The Macon Telegraph
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Alberti Flea Circus lets spectators exercise their imaginations
By Lance Wallace
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There are no dogs allowed at Jim "Alberti" Hobbs show.
Hes the ringmaster, producer, director, trainer, and owner of "The Original Alberti Flea Circus," and he has worked very hard to get his fleas in tip-top shape. Hobbs said he recruits at circuses, fairgrounds, institutions of higher learning, and even churches to get his fleas.
But are there really any fleas?. . . . "I say, of course there are fleas," he said. "There are nine, but only seven perform at any one time."
Hobbs loves making the connection between imagination and reality. You could say he likes to stretch the boundaries of reality a little.
"I see the fleas and the kids see the fleas," he said. "If someone tells me that they cant see them, then I tell them to stand closer." The stunts are worth standing close to see. Paddy OReilly Shaughnessy waves the Irish Flag, Captain Spaulding gets shot from a cannon, and the beautiful and daring Dardenell performs a graceful high dive.
Children play a key role in each flea circus performance. Hobbs involves the audience by asking them to cheer, provide sound effects, yell directions, and hold props for the stunts. But the kids arent the only ones who get caught up in the performance.
"Theres a lot of little things in the show for each age group," said Hobbs. "Thats why flea circuses have lasted so long. It addresses everybody at different points in their lives."
Hobbs describes how he occasionally gives away one of his fleas to an adult. He gives the incredulous spectator an opaque straw, secured with their fingers at the bottom.
He takes a flea from his box and puts it into the straw. The adult then immediately seals the top of the straw with the other finger. Adults have been known to walk off with the straw still secured after 10-15 minutes, Hobbs said.
"The show is so different," he said. "TV is too exclusive, rock concerts are so gigantic. Kids have little chance to connect with something. Kids have had a lot of experience these days, but the flea circus is something totally new to them."
The Alberti Flea Circus is one of three remaining in North America. One is out West and the other is based in Toronto, Hobbs said. That leaves an awful big beat for the Alberti show to cover. "Its just a riot," said Hobbs. "There needs to be about 20 more flea circuses." Hobbs travels to 12 fairs a year. When hes not doing the flea circus, he travels with his son, Darryl, 12, and does a Vaudeville act. He spends 10 months a year on the road.
"I call myself an entrepreneurial entertainer," he said. "Something else I call myself is happy."
Happiness led Hobbs to the fleas. Now 53, Hobbs revived his grandfathers flea circus while working at North Carolina School of the Arts as a design director. He simply wasnt happy with his job and longed for more adventure. "My grandfather, who is certainly my favorite person, did this," he said. "His flea circus was long gone, but I basically remembered it and rebuilt it the best I could."
He and Darryl started out by booking the circus at libraries during the summer. The shows were such a success that when he returned to school in the fall, he missed doing the circus so much he quit his job at the end of the year and took his show on the road full time. That was six years ago.
"Chaucer had a flea joke back in one of his books," said Hobbs. "Thats how old this is. He used them back when there was no soap or hot water and everybody was dirty and fleas were everywhere. They used humor to help them deal with it. It has just developed from that into the fantasy that it is today."