Monday, August 27, 2007

Flea circus featured article in Washington Post

Find out more about the show at
This has also become a UPI article

The Tiniest Show in Town!

At the Flea Circus, There's More Than Meets the Eye

By Rachel Beckman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 27, 2007; Page C01

The magic of the flea circus climaxed during the chariot race. That's when ringmaster Adam Gertsacov persuaded the audience to fall in love with Midge and Madge, the tiny stars of his Acme Miniature Circus.

Yesterday about 40 people -- a mix of families and hipsters -- at the Palace of Wonders on H Street NE rose to their feet, craning their necks to get a better look at the action. Gertsacov, wearing a purple top hat, shot a toy gun and the fleas were off.

Acme Miniature Circus ringmaster Adam Gertsacov keeps a close eye on his stars. (Photograph by James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

"We've approached the straightaway," he said, talkin double-time, like a sports announcer. "It's going to be a very close race. Midge is making her move. Let's hear it!"

The audience screamed and one man broke into a chant: "Let's go, Midge! Let's go, Midge!"

Who won? Maybe the more pressing question is whether there was a race at all. "Professor" A.G. Gertsacov has worked to revive a tradition that's been mostly dead since the 1950s. He's also revived the question that has always accompanied the spectacle: Are there actually any fleas?

Tough to tell. There were two small chariots moving across the stage (about as big as a school desk) but any fleas pulling them were impossible to see -- even from the front row, even with Gertsacov's magnifying glass hovering above them.

Gertsacov, however, insists that his stars exist. "It wouldn't be much of a flea circus," he said, "without the fleas."

The 42-year-old resident of Yonkers, N.Y., started his flea circus in 1994 and has presented it more than 1,000 times. The clown college graduate first got the idea after watching Charlie Chaplin host one in the film "Limelight." Gertsacov initially pantomimed the act. Then a fellow performer gave him some advice.

"He said, 'Get rid of all the clown stuff,' " Gertsacov recalled. " 'You're so big, they're so little. You love the fleas. That's your show.' "

The Acme company is one of only a handful of flea circuses left in the world, he said. They were popular in Victorian days, but existed in New York's Times Square until 1957. Gertsacov revived the Times Square show in 2002, performing in the now-defunct Palace of Variety on West 42nd Street, about two blocks from the original location.

Gertsacov wouldn't reveal his secret for training fleas, but he did assure the audience that he uses only positive reinforcement.

"I treat them as if they are my own flesh and blood."

And, in some ways, he said, they are. Gertsacov said he uses the Pulex irritans flea, or the human flea, for his show. They like human and pig hosts best, so he feeds them by pricking his finger and bleeding into a petri dish every 10 to 12 days. Uh-huh.

Gertsacov uses only female fleas because they're bigger and easier to train. But not every flea is cut out for being a circus flea, mind you. He gets his performers from an entomologist and then puts them through rigorous exercises to see if they've got what it takes. Pulex irritans lives for about a year, so there have been quite a few Midges and Madges.

The Acme Miniature Flea Circus performing with "Prof." A.G. Gertsacov, here warming up the crowd at The Palace of Wonders on H St., NE. (Photograph by James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

Gertsacov initially thought that his circus would attract families, but it turned out that "the punk-rock-tattooed guys loved my show." At the Palace of Wonders, a sideshow-themed bar, he attracted plenty of both families and tattooed folk. (He sold flea-themed temporary tattoos at the beginning of the show, so the two demographics started to blend together.)

"I feel a little guilty coming to a flea circus," said Kathy Hutchins, who brought her 12-year-old daughter. "I have dogs and cats, so I've spent a lot of time trying to eradicate fleas. I hope they're not relatives of Midge."

Gertsacov lamented the flea eradication industry during the flea history segment at the beginning of the performance. He also started off with a "flea" market, selling plastic magnifying glasses, "Save the Fleas" bumper stickers and 2-by-3-inch programs.

As for the race: Despite the zeal of Midge's fans, Madge pulled ahead at the finish and won. Gertsacov said it was time for Midge to rest, so, using tweezers, he placed her in a miniature Airstream trailer adorned with a sparkly green "M" on top.

For a solo stunt during the show, Madge walked a tightrope while balancing a chair and a pole. Gertsacov watched the death-defying act through a magnifying glass and put her in a spotlight by shining a flashlight on her.

The show's grand finale was supposed to have Midge and Madge shot out of a cannon, sailing through a fiery ring and landing safely in their cushy trailer.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, a moment of silence for their brother Leopold, who died while attempting this trick."

The sister fleas stayed safe because Gertsacov was cursed with two malfunctions. The ring of fire wouldn't light, and then the cannon wouldn't shoot. The ringmaster improvised his way out of it, urging the audience to visualize the stunt.

By the later show, he said, he hoped to have worked the bugs (ha ha) out of the system. That 8 p.m. show admitted patrons 21 and over only because the fleas performed "completely nude," Gertsacov said.

Amy Pollok, whose husband co-owns the bar, brought her two daughters to the show. The girls, ages 3 and 6, enjoyed the flea circus but Pollok suspected that "it might have been the popcorn." Pollok, for her part, tried to buy into Gertsacov's magic.

"I would like to believe there is a flea out there named Madge," she said.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Please Believe the Hype

[PLEASE BELIEVE THE HYPE!] My show's been featured in the Washington Post as a pick of the week.

My show was featured as one of the picks of the week for this week's Washington Post!

And a reviewer is coming on Sunday to the 4pm show to write an article about the show.

If you have any friends in the DC area, please let them know, and please have them come out to the 4 pm show. It'd be great to have a big audience for that show.

Full press release is available at

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Press Release: Fleas in Washington DC August 26

Let me take a moment to shamelessly promote my own project!

Trained Fleas To Perform In Our Nation's Capital

WHAT: Acme Miniature Flea Circus at the Palace of Wonders
WHERE: Palace of Wonders, 1210 H Street NE Washington DC
WHEN: Sunday August 26, 2007 at 4pm and 8 pm. (4 pm is an all ages show)
COST: $8

Washington, D.C., 8/1/07

This summer, our nation's flea circus will not be performed in the White House or the Capitol Building, and will not feature any elected officials. That's because this year, the flea circus will take place in Washington D.C's up and coming Atlas District, and will feature insects. Trained insects. Fleas, to be exact.

The show, the Acme Miniature Flea Circus, is an authentic Victorian flea circus that features trained fleas Midge and Madge who perform spectacular circus stunts as seen before (and on top of) the crowned heads of Europe. Midge and Madge will perform their star turn at D.C.'s wildest and wackiest venue, the Palace of Wonders on Sunday August 26.

Details magazine called the show "One of the top alternative circuses in the country." The New York Times said "The appeal is irresistible... Gertsacov is every bit the fantastical impresario, in his purple top hat and cash-register voice, introducing us to the wondrous insects itching (sorry) to perform" And the Los Angeles Times says that "Professor Gertsacov holds the audience (and the stars of the show) in the palm of his hand."

According to Professor A.G. Gertsacov, ringmaster and proprietor of the Acme Miniature Circus, flea circuses were popular entertainments during Victorian times, but had nearly disappeared since the advent of television. The last popular American flea circus was Professor Heckler's of Time Square, which left New York in 1957. The rumor is that Heckler thought that the nude shows were giving his fleas a bad name.

There are now only a handful of flea circuses still performing throughout the world. Gertsacov's is arguably the most famous. The Rhode Island native (now based in Yonkers, NY) and his amazing insect stars have performed throughout the country, and in Canada, Chile, and Brazil. He recently spent three months performing in Times Square, less than two blocks from where Professor Heckler once had his fleas. Gertsacov has also been filmed for documentaries on the History Channel, the Travel Channel, and numerous news programs. He's even been a question on Jeopardy!

Gertsacov's educated insect stars pull chariots, dance on a tightwire, and perform other circus-like stunts. While he does not reveal his method of training (a proprietary secret, he explains) , he assures the curious and the civic minded that he uses only methods of positive reinforcement to teach the insects their routines. "I treat them as if they are my own flesh and blood," Gertsacov says. "And in some ways, they are."

Professor Gertsacov will bring his minuscule marvels to perform at Washington's wildest and wackiest venue on Sunday August 26 . He invites all curious parties to come and see the show that was deemed one of the top shows of the world famous Spoleto Festival in 2004. But he asks that you leave your dogs and cats at home. Gertsacov quips, "I don't want anyone to steal the show."

Shows are at the Palace of Wonders, 1210 H Street NE in the Atlas District of Washington DC. Shows are at 4 pm and 8 pm. Admission is $8. The first show is for all ages. The second show is for over 21 only. (In this show, the fleas will perform completely nude!
PLEASE NOTE: At the 8 pm show ID's will be checked!)

For more information about the show, or to reserve tickets, call the Palace of Wonders at 202-398-7469 (SHOW)
Or visit

For press information, photographs, or interviews, please contact Flea Master Professor A.G. Gertsacov at 401-351-2596 or visit the flea circus website: