The circus is in town: Wizbang Circus Theatre finds permanent home in Cleveland Heights

Since 2013, Wizbang Circus Theatre has been bringing the whimsical entertainment of eclectic vaudeville to Cleveland and beyond—performing in the group’s tent, at Ingenuity Fest, and delighting audiences with its variety shows at Cleveland Public Theatre.

In late April or early May, Wizbang founders Danielle and Jason Tilk will move into a permanent home, in the former Kalliope Stage space, 2134 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.

Wizbang founders Jason and Danielle TilkWizbang will use the 1,500-square-foot theater space, with a 2,600-square-foot, mixed-use classroom and backstage area in the basement, for its regular variety shows, circus school, and planned increased programming.

“Our connections are expanding,” says Jason. “One of our goals for the theater space is to not only put on our own productions but to be a curated space that fits the Wizbang theme.”

The Tilks say they began making plans to move into a permanent performance space about four years ago and have been actively looking for the perfect place for more than two years. “We met with roadblocks when it wasn’t the time or place,” Danielle says. When they saw the Lee Road space in December, they knew it was right. “It’s a really intimate space that we love, with 65 seats.”

They saw the Lee Road space a week before Christmas and signed the lease Jan. 2.

The Tilks first started performing together as Pinch and Squeal in 2008, Jason (Pinch) playing accordion, and Danielle (Squeal) on the banjolele—a cross of a banjo and ukulele—before expanding to full-blown variety theater in 2011. Then, in 2013, Wizbang was born when they put up a tent at Ingenuity Fest. The troupe then began performing regularly at Cleveland Public Theatre.

Wizbang has steadily grown since its official 2013 start. They travel to Detroit twice a year and perform in Cleveland “as much as possible,” Danielle says, including at corporate events, performing arts centers, festivals, and public greenspace, as well as Cleveland Pubic Theatre.

Wizbang has even performed at a women’s correction facility in Erie, PA. It’s one of the most memorable performances Wizbang has done.

“We had four shows, a small cast, and it was the most incredible experience for each of us, [but] we had no clue how it would be received,” she says. “They went crazy for it! The ladies went wild for Sweet Keith, they sang along with Pinch and Squeal, cried during one of the songs, screamed for joy at the hula hoop act, and cracked up with feet stomping for juggler Will Oltman. We’ve never left a show so fulfilled and grateful for what we do.”

The Tilks say they will still bring the show to Detroit in the summer and perform where and when asked.

“We’re trying to make a community again, because people’s communities [today] are based on Instagram and Facebook,” says Danielle. “We’re trying to bring people together.”

With classic circus acts employing new circus twists—such as world champion jugglers, contortionists, aerialists, magicians, hula hoop artists, and object manipulators—Wizbang offers something for virtually every taste.

“We also write a lot of acts for performers that may include puppets, 20 pounds of confetti, and audience participation,” says Danielle. “Most are comedic, some acts are beautifully artistic. Our sideshow performers include feats such as bed of nails, sword swallowing, strongman feats, and human blockhead, to name just a few.”

In addition to the Tilks, there are eight regular cast members and an ever-rotating lineup of guest performers. All perform to bring audience members to a place other than reality.

In late April or early May, Wizbang will move into a permanent home, in the former Kaleidoscope Theater space, 2134 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights.“One of the things I like to say about our shows is that we hope we can help you forget everything going on with the outside world for 90 minutes with our show,” says Jason.

When Wizbang opens in their permanent home this spring, the Tilks say they plan on starting a Saturday morning kids show that will include “ridiculous characters, classic cartoons, audience participation, and, of course, Wizbang-style circus antics,” says Danielle.

In the meantime, they are busy fixing up their new space. “There is lots of cleaning, painting and odd repairs to do,” says Danielle. “We need to set up the dressing room and teaching studios, recarpet our backstage steps and [do] all the business odds and ends.”

They are also refinishing the floors in the lobby and studio areas, replacing the outdated theatrical lighting with LED lights, and installing a new sound system. “Luckily, the stage is sound, and the seating that was left from the old space is in fantastic condition,” says Danielle, adding that they plan on reconfiguring the seating.

As Wizbang makes its home in Cleveland Heights, Danielle says they hope to put up their tent in the greenspace in the Cedar-Lee district for performance and the summer kids camp. They are also negotiating with the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival to relocate into Wizbang Theatre.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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