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Des Moines Register July 08, 2009 06:23 AM

Iowans who missed the Tiny Circus at the Des Moines Arts Festival last weekend will get another chance to see the traveling film project when it rolls its Airstream mini-trailers this week into Iowa City and the Linn County Fair. Founded last year by Carlos Ferguson of Grinnell, the circus "affirms people's natural art-making abilities" by inviting them to help produce simple, stop-motion animated videos. Participants can make construction-paper puppets and shoot them, frame by frame, with digital cameras. The finished stories, which usually last only a minute or two, explain the imaginary origins of ordinary objects or traditions - "The History of Rain," say, or "The History of Popcorn" and "The History of Staring Contests."

Kids "instantly get it," said Amy Santoferraro, who ran away (temporarily) from her home in Philadelphia to join the Grinnell-based circus. "The tough part is the adults. 'It's OK,' we tell them, 'You can play, too.' " She pulled out a fat accordian file filled with puppets Arts Festival visitors had made for a parade scene. There were stick figures, monsters, even a shark-filled aquarium on wheels. One of the puppets was a yellow dog with three words scrawled across its belly in a child's shaky script: "I am thrilled."

Another visitor at the festival was equally impressed, according to the note she left in the circus' comment box: "This is boom-bastic!" The circus projects its handiwork on an outdoor screen at 9:30 p.m. Friday at the pedestrian mall in downtown Iowa City, and sets up shop all day Saturday and June 12 at the Linn County Fairgrounds in Central City. The shows are free and posted online at