When bubbles appear in Downtown DeLand, chances are Athens Theatre caretaker Alan Ware and his tricycle, Trixie, are somewhere near.
How did Ware happen to ride into our lives?
Ten years ago, Alan Ware tumbled into life in DeLand. He moved here five weeks before the Athens Theatre reopened after sitting vacant for 20 years. On Ware’s first weekend in town, the annual Fall Festival of the Arts took over Woodland Boulevard.
“I thought, what a charming town,” Ware said.
A few months later, another Downtown affair delighted Ware: Mardi Gras on Main Street, DeLand’s annual dog parade.
“And I thought … this is the craziest town I’ve ever seen,” Ware said. “It doesn’t fit in with your standard vision of Florida.”
But that fits in perfectly for Ware. Before settling in DeLand and the Athens Theatre, Ware spent 12 years touring as a clown in the Ringling Brothers Circus, launching that career in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a small town he described as not unlike DeLand.
His clown alter-ego was “Grandpa,” an 80-year-old befuddled octogenarian.
“After a while, after 12 years, I had to learn to act my own age. I had to de-clown considerably when I stepped back into the real world,” Ware said.
He learned about DeLand from clown-college roommates who had been hired by Cole Bros. Circus, the company that had its winter headquarters in DeLand and staged the long-running annual big-top circus on the DeLand Municipal Airport.
Ware, who also has a background in mime and studied in the 1990s under the most famous mime of all, Marcel Marceau, was instantly drawn to the Athens Theatre, which he called “that grand old dame.”
He landed a job as the theater’s caretaker.
“One of my teachers told me, ‘You have the soul of a clown,’” Ware said. “When you work with Ringling, you’re always trying to promote, and make the extraordinary out of the mundane.”
Enter Trixie, the bubble-blowing tricycle that also serves the purpose of advertising the current show at the Athens.
Trixie is tricked out with a bubble machine, umbrella, speaker, GPS tracker and something like 70 pounds of brass accessories. Recently, Ware added a long-legged, top-hat-sporting flamingo named Punk Floyd.
“Either way you look at it, I’m giving someone the bird,” Ware said.
The current Trixie is the third of her name. The first bicycle couldn’t handle the load, and the second Trixie was stolen.
“She looked so ghastly I couldn’t imagine why anyone would take her,” Ware said.
He started an online fundraiser for a new Trixie, and within 24 hours had the money for a new bike.
“A lot of the Downtown merchants said we need Trixie back,” Ware said.
He added bubbles three or four years ago.
“A dear clown I worked with for many years had a special skill, and that skill was bubbles. I promised I wouldn’t share it, and I got his secret formula to his extra-elastic bubbles,” Ware said. “I started tinkering with it; it took about a good eight months, and now it’s food-safe, drink-safe; I can scent them, too. It’s a way I can help add to the magic and continue to make people smile.”
Ware rarely takes an acting role in a production at the Athens, but he is much more often behind the scenes.
“You know, it’s not about being on stage, it’s making the stage available. And sometimes that’s a struggle, it really is. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication and a lot of hands. And all of that adds to the charm of DeLand,” he said.
There is no shortage of talent, he added.
“There’s a freakish amount of talent in Central Florida — so much talent, and so much emphasis on arts,” Ware said. “I don’t mean to tell tales out of school, but as posh as Winter Park is, they have nothing on DeLand. I mean the sculptures, murals, crafts fairs, art festival — there is a very healthy arts scene.”
Trixie and the wave of bubbles she leaves in her wake through Downtown, Ware said, is like DeLand: unexpected and a bit magical.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better place to have landed,” he said.