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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 14, 2010

A scientific approach to fun

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Sage Doi, 9, of Kaläheo, Kauaçi, dresses up in costume at the Bishop Museum’s “Circus! Science Under the Big Top.” It’s all about using science to explore the wonders of the circus, and the circus to explore science.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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What: "Circus! Science Under the Big Top"

Where: Bishop Museum

When: Through May 2. The museum is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Tuesdays)

General admission: Adult, $17.95; 65 and over, and children ages 4-12, $14.95; free for Bishop Museum members and children 3 and under

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The circus rolled into the Bishop Museum yesterday, and in an instant transported kids of all ages back to a time when things were mysterious, a little bit dark and forever full of wonder.

But "Circus! Science Under The Big Top" arrives with a twist. The visitors become the performers, the high-wire artists, the spinning acrobats overhead. They don costumes and become the show. Or they're enticed to test their senses in other ways that challenge, mystify and enlighten all at the same time.

Perhaps the excitement is best summed up by the Circus Side Show silhouette — an animated tall man with a straw hat, long cane, and a silver tongue, who beckons young and old to experience "the world's one and only sideshow that separates the facts from the fiction, the history from the mystery."

Beyond the entrance, curiosity-seekers are lured by the promise of "unparalleled representatives of the strong, the long, and nature gone wrong assembled from every corner of the planet." See "The Legendary Unicorn!" "The Mighty Atom, with the world's strongest hair!" and "Countess Vanessa, who swallows swords!"

"Now, folks, I'm sure you've all taken in — or been taken in — by those other side shows that promise you something you've never seen before: the bizarre, the exotic, the unique, the impossible. But somehow these merchants of mystery leave you wondering just what is real and what is illusion. Not so here.

"What we have inside will not only shock and amaze you, it will open your eyes and make you wise. For here the steely gaze of science strips away all deception, still leaving the wondrously strange, but strangely true."

Inside the side show are sights and lights, sounds and music; it's a place where seemingly ordinary mortals can, if they so choose, twist themselves inside a glass box seemingly too tiny for human habitation. They perform superhuman feats of strength. They gaze at Countess Vanessa as she guzzles blades of steel even as they witness those blades actually enter her innards via X-ray machine.

And so it goes throughout the Big Top.

Yesterday was opening day for the traveling exhibit, which continues at the museum through May 2, offering 20 activity stations where visitors can explore the science behind the fun of the circus.

A photo-snapping crowd watches spellbound as Olivia Park, 6, of Honolulu bounces and cavorts high above them — without a net! (She's safely harnessed, so not to worry.) In another ring Kimberly Johnson, 13, of Fort Shafter adroitly steps across a high wire as if there's nothing to it.

"It was easy," she said following her performance.

And what has she learn-ed?

"Umm, nothing really. But it was fun."

Over in the Fun House, Rick Derrickson, "12, going on 45," has returned to childhood along with his own children, Summer, 12, Harvey, 9, and Harvey's Sunset Beach Elementary School classmate, Kanoa Jones, 9.

The quartet pauses momentarily at a scent-test phantasmagoria resembling a concession wagon where one sticks his or her nose inside one of several tubes, pushes a button, and guesses what he or she smells. While they all guess "popcorn" correctly, what Rick thinks is "cotton candy" turns out to be "sweat."

The showstopper is something called the "Funambulo," where the object is to stand on a slender rail and simply lift a wire-walker's balancing pole without losing one's balance.

"Looks easy," says Harvey Derrickson after a couple of failed attempts. "But try it!"