Street Kids In Peru

“Tonight a dream has come true”, said G.A.P Adventures CEO and founder Bruce Poon Tip. About a year ago he and a few of his team members at the Planeterra Foundation, G.A.P’s non-profit organization, sat together and brainstormed about a big fundraising event until someone said “Let’s throw a circus”.

Well, and a circus they threw last night….. Zero Gravity Circus provided 2.5 hours of jaw-dropping colorful and amazing entertainment, the more-than-capacity crowd at the Hall at Toronto’s downtown Steamwhistle Brewery was in absolute awe and cheering wildly.

When I got there at 7 pm things were a little more sedate. The stage was still being set up, and the bar area where the silent auction was going to be held had been set up already and a few G.A.P employees were around, finishing last-minute touches. The Silent Auction include a variety of fabulous items:

– G.A.P Adventures trips to Costa Rica & Peru
– A round trip air ticket Toronto to Lisbon with Air Transat
– A Stratford Theatre Get A Way – 2 tickets to the Stratford Theatre & overnight stay at Bentley’s
– Professional Chef services – a gourmet 4 course dinner for 4 in your home by Vanessa Yeung (Bistro at Home)
– A Fuji film digital camera -S3000
– A gift Certificate for a pair of Blunstone boots
– A framed Guatemalan Market Photo – by Paul Teolis
– Diesel Fitness Memberships
– Personal Training by Tranz4m Inc.
– Platinum Seats to an upcoming ACC event
– Hand Crafted Jewellery by Tanya Tkachenko
– Peruvian Woven Table linen made by The women of the Ccaccaccollo Community, weaving book &aArt piece by JJ Nicol
– A manicure & pedicure at the Beauty Exchange
– A Sky Dive from SWOOP – Independant Jump
– Dinner for 6 at the Bright Pearl Restaurant
– Dinner for 2 at Thuet Restaurant
– Dinner at Focaccia Restaurant

From about 8 pm onwards people started rolling in and the steady stream of onlookers didn’t stop. A violinist on stilts and two other colourful elevated characters were entertaining the pre-show crowd.

And when the show got going at about 9 pm, every seat in the house was full and people were standing on the sides and in the back of the theatre. In his welcome speech, Bruce even tried to persuade members of his staff to give up their chairs in return for a free beer at the Steamwhistle Brewery, that’ s how full the theatre was.

Bruce is certainly an icon in Toronto. One of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs, he came from humble beginnings as a child of a Chinese-Trinidadian immigrant family who settled in Calgary. Blessed with a keen sense of adventure and entrepreneurial talent he left for the greener pastures of Toronto and in his early twenties he started G.A.P Adventures, now one of the world’s leaders in small group adventure travel and a company dedicated to social causes and environmentally sustainable travel. Bruce has won many prestigious awards for his entrepreneurial achievements and his dedication to social and environmental causes. No doubt he is a charismatic figure and the media’s extensive coverage of him attests to Bruce Poon Tip’s ability to fascinate a crowd.

After Bruce’s introductory words, we saw a just released film on the big screen about Planeterra’s initiatives in Cusco. The local director of the drop-in centre in Cusco spoke about the street children and images graphically illustrated the poverty of these children and the fact that this organization makes such a difference in these children’s lives by housing, feeding, educating and providing them with psychological support.

Then the big event was ready to kick off and the MCs, Foo and Feso, two theatrical clowns from Zero Gravity Circus, came out to welcome the crowd. Throughout the entire performance Feso never spoke while Foo talked a mixture of French and extraterrestrial gibberish, with the odd comprehensible English word thrown in to help the crowd get her point. Foo mainly relied on voice inflection, facial expressions, gestures and body language to make herself understood and the two provided a wonderful humoristic duo guiding the audience throughout the show.

At one point Foo called for a volunteer from the audience and a young man with a t-shirt saying “Bite Me’ got up on stage and joined the two MCs for a trick with a spinning plate on a stick. At various times during the show Feso juggled or did fire tricks and at some point he even included a running chain saw in his juggling act.

The first official act in the show was a Hula Hoop Act featuring a beautiful Oriental woman who at some point had in excess of 6 hula hoops twisting around her body at the same time. Her lithe body contorted itself in all sorts of virtually impossible shapes while she kept the hula hoops spinning, always with an angelic smile on her face.

Fire artists were next: 2 young women with lit fire boxes on wires were twirling their illuminated tools according to their choreography and came together in perfect unison. An aerial rope artist came out next and performed unbelieavable stunts, often suspended in the air by only one foot. A duo of plate spinners then had the crowd in awe when at some point they had 6 plates spinning on sticks that were mounted on a table, and 6 additional plates spinning on the table’s surface in between. Every few seconds they had to go back and re-spin the plates to make sure they wouln’t drop.

A real crowd pleaser was about to come up next: 4 young men, two dressed in red, and two dressed in dark colours came up and the stage was set for a mock gang fight. The crowd was certainly enthused about the macho performance that was about to unfold. Each duo performed floor acrobatics and break dances, summersaulting through the air, breakdancing on their backs or on one arm, and the mock confrontation of two imaginary gangs resulted in the total delight of the audience.

The next performance was called “aerial silks” and a woman was performing all sorts of aerial stunts on a red sheet of silk that had been lowered from the ceiling. After all this excitement, a brief 15 minute intermission helped to calm the crowd down and as people were filing out from the Hall into the bar area, I was listening to the audience’s amazed comments. Everyone enjoyed the show and was in awe at the unique high-quality of the performances.

When the crowd had settled in again after the intermission, Bruce and Elinor Schwob, one of Planeterra’s fundraisers, did a draw for door prizes. Tilleys Endurables had sponsored a door prize, G.A.P had sponsored a prize pack as well as the top door prize: a trip to the Galapagos Islands which was happily won by a woman from Cambridge, Ontario.

The show continued with a young acrobat that had an audience member toss him a volleyball which he caught and balanced on a stick that he was holding in his mouth. He then asked for another audience volunteer and a young woman reluctantly came up from the crowd, upon which he asked her to lay down. Then he picked up a metal ladder, climbed the ladder and balanced himself perfectely upright using little steps. And with these tiny steps he approached the young lady lying on the floor who was getting more anxious with every second. The acrobat successfully walked over her on the ladder without falling over or stepping on any parts of her body, but the tension and suspense was palpable.

A group of 5 gorgeous women was next, four of them, barefoot and dressed in purple gowns, performed a choreography on the floor while one women, dressed in striking lime green, performed acrobatics hanging from a red hoop. This was a very visually striking act as the group performed with perfect grace and harmony.

A contortion duo with candelabras was next: 2 young exotic women, one had already ratpured the crowd with the hula hoop show earlier, performed floor acrobatics with lit candelabras on their heads, in their feet and in their hands. They twisted themselves into impossible body positions while always maintaining the lit candelabras upright. At certain points they were balancing four lit candelabras each: one in each hand, one with their foot and one in their mouth. It was as if they had bones and joints made of rubber.

The senses were being teased at every turn. Three men dressed in blue silky uniforms performed a variety of stunts and acrobatics, and at one point one of the men was balancing the two others on his shoulders and they completed the stunt with a jump down on the floor and a tumble.

A male and a female performer on a trapeze and in gorgeous skin-tight suits performed a very sensuous trapeze act and melted into a variety of positions suspended in the air, an appropriate end to the official part of the show, when Foo came out and invited all the performers out on stage. The crowd clapped and cheered wildly and every time the performers took a bow the audience spontaneously erupted into another round of enthusiastic applause.

Bruce and Elinor got up one more time to thank the audience and thanked Zero Gravity Circus for donating their performance free of charge to the cause of Cusco’s street kids. They also indicated they were going to do a singing duet. Unfortunately, none of the microphones cooperated so they postponed their singing premiere to G.A.P’s fundraising ball at Casa Loma in October. When the microphones finally came back on Bruce joked about having to fire the sound company.

The crowd was invited to stick around for a meet and greet with the performers and it seemed like hundreds of people stayed behind to chat and to take advantage of the fruits and the chocolate fountain. I chatted a bit with Paul Teolis, a photographer who I had recently interviewed who had also donated a beautiful photo of a Guatemalan street market for the Silent Auction.

By this time it must have been 12:30 am, so Paul and I said goodnight and a big thanks for this great event to Bruce who was swarmed by this time by a crowd of appreciative supporters. Paul and I rode the subway back into Toronto’s east side and we both commented on what a wonderful event it had been.

In total, an amount of over $20,000 was raised for Planeterra’s Cusco initiative from ticket sales, the silent auction and the sale of water bottles, popcorn and jambalaya. It’s amazing what can be achieved when a group of people with determination, dedication and good will come together.