Behind the Scenes at Circus Chimera – Day 75

Behind the Scenes at Circus Chimera

Day 75 – June 14, 2003 – Saturday

We spent a wonderful day in the San Francisco area with son Ryan.

Ryan took us to meet one of his friends, Richard Tuck. Among other things, Richard owns a circus. Before we knew what was happening, we were meeting the circus performers and enjoying a behind-the-scenes tour of Circus Chimera — We then enjoyed a special performance of the circus. It was a special day, and Richard is a special person.

Circus Chimera is not your typical circus. It is a blend of the traditional circus with theatre and international flair. Circus Chimera features extraordinary human feats. The ensemble consists of acrobats, aerialists, daredevils, and clowns from 25 countries around the world. It is a real team effort as everyone fills a variety of roles. For example, the high wire aerialist was taking tickets and managing the ushers before changing costumes and performing death-defying routines. The young man selling the programs changed into his costume and did the Walk of Death — walking upside down 50 feet above the circus floor (with no net).

Former Cirque du Soleil artist, Tom Dougherty, developed the theme for this year’s circus — “Moondreams.” It was the story of a little girl’s triumph over self doubt as she and her brother are swept into the magical world of the circus. They were taken on a circus adventure where they encountered aerialists, jugglers, teeterboard acrobats, daredevils of various types, and a very funny clown. The story was told not through words, but through scenes, sets, and circus techniques.

Each of the 16 performances was excellent. Highlights included Fridman’s incredible Walk of Death where he walked upside down the full length of the circus ring — 50 feet in the air with no net. It was amazing when he makes the walk, and it took our breath away when he repeated the feat walking backwards! Hernan Nunez was also incredible. He demonstrated exceptional strength and balance as he supported his outstretched body seemingly forever on one hand. In the next act, he balanced on his head and spun rings with his arms and legs, and they rotated so fast that the rings became just a blur.

Perhaps the most impressive acts to us were by Alex Chimal. He is the world’s fastest juggler. You can’t even believe how fast he juggles balls, knives, and fire. In the second act, he juggled what seemed like 100 balls as he bounced them off the floor.

Tom Dougherty was world-class as the circus clown.

We loved the Lunar Aerial Hoop routine as Mariana Chimal did a beautiful and dangerous aerial act on a single hoop high above the circus floor. The act was excellent, but it was far more entertaining as Richard told us the story behind the act. Mariana met Alex Chimal, and they fell in love and were married. Mariana was an accountant. Alex travels 11 months of the year with the circus as the world’s fastest juggler. So, Mariana joined the circus troupe. Not content to sit on the sidelines, she developed the aerial act after never having done any type of performing ever before. She is now the only CPA in the world who does a Lunar Aerial Hoop act high above a circus floor.

At one point, seven members of the Chimal family plus one Alvarado built a human tower as they launched performers one at a time off a teeterboard until they are stacked five high. Then there were the two young men riding motorcycles inside a steel ball. We just couldn’t imagine how they could keep but ending up in a tangled pile of metal, but they flew around in the ball in a perfectly synchronized way. Oh, the real grabber — Luis Fernandez hangs by his ankle from the top of the tent holding a cable, and his wife Sandra spun like a top on the cable — and she is holding it only with her teeth. And never a net at Circus Chimera.

At the end of the show, the little 10-year-old girl, Alina Sergeeva, spun a pile of hula hoops from just about every part of her body. All made even better by Richard who has told us inside information about the acts, the performers, and the people behind the scenes who help make it all happen.

Richard is a fascinating man who stepped in a few years ago to save the circus. He had also salvaged many artifacts from a San Francisco landmark that was destroyed — Playland at the Beach. In the back of his large computer consulting company’s offices, he has built Playland Not At The Beach. He also has the world’s largest miniature circus there (300,000 pieces). In addition, he has miniature San Francisco, miniature North Pole, miniature Disneyland, miniature Chinatown, miniature Dicken’s Village, miniature Candyland, and much more. See

And if all of that isn’t fascinating enough, Richard’s HOME has a name; it’s called “It Must Be Magic!” The home features a complete magic theatre, a room with over 450 clocks, a collection of 750 wizard figurines, movie memorabilia from the golden age of Hollywood, a room filled with roller coasters, a real roller coaster, and much, much more. Rooms include the Dickens Parlour, Wizard of Oz Room, Pinball Alley with a huge assortment of pinball machines and video games, a Soda Fountain, and a Movie Theatre with over 18,000 movies available. 100 circus people lived in Richard’s home for several months after he invested in the circus.

When Richard Tuck and Tim Sauer moved into the house looking out over the San Francisco Bay, they never dreamed of what they would someday be creating. With a reputation from hosting friends and family for meals and movies for over a decade, they now had the property to expand their generosity to larger groups. And the construction began. And never stopped. For thirteen years, construction crews and electricians have been adding new surprises.

Although small looking from the street, the house just seems to continue on forever. Visitors are disoriented and confused as walls melt into doorways, closets lead into whole new sections of the house, and illusion is the order of the day. When Frank Biafore joined the household in 1995, he brought another level of expertise to the growing merriment. Frank had studied architecture and design. By combining Frank’s design and construction experience and wild ideas with Richard’s magical touches and flair for the mysterious, the construction of some of the most memorable areas in the home was accelerated.

It Must Be Magic! is strictly a hobby — a part time endeavor to share fun and joy with the world. The three men behind the scenes work full time to support their generosity. Featured in numerous newspaper and magazine stories, It Must Be Magic! is one of those unadvertised special places that most of us never know about. Richard, Tim, and Frank live in the home; it is not open to the public.

Richard does a lot of good for a lot of people, and he enjoys the heck out of life. Those who have heard about Richard Tuck but don’t know him may think he is an eccentric. Not everyone turns their home into a magical world, but Richard is a corporate CEO who is more grounded than the vast majority of us. He just likes to have fun and share the fun with others.

We met a lot of folks who we would have thought were “eccentric” before the Round America trip, but after getting to know them a bit, we found they aren’t strange after all. This will be one of the most important lessons we have learned on the trip. Try to avoid prejudging people. Realize that we are all different and have our own unique interests and thoughts. And what may look bizarre to someone else may have a reasonable explanation once you take a look from the perspective of those involved.

I know what some people are thinking when they see me wearing my beads. They think I’m a weirdo of some type. I much prefer those who smile and ask about the beads, and I know they have a lot more fun when they hear a few stories about the trip and enjoy a laugh or two. The others just stare, pass by muttering to themselves, and miss out on the opportunity to meet some nice folks who are just having fun and writing a book.

Ryan took us to see more sights in San Francisco. We went up to Twin Peaks for a great view of the skyline of San Francisco. Twin Peaks is the highest point overlooking the city — fabulous views. We walked around Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf where we paid a visit to the sea lions and enjoyed a variety of street performers. Our favorite was Bushman — a man who has two pieces of shrubbery on sticks. He holds them in front of him and jumps out and yells boo when poor unsuspecting folks obliviously wander by. We saw City Hall, Coit Tower, Ghirardelli Square, and San Quentin.

We also visited the famous hippy area of Haight-Ashbury where we stopped by to see the Grateful Dead House at 710 Ashbury. The members of the Grateful Dead lived there communally from 1966 to 1968. Jerry Garcia once described the atmosphere: “People trying to start various spiritual movements would be in and out. Friends trying to organize benefits would be in and out. There would be a lot of energy exchanged. It was a real high in those days because Haight-Ashbury was a real community.” Most of the band subsequently moved to upscale suburban Marin County.

There’s a great deal of rock-and-roll history in San Francisco. If time permitted, the Airplane House, the Avalon Ballroom, the Carousel, the Cow Palace, the Fillmore Auditorium, Fillmore West, Golden gate Park, the Pit, Slim’s, Winterland, and a number of other locations offer a lot of rock music history.

“The Haight” was the center of the 1960’s counter-culture movement, the center of the Summer of Love and Be-Ins, and home to music greats like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix as well as Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Patty Hearst was held hostage in a home in the area.

There’s still a hippy feel to the area, and it was packed with tourists. There were a lot of would-be hippies there, though. The area was filled with health food stores, retro, costume, and head shops, cafes, and body shops. Most of the shops are locally-owned and individualistic. I understand that Safeway moved into the area, but the locals didn’t like it. Protesters filled carts with food, and then left the store. Safeway was gone in just three months.

We went to see two unusual hotels with funky theme rooms — the Triton and the Red Victorian. The Red Victorian is a historic hotel in the world-famous Haight-Ashbury, and you can rent a room and live like a hippy. If you are a hippy, you can rent a room and feel at home. Sami Sunchild designed each room to inspire, amuse, relax, or enlighten you. There are 18 guest rooms, from luxurious with private baths to fanciful economy rooms with private sinks and shared use of one of the Love Bathrooms. Theme rooms have names like “Summer of Love” and “Flower Child.” One of the bathrooms has an aquarium in the pull-chain toilet tank. There’s a meditation room, motivational videos, meditative art, and visual poetry. One of the best parts of the stay is said to be the family-style breakfast where guests from a variety of cultures, lifestyles, and professions gather for breakfast and conversation. See

The Triton is a very nice hotel, so if you want to have some fun in San Francisco, it looks like a great place to stay. The Triton features fabulous theme suites, rubber ducks in every bath, celebrity wake-up calls, nightly tarot card reading, feather boa rentals, and more. The hotel bills itself as “an Atlantean kingdom of sophistication and irrepressible charm.” The Triton is known for wacky publicity stunts such as putting stunt men on the roof and drag queens in the lobby. It’s a really nice hotel with massive creativity and a great sense of humor. Very refreshing. See

Our evening ended with a trip to Celia’s in San Rafael — The Dude’s favorite Mexican restaurant. It was excellent!

One of the most important lessons we have learned on the trip is to try to avoid prejudging people. Realize that we are all different and have our own unique interests and thoughts. And what may look bizarre to someone else may have a reasonable explanation once you take a look from the perspective of those involved.

The Daily Journal of Round America:

Each day, we collect our thoughts on a web page just like this. We drop in some of the photos from the day. Our goal with the Daily Journal is to write about the towns we visit, the sights we see, the people we meet, and the pie we eat. We write about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we are going, but we also make observations about what we’ve seen and done as well as about life in general.

You can follow our travels from the Daily Journal section of this website. Other pages of interest include the running report of “vital statistics” on the Trip Scorecard, our nominations for the Best & Worst of the trip, as well as a rating of the pie we eat. If you’d like to see information for a specific state or town, click here, and then click on the state of interest, and the full itinerary is shown.


More Information on the Sights Visited Today:San Francisco California — Circus Chimera — Haight-Ashbury — Triton Hotel — Red Victorian Hotel