The Phyzgig Festival is under way — in a big way

By Jeanné McCartin
It’s year four for the five-day Phyzgig Festival South, presented by Pontine Theatre — a whiz-bang event that will delight all ages.

Juggling, magic, slapstick, clowning, vaudevillian acts and other circus-style arts will fill the black-box stage at West End Studio Theatre. There’s even a Yoyo-man.

“In another life I would have been in a circus,” says Marguerite Mathews, Pontine’s founding co-artistic director. “I love being at a circus, hanging out with circus people. They’re just the greatest.”

And most entertaining, she adds.

Pontine’s Phyzgig is the “southern” version of the 14-year-old Phyzgig Festival in Portland, Maine, says Mathews. The area has a strong base of circus-skill artists because Tony Montanaro (1927-2002) one of the greatest mime artists of the 20th century, founded the Celebration Barn, a world-renowned theater/school of mime, and other performing skills in Paris, Maine, she explains.

“And so tons and tons of people were his students. …; Now they enjoy the opportunity to get together. It’s a reunion for them around Christmas,” — one the audience gets to take part in.

Many of these artists come from a background of busking, “making money on the street,” says Mathews. “They have this way of interacting with the audience that is skilled but casual, friendly and engaging to the audience. It’s a performance style that’s not seen very much anymore. And in a space like ours, an intimate space …; they involve the audience in what they’re doing. It’s great for the audience members.”

Michael Trautman (Physical Comedy Theatre) will perform for each show and serve as emcee.

The five-day event features three performers for each show. Artists are Randy Judkins, juggler, and Phil Smith, magician, Dec. 26; Sam Kilborn and Lenny Zarcone, juggling, acrobatics, clowning and more; Randy Judkins, juggler, returns with Martin Shell, clown, Dec. 29 and John Higby, the Yo-Yo Guy, and Dan Link, magician, will perform on Dec. 30.

Mathews says she has no one favorite. She’s impressed and drawn to all circus skill (and others that defy classification).

“I know how much time and effort it takes to get good at these skills. Sleight of hand, juggling. They make it appear as if you’re doing something that is impossible. I enjoy watching it.”

She adds much of Pontine’s original work, and that of guest artists hosted throughout the year, is targeted toward an adult audience.

“It’s not interesting to kids,” she says. “So, we love having a show that’s great for all ages.”


WHAT: PHYZGIG Festival South, three performers will be featured for each show

WHERE: West End Studio Theatre, 959 Islington St., Portsmouth

WHEN: Dec. 26-30, 2 p.m.

COST: $15, tickets online at, or starting one half-hour before performance, cash and checks only.

CONTACT: 436-6660,


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