In the Spiegeltent at Teatro Zinzanni for the third time, on Sunday the sixth of November, I did a painting for their annual gala auction to benefit the Zinzanni Institute for the Circus Arts. The Institute teaches children to juggle, clown, and tumble their way towards a chance to run away with the circus—or at least to develop some killer skills. The gala funds scholarships for kids who can’t afford the program. An amazing nine-year old graduate appears in my painting, center stage, juggling five balls, next to auctioneer Kevin Joyce.
It just another normal weekend for me to put on a bowtie and black apron and perform for a crowd, with my brushes and palette and mahl stick and a rapidly transforming canvas. Doing it under the big top with these performers lets me pretend I’m a tall, Danish version of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge. Their Spiegeltent dates from that era (so named because of the mirrors encircling the space), the dancing, singing waitresses wear corsets and fishnet stockings and feathers, paired with waiters in vests and caps. Décor of tassels and fringe and faded velvet are everywhere.
The air of Paris is especially strong at Zinzanni right now, since their current dinner show is Bonsoir Liliane!, a memoir about, and starring, Liliane Montevecchi— a grand dame of the stage, ballet, cinema, and theatre. I told her that her voice reminded me of a stretch version of Edith Piaf (she’s more than a foot taller than La Môme.)
With all the acrobats and contortionists and strays from the opera and ballet, this troupe has been called “the Kit Kat Club on Acid.” So why not throw in a barrel-voiced cross-dressing comedian/comedienne primped and powdered like a Venetian carnival queen? That’s him/her posing with the buyer of my painting and her daughter, center left. Kevin Kent is one of TZ’s original members.
Another regular at Zinzanni is Francine Reed, who came in from Atlanta for the gala and a concert the following night. As I mixed my colors and began to paint the background of the venue, while the crew tested lights and recording volumes, Ms. Reed spent a luxurious amount of time chatting with me. It was a pleasure getting to know the woman whose voice makes Lyle Lovett sound good. We talked about growing up singing in church, and she listened patiently while I sang to her a song I wrote for my wife, nodding and smiling approvingly. During the auction she sang God Bless the Child. She appears in my painting dressed in purple, with feathers, on the stage, middle right.
It feels great to donate a painting, and I do for several charity auctions each year. It feels even better when the event’s appreciation allows me to bring my wife and guests back for dinner and a show throughout the year!