Pour la Première Fois: 5 Takeaways from Cirque VOLTA

By guest blogger Rachel Barrett

It was Valentine’s Day under the big top, and my husband and I were offered the opportunity to attend Cirque du Soleil’s latest show, VOLTA, in Tampa. Heralded as acrobatics meets ballet meets action sports, VOLTA’s alignment with Olympic season is perhaps the perfect timing for such a show, when there is a collective, if passing, passion for celebrating feats of human athletic prowess.

Guest blogger Rachel (l) and RunningBetty (r)

The energetic two-hour show flew by in a glorious blur of haunting original music, incredible feats of athleticism, and thrilling daredevil stunts; all peppered with impeccably timed comic relief. For this first-time Cirque attendee, these were my 5 biggest takeaways.

1. Ignorance is Bliss: While I knew of the general Cirque brand, I didn’t know any specifics about #VOLTA, or any of the Cirque shows for that matter. Even after I knew I’d be attending, I did no research of the show, but instead walked into the big top completely oblivious. With no expectations, I couldn’t help but be impressed! The Europop aesthetic, the music, the sets, the lights, the skill of the performers, the fact that there is not a bad seat in the house! I was like a 5-year-old on her first trip to Disney World with each new scene more awe-inspiring than the last.

2. Nods to Pop-Culture: Perhaps it was my novice interpretation, but I found nods to pop-culture at every turn. When we first meet Waz, the main character, I was immediately reminded of Gob’s intro for his magic tricks (no, ILLUSIONS!) from Arrested Development. In the dynamic and commanding male vocalist, I saw similarities to Titus Andromedon, the scene-stealer from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The whole game-show opening overall was very Hunger Games-esque. In addition to enjoying the show itself, my husband and I had fun playing a game of “that reminds me of…”

3. Cirque Crosses Audiences: Before seeing the show, I wasn’t sure at whom exactly Cirque shows were aimed. Is it sophisticated patrons of the arts? Or is it families with young children? Perhaps it’s a different target audience for each show? I can’t speak for all Cirque shows of course, but VOLTA most certainly appeals to all kinds of demographic and psychographic categories – almost everyone can find something to enjoy about this show. There is beautiful ballet, incredible gymnastics, BMX stunts, silly skits, incredible music – it really is like seeing seven different entertainment events at the same time!

4. I’m Out of Shape: The bodies and abilities of these performers were absolutely unreal. They made everything look effortless. Unicycling with a woman doing an arabesque on your shoulders? No big deal! Triple backhandspring-ing through a hip-width ring four feet off the ground? Cakewalk! The muscles and definition of their physiques are jaw-dropping. Instead of pitying myself by comparison, I felt proud to be of the same species!

5. A Word to the Wise: While I loved that I had no expectations of the show, I do wish I’d done some homework about logistics beforehand. The trip from our home in St. Pete to the Tampa Greyhound Track was a long one, particularly because of holiday traffic – if you’re traveling across the Tampa Bay Area (which is totally worth it), give yourself extra time so you can settle in, grab a drink, and take some photos beforehand. Also, the parking/venue area is massive, plus the stairs to your seating area are a bit precarious, at least in stilettos. Shoes that you can walk far in, and up grated stairs are a must. For heel-wearers like myself, a comfortable wedge is ideal.

Overall, Cirque VOLTA was a wonderful way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Any shared novel experience is good for a relationship, but this one in particular is one that we will be talking about for while. I’m grateful to my friends at Tampa Bay Bloggers for the opportunity to attend.

VOLTA is under the Big Top at the Tampa Greyhound Track now through March 18, 2018. Visit cirquedusoleil.com/volta or call 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783) for tickets, starting at $37.  


VOLTA Cirque du Soleil {giveaway closed}

For a long time, La Nouba was the closest Cirque du Soleil show to my home, at less than a 2 hour drive. La Nouba was in a theater custom-designed and built for Cirque du Soleil on December 23, 1998, at Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. 

The first time I saw the show it was on a date with my husband and it was a total surprise. He splurged on tickets and a hotel – I think it was an anniversary gift. The second time I saw it, we brought the kids and we were all already Cirque fans by then. We’ve seen Cirque du Soleil shows in other Florida cities, New Orleans and Las Vegas.

cirque bmx bike actLa Nouba ended its 19-year run on New Years Eve 2017, and rumor has it the show will be replaced by a new Cirque show eventually. But don’t fret – if you are in the Tampa Bay area and miss the theatrical and athletic excitement, Cirque is bringing its 41st original production, a new touring show, under the big top at the TAMPA GREYHOUND TRACK STARTING FEBRUARY 14, 2018!

The new Cirque show is called VOLTA. In literature, volta refers to a point of dramatic change. VOLTA the show is a story of transformation. It is about being true to oneself, fulfilling one’s true potential, and the power of the group to make that possible. You know, finding your true self by finding your TRIBE.

The show has a modern, youthful feel with elements of rope skipping, roller skating, BMX, parkour, acrobatics and so much more. What I’ve heard so far about it is:

“Volta contained all of the signature elements I’ve grown to enjoy: elaborate costumes, interesting themes and storylines, creative choreography, dramatic lighting and music, and (of course) mesmerizing acts with elements of humor and surprise that keep you enchanted. I enjoyed the cast interacting with the audience and the creative props and stunts.

The passion shines through every single artist, so amazing!! The wardrobe was soooo cool too! Totally blown away! One of my favorite shows I’ve seen by them!

Exciting and creative acts with plenty of audio and visual stimulation for you to enjoy. Definitely worth seeing.

It was fast paced, exciting and the costumes were amazing! I’ve seen many Cirque du Soleil shows but this one was really special! Go!”

VOLTA will be presented under the Big Top at the Tampa Greyhound Track February 14 – March 18, 2018. I’ll be there on opening night and will be back to blog all about it.

Cirque Club members can purchase tickets for these performances online at www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta. General public tickets are also on sale now by visiting www.cirquedusoleil.com/volta or calling 1-877-9CIRQUE (1-877-924-7783). Tickets start at $37. Or you can enter to win free tickets below!!

Thanks to my relationship with Tampa Bay Bloggers and Cirque du Soleil, I have a wonderful giveaway to offer to my readers – a pack of 4 tickets to see VOLTA in Tampa! #sponsored #ad The tickets may be used any Tuesday through Thursday the weeks of February 20 or 27. 

To be entered for a chance to win, find the VOLTA photo on my instagram account @rafdarrow. Follow the account and leave a comment on the VOLTA photo (from last week) letting me know your favorite thing about Cirque du Soleil. The giveaway will end at 9pm EST Feb 12, 2018. One winner will be randomly chosen and announced/tagged in the comments on Instagram on Feb 13.

Good luck and enjoy the show!


Cinque Terre, Liguria region, Italy

As a part of our June 2017 trip to Italy, Brian and I stayed for a few days in Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of a string of five seaside fishing villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) on the coast of the Italian Riviera. The beautiful, protected area includes colorful houses, vineyards and olive trees meandering on steep cliffs, harbors of fishing and tourist boats, a few beaches, many historical churches, trattorias with seafood specialties – especially grilled octopus, gelato, and the special cuisine of the region – trofie pasta with fresh pesto sauce.

Hiking trails and train tracks link the villages so you can traverse between them. Parts of the trails are currently closed due to a spring 2016 landslide. We arrived anticipating hiking for two days, but because of these closures we changed plans and decided to hike the first day from Vernazza, where we were staying, to Monterosso – and spend the second day visiting the remaining 5 towns by train. (More on that below. In the end, the hike was so desperately hot and harder than I anticipated, so I probably would have asked Brian to not hike on the 2nd day anyway.)

A green door up three similar flights of stairs from the street led to our room.

We took a train from Rome to La Spezia and then into the small town of Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre. We had booked a room online that I thought was in a B&B, but it was simply a room, similar to a hotel room with a bed, bathroom, closet and balcony – only it wasn’t a part of a larger complex. We had a front door key and walked right in off the street. The only difference between this place and a studio apartment is that there was no kitchen.

One of the people corresponding to us over email said we would be met at the train station, but we were not. Out came my cell phone map, on went our hiking backpacks (aka our luggage for 16 days), and off we went exploring to find the apartment ourselves.

As soon as we descended the train station stairs, we were on the main street of town, lined with bars, boutiques, souvenir stores, focaccia bakeries and gelato shops. We found the room very quickly – it was a 3-minute walk from the train station, and the owner was sitting right outside on the stoop with her family. (So, yah, they could have easily met us at the train station and assuaged a little of our anxiety, but since it was only three minutes and my phone had service, I look back on it as part of the adventure.)

bidet bathroom vernazza

Get used to seeing bidets everywhere in Italy!

The owner showed us the well furnished space complete with mini fridge and upgraded, modern bathroom. The balcony had a small table to eat on, and overlooked a beach that was off the beaten path and she told us it was the better beach to go to, rather than the main beach. (We didn’t know what she meant yet, but she was totally right. The main beach is very muddy and this one was rocky, thus cleaner and allowed for rock jumping.)

Because the home was built into the side of the cliff, looking out from the balcony over the rocks also gave us a funny view of all the laundry people had hung out to dry that had blown away and was now stuck on the hillside.

Included on the desk in our room was also a list of the owner’s favorite restaurants, a wifi password, and how to contact them for information on things like a car service. The cleaning lady was just leaving from the last visitors, and everything was very tidy.

We spent our first afternoon just looking at the main strip of shops in Vernazza, and headed for an aperitivo before dinner. Aperitivo is the ritual of going out for a pre-dinner drink in Italy. Brian had the drink we saw everywhere while on vacation in Italy, a Spritz, which is said to have originated in Venice under the Austrian Empire. It is a bitter mixed drink using Aperol or Campari, sparkling white wine and soda; often served with a slice of orange. The color is deceiving, it is not as refreshing as lemonade. I had a passionfruit frozen daiquiri – so fresh it had bits of black seeds blended right in!

There were a few scattered, sit-down restaurants where the main street dead-ended at the shoreline. It seems they took turns closing one night each week. Everyone working there spoke great English. Many of the servers take the train in from nearby cities and don’t live in the small towns anymore.

We chose a restaurant at random, and sat at an outdoor table looking out at the water. Granted, most of the evening restaurant seating is outdoors with a view of the water in Vernazza! I tried the local trofie pasta with pesto sauce. It had a few green beans and chunks of white potato here and there, but mainly it was fresh, homemade pasta with a pretty good sauce. (I thought it was great compared to what I get in a jar from the grocery store, but the next day for lunch I had pesto that was MUCH better.) We also tried a local wine.

We kept to ourselves that night, sleepy from travel and wine, and went to bed fairly early knowing we wanted to hike the next day before it got too hot.

Our Hike

From Vernazza to Monterosso

The longest, most difficult hike in Trail #2, this section has lots of stairs and narrow passages. It’s another section of trail in which hikers often favor walking sticks and trekking poles. It’s also the most rewarding view-wise. Its panorama of all five Cinque Terre towns is one of the highlights of the trip. Hydration is essential. If you go in the summer it will almost certainly be blazingly hot. Sunburn and heatstroke are both common ailments of the Cinque Terre hiking trials. Finally you absolutely cannot forget your bathing suit (during the spring and summer) and your camera. A swim in the Ligurian sea is the perfect post-hike reward and the views you get from the trail are some of the best in Europe. Length: 1.8 miles (3km); 2 hours to walk.
[Excerpts from https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/cinque-terre/hiking-trails]

After a quick bite to eat, Brian and I set out to hike the next morning. We went to the train station by our rented room to buy a hiking pass. I also noticed they had a book swap shelf in the station, but it only had two books and they were both in Italian. Then we left the train station and thought we had started the hiking trail, but we had actually found a pretty lookout point and had to double back to the main street to find the actual trailhead. We knew we were in the right place when a guy in a booth stamped our hiking trail pass.

along our hike

There was a lot more uphill than I anticipated, and Brian was patient with me as I stopped to take a breather now and then – which was fine because we were surrounded by beautiful photo opportunities. We could look down at Vernazza and its colorful houses built into the cliffs, the gorgeous water, some streams, vineyards, areas dedicated to the local cats, and stone arches. We passed a man selling awesome jewelry (I totally recommend doing this hike with 30 euros in your pocket for just that reason!) and another playing an accordion for change. We also passed other hikers along the trail in both directions speaking a variety of languages, and I tried to say hello to people as I passed in the language they were chatting in with their friends. A few of my phone photos from the beautiful, scenic hike are here.

When we came out of the green overgrowth of the hike into the next town, Monterosso, I saw ways that it was similar to and different from Vernazza. The main square here was much larger, with a playground, and a longer walk to the train. I popped into Wonderland Bakery for a “wine cookie,” which didn’t taste quite as good as it sounds. Brian bought a cold beer and we recovered from the heat of the hike for a few minutes. We felt like there was not much to see here that was different from Vernazza, so we hopped on the train to Riomaggiore – the land of the 5 we were furthest from. This provided some A/C on the train while we looked at photos from our hike.

In Riomaggiore Brian wanted a nice lunch and I wanted a bathroom desperately, so we found a place with indoor seating and large ceiling fans. In the restroom, I was happy to find I had remembered to bring a Shower Pill athletic body wipe in our hiking bag, and felt much more refreshed after a wipe down with that and scrubbing my hands. I also popped a nuun into my water glass when I got back to the table, to hydrate and restore some electrolytes.

My meal there was fantastic! I had chestnut pasta with clams, tomatoes and pesto sauce (bottom of photo). Brian had beef ravioli with a beef tomato sauce (top). He had wine, but I thought I needed to replenish from hiking before adding alcohol into my system.

Tip: If you leave the train station in Riomaggiore and your find yourself walking straight uphill, go back through the train station and through the pedestrian tunnel and it will be a flatter walk that takes you right to the center of town! Don’t go backwards like we did.

After lunch we took the train back to Vernazza and walked the main street of our town again, down to the water, and up a steep, tall flight of stairs to‎ Ristorante Belforte. We hoped to get a reservation for that night, but they were completely booked. I asked about the next night, and he said they had availability, so I reserved a table for our final night in Cinque Terre at what we had heard was the best restaurant in Vernazza.

That afternoon I shopped, and bought myself a bronze octopus necklace made by an Italian artist. He only has 4 tentacles, but he’s a lot of fun. I named him Popoli (polpo is Italian for octopus.)

For dinner we simply went to the place that was behind us the night before. They had quite a few outdoor tables with a view of the water. The couple next to us were from England and we chatted about our travels through the evening. I enjoyed gnocchi with zucchini, tomatoes and shrimp and Brian had lobster ravioli with prawns. We both had to work for our food that night, breaking apart more crustaceans than I prefer in a meal. I would have rather there been bits of already chopped shrimp in my sauce instead.

Brian then tried the local after dinner drink, sciacchetrà (say: shi-ket-ra). Online we read, “A spirit lives within each bottle – the current winemaker and all those that came before him.”

Those were our first two days in Cique Terre. We also went swimming in a roped-off, precarious area with rock hopping and rock diving, had the best cinnamon gelato, met a woman who sells wine in Florida (who we later met in Venice, Italy!!!) and got stuck in the city because of a train strike and had to be driven to Florence by our landlords. But those are stories for another day…



Embrace your Aha Moment

Have you had an “Aha” moment? Oprah talks about them all the time. A moment in time – or an experience – when insight or realization hits. It might be about a career or a relationship, but if you are really lucky it’s a moment of self-realization.

Learning something about yourself that changes your path may take strength of character. Often these moments of clarity lead to change – and people fear change. I have friends who have had aha moments about religion, sexual identity, gender identity, adoption – even keeping a vegan lifestyle. And a true AHA moment will give you the courage to maintain that sense of self even in the face of adversity.

I enjoy stories and shows with coming-of-age aha moments, when youngsters or tweenagers realize what they stand for and why. There’s a show at the “Straz Center” in Tampa, Florida, this week that I have been waiting to see called “Fun Home.” It the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist – Alison Bechdel.

fun home straz tampa florida

Alison Bechdel is a real person. She is a cartoonist who had popular graphic novels and comics in the mid-80s and early 90s. In 2006, she published a graphic memoir of her life called “Fun Home”, which was subsequently adapted as a musical and won a Tony Award for Best Musical (among others) in 2015.

I first learned of Alison Bechdel when some college friends were talking about the Bechdel-Wallace Test. This tongue-in-cheek “test” analyzes portrayal of females in film and other popular media. A movie passes the Bechdel test if it has at least two female characters in it who both have names and who carry on a conversation about something other than a man.

I have been following the musical about her life, “Fun Home,” since its inception and I am thrilled that since its Broadway run has ended it will now be right next door to me in Tampa. I know too much already about the show and music, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it deals with a lot of sensitive family situations – some of which will make me cry a lot from my seat in the audience – and which have also been a part of my family’s recent narrative.

I’m curious to see how the show will be readapted for the Straz Center’s gorgeous stage, because it was performed in the round in NYC. I’m also excited to see the 3 Alisons – three different actresses portray Alison Bechdel at different ages during the show.

If you want a bit of a spoiler, here is an Alison Aha Moment; Small Alison performing Ring of Keys at the 2015 Tony Awards.

For you teenage thespian geeks, check out the “Teens Take Broadway” feature on Thurs., Nov. 30 and receive a deeply discounted ticket plus a free pre-show event with live entertainment, games, raffles, refreshments and a free post-show talk-back with the cast.

Fun Home runs at the Straz Nov 28 – Dec 3, 2017Regular seats start at $31. I hope you go and your sense of self grows, or your sense of the world grows. I hope it helps you sift through your own clutter and find clarity. And I hope tomorrow night when I see it, I do the same.

I was asked to post about Fun Home in exchange for 2 free tickets due to my relationship with the Tampa Bay Bloggers.


Rent at the Straz Center, Tampa

The most popular rock musical of the ’90s, Rent, is on its 2nd tour of its 20th anniversary, and is currently at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida. Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer and Tony Award winning musical is one of the longest running shows on Broadway. I received two tickets to the show through a connection with Tampa Bay Bloggers and in exchange for my honest review. And I will tell you honestly, I absolutely loved this show!!

I relate a bit to the story of Rent because it takes place in NYC in the mid-to-late 90s, which was when I lived in NYC. The characters are mainly artists living a bohemian lifestyle, and I certainly bordered on granola with dreams of being a writer while studying at NYU. I also have a father who listens to opera and classical music almost exclusively, and the story line of Rent follows Puccini’s opera La Boheme.

If you have never seen the show before, or if it has been a while, you may think it seems dated. The music, the clothes, and all the fear of people dying of AIDS. Aren’t we lucky that we live in a time and place now that – on average in the USA – being HIV+ is not an immediate, undignified death sentence?!!

The show certainly shows some evils of humanity, but it shows the upside too – finding solace in love, friendship, group therapy, and being true to yourself – and/or your art.

The songs contain powerful messages – ranging from sexy to angsty – and this cast does them justice with powerful voices that really wowed me! It’s rare that I find the male voices even stronger than the female ones in a show, and I did with Rent, particularly Kaleb Wells who plays Roger.

The set is sparse, as it should be to help develop the feel of the characters being penniless.

The program includes a cheat sheet. It might help explain the show to someone who has never seen the musical or movie before, but it seems highly unnecessary to me. It is expected that an audience learns about characters and plot as a show unfolds onstage. Plus they used the actor’s headshots instead of character photos, so it’s hard to relate it back to the stage anyway. I didn’t need a cheat sheet the first time I saw Rent, neither did my daughter the first time she popped in the DVD…

Regardless – the show is charged emotionally and you’d either have to be homophobic or hate art to not be moved by the performance and the script. And if you are like me, and you LIVE for this kind of stuff, you’ll laugh, cry, clap, moo and leave with a greater connection to the plight of strangers around you; squeezing your loved ones a little tighter.

If the show sounds awesome but your wallet feels light, check out their rush tickets! Visit the box office 2 hours before showtime for a chance to sit in the first 2 rows for only $25!! Cash only. First come first served. Or act quickly TODAY for Straz’s first Teens Take Broadway night. Show a student ID at the Ticket Sales Office window to get a discounted ticket to Rent On Tour on Thursday, Sept 21. Arrive at 6pm on the night of the show for free entertainment, refreshments, contests and more on the Jaeb patio. Teens only. If you have a group of 10 or more students, call the Group Sales team at (813) 222-1047. If you do want to share this with a class you teach, there is an education guide here.

For a little taste of RENT, watch the movie trailer here. You’ll see familiar faces like Idina Menzel, Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Jesse L. MartinAnthony Rapp – and it was directed by Chris Columbus. Or if you are very familiar, check out this fun version of “Take me or Leave me” by a couple of Glee cast members.

While we were at opening night, the cast announced they would match any donations that evening to help Hurricane Irma victims in Tampa through Metropolitan Ministries.

Rent has won six Drama Desk Awards, five Obie Awards, four Tony Awards, and the Pulitzer Prize. Go find out why this week at the Straz Center!