Top 10 reasons to come see The Circus in Winter on 4/25

The Circus in Winter


Oh man, I'm so excited to hear the "Higher Ground"/Flood sequence again, I can't even tell you.
Oh man, I’m so excited to hear the “Higher Ground”/Flood sequence again, I can’t even tell you.

1. Sutton Foster will be there. Not performing. Just watching. But still…Sutton freaking Foster, people.

2. My parents will be there. They are cute.

3. My sister will be there. She is cute.

4. The President of Ball State University, Jo Ann Gora will be there. Note that I put my family before President Gora but after Sutton Foster…please don’t read too much into this. I need to keep my job and my family relations intact.

5.  Thanks to Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut and to the hard work of Beth Turcotte, Ben Clark, producer Sean Cercone and others, the book (the story, the script) is better. The plot is different from the version you might already be familiar with. There’s a new character!

6.  There’s some new music, new songs by Ben Clark. So yay! new material by Ben! (You’ve probably seen him on teeeee-veeee…)

7. I hear the whole band will be there, too! Yay Joe Young on the mandolin! Yay Nick Rapley on percussion! Will Sean Muzzi be there, too? (He just got a gig playing for the Glenn Miller Orchestra!)

8. It’s a concert reading. And the next morning, they’re taking off for NEW YORK CITY to perform in front of a select group of investor-type folks. So we need to send them off with a bang, like in a pep rally sort of way!

9. WHERE IS IT? It’s taking place at 8 PM, 4/25 at the Cornerstone Center for the Arts, 520 E. Main St., in downtown Muncie, which also happens to be a block from my house, so yay! I can stumble home happily afterwards.

10. It’s free and open to the public, so tell all your friends!


The Circus in Winter
Our first night, we had great seats for Mary Poppins at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Unfortunately, we got there 35 minutes late, and yet, they still sat us. Thank you! Afterwards, BSU alum Andy Catron gave us a private backstage tour, which was AWESOME.

Okay, so let me try to explain what this all means.

A few months ago, the National Alliance for Music Theatre (NAMT) selected The Circus in Winter as a finalist in their yearly new work competition.  NAMT’s 24th Annual Festival of New Musicals is a premiere industry event that gathers theatre industry leaders to discover promising new musicals. Hundreds of scripts are considered but only eight are chosen; at the two-day festival, they give two abbreviated, 45-minute performances. Professional, age-appropriate actors are cast in the roles. Basically, it’s a major stepping-stone towards a Broadway production. Ever heard of Thoroughly Modern Millie? The Drowsy Chaperone? Well, they got their start at NAMT.

An imperfect analogy for my readers who know diddly squat about the world of musical theater (myself included until recently): a musical created by college students getting picked for NAMT would be like a high school kid getting a Breadloaf or Sewanee or Stegner fellowship.


All I can really say right now is that Circus was definitely a hit. NAMT rules stipulate a 4-6 week cooling-off period after the festival, which means I’ve got nothing specific to tell you except that many regional theaters expressed interest in Circus. If you follow the link for Millie above and check out its production history, you’ll see that that’s a possible route to Broadway: out-of-town tryouts at regional theaters.

Here are some pictures from the day I went to NAMT.

Me and Beth Turcotte, who has worked tirelessly for three years to get CIRCUS to this point. She's amazing, and I'm so grateful to her.
Me and Beth Turcotte, who has worked tirelessly for three years to get CIRCUS to this point. She’s amazing, and I’m so grateful to her.

Now, at this point, I’ve seen Circus about 10 times, but this time was different. I’ve enjoyed  all the wonderful performances by Ball State students, but this time, the roles were played by professionals, and their voices filled the room.

View down 42nd Street as we walked back to our hotel.

I cried a little bit during the first song. I mean, holy shit, Sutton Foster was up there playing Jennie Dixianna. Seriously, who thinks anything like that will ever happen?

I was so happy that my agent Sarah Burnes and Andrea Schulz from HMH (and whose sister went to Ball State! small world!) were able to come and see the reading.2012-10-12 17.08.29


I was also happy to meet the other cast members and thank them. I told Steel Burkhardt that his character, Wallace Porter, was named partly for the real circus owner from Peru (“Lima”) Indiana, Ben Wallace, and for my hometown’s most famous son, Cole Porter.

Irene was played by Kate Rockwell, Emory by Corey Mach, and Wallace Porter by Steel Burkhardt.
Irene was played by Kate Rockwell, Emory by Corey Mach, and Wallace Porter by Steel Burkhardt.

But I was also incredibly happy to see Emily Behny on stage, playing Catherine. She was in the class that wrote the musical, and she’s gone on to star in the national tour of Beauty and the Beast. And two other students from the class were on stage: the original Wallace Porter, Jonathan Jensen, and percussionist Nick Rapley, joined by Joe Young, who played banjo and mandolin in the BSU production. And of course Bill Jenkins was there. He’s the chair of the BSU Department of Theatre & Dance, someone who understands not only how to make things happen inside a university (which is hard) but outside it as well (which is harder).

Christopher Swader, Nick Rapley, Joe Young, Ben Clark, Beth Turcotte, Justin Swader, and Jonathan Jensen
Christopher Swader, Nick Rapley, Joe Young, Ben Clark, Beth Turcotte, Justin Swader, and Jonathan Jensen

It was strange to see Ben Clark introduce the show and then take a seat instead of grabbing his guitar. In my mind, he’s always been one of the characters. But he has another role to play now, one he still performs beautifully.

Beth and Ben greet their adoring fans.
Beth and Ben greet their adoring fans.

And yes, Perez Hilton really was there. I didn’t see him, but Emma Turcotte did and snapped this picture.


A few people have asked me, “So did Circus win at this festival?” Which is a fair question and certainly one that I asked myself. Even though there aren’t first, second, and third prizes or Palm d’Or’s or anything like that, trust me: things really could not have gone better at NAMT than the way they did. In a month or so, I should be able to tell you what exactly is going to happen next with the musical.

I can’t wait to find out!

I want to thank everyone for making me feel a part of this journey.  

The Greatest Show on Earth

The Greatest Show on Earth

General Writing


University Theatre of Ball State University


September 29-30, October 1, 5-8 at 7:30 p.m., and October 2 at 2:30 p.m. 


Adaptation by the students of the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, Directed by Beth Turcotte, Musical direction by Ben Clark and Alex Kocoshis, Choreography by Erin Spahr 

How to Order Tickets:

The box office is open from 12 to 5 PM Monday through Friday (765)285-8749 or $16 Gen. Adm., $12 Senior, $11 Student. Group rates are available.

How did this happen? 

This explains it pretty well. Basically, the musical happened because 1.) Prof. Beth Turcotte at BSU proposed the project, jumped through the hoops, herded the cats, and drew the very best out of 2.) an incredibly talented group of young people with mad, mad skills, and 3.) it happened because of one devout fan of the book: Prof. Tony Edmonds. He’s been teaching The Circus in Winter in his courses at Ball State since it was first published, and thus, when Beth’s group got together to talk about a book to adapt, many had read it. It’s extraordinary that a room full of people anywhere (other than in my hometown or perhaps in my parents’ living room) would have my book in common. 

How faithful is the musical to the book?  

Quite faithful, but wisely (since my book is a collage and a good musical is a straight line), they only used the first five stories in the book. You’ll meet Wallace Porter, Irene Porter, Jennie Dixianna, and Elephant Jack, Caesar the Elephant (yes! there’s an elephant!) among others, as well as a few new characters not in the book.

What’s the musical about?

Basically, it’s an origin story; why does Wallace Porter buy a circus? “The Circus in Winter is the story of passion beneath the big top. Join Wallace Porter, a stable owner from Indiana, as he falls in love and searches for his life’s work, a journey that culminates in the purchase of his own circus. Filled with fantastic characters, heart-wrenching moments of love and loss, and extraordinary new music. The Circus in Winter is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart.”

Where do I go?

The University Theatre and Box Office is located on the Ball State campus behind Emens Auditorium, across the plaza south of Bracken Library.

Will you be there, Cathy?

Maybe. I can’t attend every performance, but I will definitely be there opening night, Sept. 29, Sunday, Oct. 2, and on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Will there be a post-performance Talk Back so the audience can learn more about the adaptation and production?

Yes, it’s on Thursday, Oct. 6 after the show. I’ll be there, although my involvement in the production was quite minimal. The students and faculty who did the adaptation will be there (although some have graduated), along with members of the current cast and crew.  

How does this feel?  

I started writing The Circus in Winter exactly twenty years ago when I was a college student in Indiana, and it makes me happy that this adaptation was also done by college students in Indiana. Mostly, I’m just really grateful. These characters have been in my head for twenty years, and I can’t wait to meet them. I’m pretty sure I’ll cry a lot. It’s a very overwhelming experience to have your inner truths sung back to you.

How can I learn more?

If you can’t come to the show, follow the musical on Twitter @circusinwinter. They live tweet rehearsals. 

May all your days be circus days!