Tuesday, May 31, 2005 • Circus entertains thousands at fairgrounds

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 31, 2005, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Although Tuesday would seem an irrational day of the week for a one-day circus, thousands of Susanville-area residents found the time to enjoy the small, three-ring Gatti Circus which set up shop on May 24 at the fairgrounds.

Even the mid-afternoon performance drew hundreds of children and adults who watched the two-hour show in perfect weather.

Fresh from three days at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, a venue which seats more than 6,000, the acrobats, not lions or tigers, were the featured stars at the circus. Horses, both large and miniature, played a role as did the three trained Asian elephants which danced, stood on their forelegs or each other or balanced precariously on a steel barrel.

A 20-minute intermission allowed time for elephant rides or a visit to the concession stands.

The second act featured trained peacocks, Chinese bungee jumpers and hard-riding Cossack horsemen.

A resident of Milford, Harmen Lyzenga, attended the circus partly because he’s a former ringmaster for the American Crown Circus and also because he’s friends with some of the Gatti performers and backstage support personnel.

“It doesn’t make any difference what circus someone works for; all circus performers belong to one, big, happy family because many of them move from circus to circus over the course of their careers,” Lyzenga said.

Lyzenga chatted with several of the performers and said one of the backstage helpers had been a high wire trapeze artist for the Ringling Brothers Circus but now is propmaster in Reno for Circus Circus.

The Gatti ringmaster, Brian LaPalme, began his career as soon as he graduated from high school in 1976.

“Being a ringmaster was the only thing I ever wanted to do,” said LaPalme during the 20-minute intermission after he greeted his ringmaster buddy, Lyzenga.

One of the more thrilling shows was staged by two motorcyclists who roared and whizzed around a small cage at all angles including upside down.

For added thrills, a pretty female performer in a jump suit entered the cage while the cycles zipped past her, barely missing her and each other.

LaPalme said he loved the Susanville audience and fairground location and wished the circus could have stayed longer, but schedules are determined by population, so the next morning the troop headed for a two-week stay in Canada.