Mt. Airy resident David Darwin wears a straightjacket.
It’s part of the act—his act.
Darwin is a circus artist who will be performing a one-man show as part of the Philly Fringe Festival throughout September at The Funicular Railway Station Theater in Germantown.
“I do just about everything but magic,” Darwin said. “Everything from juggling to sword swallowing to fire eating.”
Even Darwin has a hard time coming up with a noun that totally encapsulates his act.
“It’s always hard to describe what I do,” Darwin said. “A lot of time people will come up to me after a show and say that I’m a great magician. I’m glad they think what they saw was magical, but I do everything but magic.”
Darwin is a fulltime circus artist. He does corporate gigs and birthday parties. He does bar mitzvahs.
He tries to do a fringe show every year for the added freedom.
“I feel like artists operate in a Venn diagram,” Darwin said. “In one circle you have commercial motivations and in the other you have artistic motivations.”
Darwin added, “No one can make their living all the way in the artistic circle, or feel credible as an artist all the way in the commercial circle, so we try to make our living in the middle.”
“The Fringe show gives me a chance to try to push further into the artistic circle and see if people still like what I’m doing,” Darwin said.
That brings him back to the straightjacket.
“The show is called ‘Circus Legacy,’” Darwin said. “I’m trying to honor the people I looked up to when I first started and had a heavy influence on me.”
The straightjacket escape is a standard for this kind of performance, but Darwin has added to it.
“It’s a metaphor. I tried to escape from the straightjacket while I’m giving a monologue about my daughter,” Darwin said.
Darwin’s daughter is one-year-old, and as she grows, he describes he and his wife building more and more prisons for her to escape from.
“First it was this Velcro swaddling,” Darwin said. “Then it was a bassinette. Then it was a crib.”
Darwin added, “Every time she escaped from one of these things my wife and I were frustrated, but we were also proud that she was strong enough to escape.”
“As she grows up she’ll continually be breaking through things,” Darwin said. “We can only make sure she’s strong and safe.”
Darwin also uses the shows to work on new skills that he might want to use in his more typical day-to-day act.
It’s like career enrichment except it involves swords and flames.
“It’s usually an awesome skill,” Darwin said. “But I have to ask myself if I want to spend the next six months learning to swallow a sword.”
The Fringe shows also give him a chance to innovate.
Darwin had a friend write a computer program that uses a webcam to track the movement of different colored balls.
As Darwin juggles the balls, the program plays a corresponding music track.
For example, the green ball is percussion and the yellow is vocals.
When they’re all in the air, you get a complete song.
“I’m using it in my show,” Darwin said, “But I want to see if I can figure out how to use it to also deejay.”
Darwin’s show Circus Legacy will be performed at 8 p.m. on Sept. 6-7, Sept. 13-14 and Sept. 20-21 at The Funicular Railway Station located at 416 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia.