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PECHA KUCHA ARA FITZGERALD

I am Ara Fitzgerald. How did I get here tonight? This Sept. I came to the Barnum Museum to hear Robert Wilson discuss his insightful book, ‘Barnum, An American Life.’ I met story tellers, took the Pecha Kucha challenge and circled back to Bridgeport and the Bijou.

My story concerns the crooked and circular path of the creative process, generational flow and visitations by the ghost of P.T. Barnum. Like most children I wanted to run away and join the circus

And this is particularly true for children like me raised in Connecticut--- home to P.T. Barnum, Prince of Humbugs and King of bringing joy to children. But my family was a circus. I’m still shocked by this picture of my Grandmother. I made the drawing on the right.

At 20, divorced, with a small child, an 8th grade education, impoverished except for the gifts of grit and playing wicked stride piano, Corinne, like P.T. Barnum, turned to Show Biz to survive.

Corinne left her young son with her mother, Ara, and went on the road. Here she is. On the right is Harry Lewis, her very own P.T. Barnum, who ran the show. She became a bandleader and he, her second husband.

I’m sure Harry placed this ad in the 1926 Bridgeport Telegraph. There on the right. ‘Girl Week! Stunning Beauties in the Honeymoon Town Revue, featuring Corinne Fitzgerald and her St. Louis Syncopators’. Hoochie choochkie. Pecha Kucha. Can you believe this? It’s true.

Here’s an ad for my show, ‘Watch the Bullies Dance.’ But I’m getting ahead of myself. Vaudeville died. Her husband Harry died. Corinne went to Red Bank NJ with her troupe to wait out talkies. Her mother, Ara, died. Her son, Warren, my Dad, came to live with her.

Her unlikely boyfriend, Jake Butler, Harvard educated lawyer, tamed my Dad. Sent him to Wesleyan University years before their 45 yearlong marriage. Jake said he got the show ‘out of trouble’ in 1927 and never forgot her. Their love —a high wire act flying across ethnic, religious and class divides like the circus.

After graduation from Connecticut College, I announced my plan to go to NYC to pursue modern dance. My parents, upset by this foolishness heard my Grandmother laugh and say, “A modern dancer is just a vaudevillian with an education.”

I had crooked elbows and a not perfect body. I was an improvisor. I danced, wrote and drew. As a vaudevillian with a fine education and serious training in dance, despite my imperfections, I became a professor by day…and a performer by night.

It’s 1996, almost pre-computer and internet. I am in a writing class at Wesleyan where I am studying for a master’s degree. And Hillary Clinton, the first lady is failing to sell her health care plan.

In a writing class we are given a prompt to create a conversation between two famous people who never actually met. I take a break from staring at the blank page and read in the Middletown newspaper that Hillary Clinton is holding seances to contact Eleanor Roosevelt. Is this for real?

Suddenly the ghost of P.T. Barnum bellows at me that he must instruct Hillary on how to deal with the circus that is politics. She must set her act. She can’t be a snake charmer and trapeze artist at the same time. Let us see her soul, learn from Eleanor, speak from her heart. The class loves it and suggests I perform the piece in public.

But I am an exhausted Mother of two wonderful sons with a full-time job and survival issues. The script goes in a drawer. My kids and I go to the circus. Cut to Summer of 2016. Hillary is running for president and the ghost of Barnum visits me once again.

Trust me, I’m not crazy. He’s upset that heaven is a no smoking zone and outraged that he is being compared to candidate Donald Trump because monster that he sometimes was, he, P.T. had principles. He will emerge through a puff of his own cigar smoke.

It is a challenge to meet Barnum in all his complexity. There is something of a freaky sideshow in the humbug of a not young woman, playing this larger than life man, speaking to our better selves while entertaining us as a ghost.

HE says: Governing is not show biz. It’s real life. Trust Not Fear That is the art of the Showman. We the people we the people Hold these Truths ……or America The Greatest Show on Earth…poof!

Who knew that common sense could be so complicated? This man who as Mayor brought gas lamps to the streets of Bridgeport and so much joy to children wants us to know that we the people, we the people hold their lives in our hands.

Now he tells me we are entertaining him with our kaleidoscopes of lying madness. He proposes a section called ‘Erect Peace’ The problem with peace is that it’s boring. As a showman he can teach us how to come with passion to erect peace. He lived through the Civil War and we don’t want to do this.

Who knew that common sense could be so complicated? This man who as Mayor brought gas lamps to the streets of Bridgeport and so much joy to children wants us to know that we the people, we the people hold their lives in our hands.