaugural Install: Afternoons at the Factory and the program was amazing.  This summer I am looking forward to taking this programming a number of steps further.

As a theater artist I am very used to working with actors and designers, and loving having the chance to collaborate.  I have been fortunate enough to travel to numerous places throughout the world and I spent the last five years studying in Arezzo, Italy and Honolulu.  As I get older I want to make sure circus and physical theater exists for generations to come.  Teachers from around the world have shared amazing techniques in circus and theater and I am looking forward to the chance to share this with students from my home community.

How do you combine the circus with social issues / issues that are important to you?

This mashup requires quite a bit of creativity.  I love using visual metaphor, improvisation and storytelling.  In theater and circus you get to create a world where anything is possible - in this world change can happen. By creating theater you can actually cause change and question that status quo.


Please stay tuned for Part II of the interview series with Zany Umbrella Circus Artistic Director Ben Sota, coming soon! 

UPDATE: Read Part II of the interview series here.

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