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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 14, 2005

Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Co. Brings Family Show To Hancher

The Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Company will bring its "pneumatic vaudeville" family show to the University of Iowa Hancher Auditorium at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4.

Garbo's company has been a world-wide hit -- in Morocco, Scotland, Spain, Ireland, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, Chile, China and all across the United States, including two runs on Broadway and a show-stopping appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show."

The production features fanciful inflated suits, props and scenery of all shapes and sizes, juggling, dance, visual comedy and all sorts of wholesome mischief.

The opening of the show -- which the New York Times called "helium light and hilarious" -- has been described this way, "...a ten-foot cylinder slithers onto the stage and implodes.  Before long, the entire audience is playing catch with gigantic inflatable props. The big blow-up shapes dance, shimmer, balloon, deflate and bounce in a rainbow of colors. Suddenly, a globulating red cube takes on a life of its own, rolling, gliding and tumbling in synch to the music, right up to the edge of the stage. The audience gasps, and the big block teeters dramatically on the brink, quaking and bulging and changing shape before it amazes the crowd with its hilarious exit."

Garbo has just the sort of background to know how to make this magic happen. He has been the man inside "Sesame Street's" Barkley the Dog; and on Broadway he was the chief juggler in the hit musical "Barnum." He performed in the Obie Award-winning "Foolsfire" with Michael Moschen and Bob Berky and worked with MOMIX Dance Company in Brazil. And for the last 16 years he has been inventing and performing with inflatable costumes and props.

"Wherever we go, people always ask the same question: 'Where did you ever come up with this idea?'" Garbo says. "The short answer is: We made it up. It's our own fault."

"I grew up surrounded by family and friends who watched cartoons and Marx Brothers movies. I remember the action and slapstick humor making us laugh until we cried and fell on the floor rolling around. The gags, the animation, the surprises -- I loved it all! And that's what got me thinking about performing surprising illusions on stage."

But the idea of becoming a human balloon in an inflatable world did not come until later, well into his performance career. "One fateful day in 1988, I took a breather from show biz with a bit of skydiving," he recalls. "While packing my parachute, I was struck by its qualities: bright colors, strong material, and most important to a traveling performer (who spends a ton of time flying in airplanes to theaters) so much of it could pack into a really small space! Bingo! The parachute material inflates into a huge, big prop and then deflates down to nearly nothing. No excess luggage charges!

"I took this idea to my friend and hot air balloon artist, George York. Between us, we devised what would be the first in a long line of strange new props: a stage set that turns into a couch and a self-inflating body suit, sealed at the neck, wrists and ankles. Fred Zeplin, the inflatable man, was born!"

Though Fred Zeplin, a sort of human beach ball, remains an important part of the show, he was only the beginning for Garbo: "We built and assembled tons of shapes, costumes, animals, furniture and others things that blew up! Many of these first inflatable inventions didn't work, but that did not stop us!"

And then there was a Brazilian ballerina. Garbo met Daielma Santos on a flight to Brazil to appear with MOMIX. She had been the principal dancer with the Opera Paulista Company of Sao Paulo, but when she saw Garbo's show, she insisted on trying on the inflatable suit and has been a part of the company ever since.

The Dec. 4 matinee performance is supported by Hancher Guild, the volunteer organization whose sales in the Showcase gift shop support the auditorium's educational and family programming.

Tickets are $25/22/18; UI student $22.50/15; senior citizen $22.50/19.80/16.20; youth $17.50/15.40/12.60.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website:

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail:

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail,

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,

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