“One hundred and four years ago, the Bronx Zoo in New York unveiled a new exhibit that would attract thousands of visitors. Inside a cage in the monkey house, there was a man named Ota Benga. He was 22, a member of the Batwa people, pygmies who lived in what was then the
Belgian Congo.” — From NPR, All Things Considered
In 1904, Ota Benga went hunting for an elephant. While he was away, his wife, children, and tribe were murdered by the Force Publique of the depraved King Leopold II of The Congo Free State. Shortly thereafter, Benga was purchased from slave traders by Samuel Phillips Verner for a pound of salt and a spool of brass wire in order to bring him back as an exhibit for the St. Louis World’s Fair. Conceived by Siobhan Towey after hearing this remarkable true story on the radio, A SOCIETY CIRCUS (ASC) considers the extraordinary life of Ota Benga and his bizarre sojourn through early 20th century American society after his fateful encounter with Verner. It takes its title from a hit 1905 musical that Benga attended during his stay in NYC — a lavish production dubbed by the New York Times as the “Vastest of Spectacles” — and imagines what an African pygmy far from home might have made of the vast spectacle of this strange voyeuristic culture into which he was suddenly thrust.
Conceived and performed by
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A Society Circus
New York, New York