An interview with Buster Canfield
1. How do you make the fleas perform?
First, the fleas are not “made” to perform. They do so voluntarily because they love to be in the lime-light. I audition fleas from across the country, and young larva come from far and wide to participate in our renowned circus. The successful fleas, the ones with sparkle and that certain, show-business “It”, undergo a lengthy training and conditioning process, to learn their various acts. Like people, fleas are individuals with individual talents. A juggling flea, for example, might make a terrible strong flea. An educated flea might be great at mathematics, but lousy at ballet dancing. Each flea is placed in the act that best exploits their natural abilities.
2. What’s the best trick you’ve ever taught a flea?
About ten years ago, one of my tightrope fleas hurt four of his legs and had to go into early retirement. He was a gifted learner, so I trained him to do my housekeeping chores. Vacuuming, dusting, a little ironing. He loved to brew my morning coffee too. I never had the heart to tell him he made it too darn strong.
3. Have you thought of using other insects in your circus or are you strictly a flea trainer?
The relative strength and longevity of the pulex irratans, or the Human Flea, make them ideally suited for show business. However, I once tried to train a grasshopper to chirp on command thinking her musical accompaniment would make a clever addition to the circus. Sadly, she was terribly lazy and shiftless, and eventually ran off to live with some industrious ants. I’m not sure how she fared. After the winter came, we never heard from her again.
4. When you travel, how does the production travel together? Does everyone get their own sleeping quarters?
Most of our fleas travel together in the same Empty Candy Inn. However, our star attractions often negotiate their own match box. During the off season, when shows are scarce, they like to holiday together on the back of a mangy old Cockerspaniel named Jethro. And of course, mealtimes the fleas gather together and nibble on my left arm.
5. What’s the next tour stop for you and the fleas? I think they’d be a huge success in Russia!
Funny you should mention. But the first known flea circus is said to have occurred in a Siberian prison in the 1500s, where inmates trained fleas to race and pulls small pieces of refuse along little makeshift tracks.
6. How did you get into flea training? Who did you learn the trade from?
Well, I could answer that question. However, that is the subject of my autobiographical play, “Buster Canfield and his Amazing Fleas” which can be seen in a special, advanced sneak preview presented by Theatre Direct at the Artscape Wynchwood Barns, on March 16th!
Buster Canfield and His Circus of Amazing Fleas