By Arlene McKanic
Fred Garbo, whose Fred Garbo Inflatable Circus makes its Queens College debut on April 22, was once Barkley the dog on “Sesame Street.” It’s a role the acrobat, juggler and mime inherited.
“Yes, I was inside a hot dog costume,” Garbo sighs during a phone interview from his Maine home. “I grew up doing theater and imitating things. A friend up here in Maine got the job as Barkley and he passed it on to me.” Garbo does have an inflatable dog in the show, by the way, but this dog is called Airdale. “I wasn’t about to let it go!”
Garbo and his partner, Brazilian ballerina Daielma Santos, have worked all over the world and their audiences have ranged from the polite crowds of Japan to the raucous audiences in Australia. He recalls that one of the most memorable shows they ever played was in Valdez, Alaska, in the middle of a blizzard. “They closed down the whole town,” Garbo recalls. But the show was still sold out, as there was nothing else to do. “People came in with dogsleds. It was really pretty startling.”
Though they’ve played in New York and Long Island, including Stonybrook, Jamaica, Brooklyn Academy of Music Symphony Space and other places more than 150 times over the last 12 years, Garbo and Santos have never performed at Queens College.
Garbo met Daielma (her mother made the name up) while he was working with Momix, the mime/dance company. Garbo, his company of eight dancers and Santos were on an airplane to Brazil. One of the dancers tried to strike up a conversation with her, even though she didn’t speak English. But Santos went to see their show in Sao Paulo and was so enthused that she wanted to try on one of the inflatable costumes. She was so impressed, and impressive, that she came back to New York and they signed her.
Garbo made balloon animals as a kid but now his inflatables are full-size, neon-colored and more like sculptures. “We get inside them and make them move. And we have costumes where we’re blimp-like people. [Santos] has an inflatable dress and she’s a can-can dancer. She’s almost floating on stage.” Garbo himself plays a character called Fred Zeppelin.
The show, clearly, is for kids of all ages.
“We’re a girl on stage and a guy on stage and our inventions. It’s as simple as that,” says Garbo.
If You Go
Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co.
Kupferberg Center for the Arts
Queens College, Flushing
April 22 at 3 pm