Kreisch and her husband Norbert performed together for 30 years.
As soon as the spotlights hit her shield, Arden Kreisch leaped to center stage.
She turned around, and two men in khaki shorts were carrying a caged gorilla to her. Once they set it down, Kreisch grabbed a whip, dropped her spear, let the gorilla out and the two turned to the audience.
What ensued, Kreisch said, at times was pandemonium.
The gorilla, played by Kreisch’s husband, Norbert, would convince half the audience he was a real gorilla. He would go in the stands and goof around with the audience, fluffing hair and making them laugh.
He swung from the second balcony, would steal another performer’s red leather hat and purse and grab her skirt, causing hysterics from the audience.
The audience was entertained by this act, and the Kreischs, for 30 years.
For Arden and Norbert Kreisch, the circus is a family affair. Before they even met, both had deep ties to the circus world.
Norbert Kreisch is from Breslau, Germany. His older sister, Nora, begged an acrobatic troupe to take Norbert out of eastern Germany with them as World War II began, so he started in a clown act where he would arrive on stage resembling Charlie Chaplin. The act came to America in 1949.
For two seasons, Norbert Kreisch stayed with this act with no pay, just room and board. When he asked for a raise, the act fired him with a ticket back to Germany. For four months, Norbert Kreisch was in Florida, where acts came during the winter months, without work. He was getting desperate and thought about ending his life, Arden Kreisch said. He took a bus to New York before his trip back to Germany. He went to the top of the Empire State Building and saw a marquee at Madison Square Garden saying the Ringling Circus would be performing.
He walked toward Madison Square Garden in hopes of seeing former colleagues and someone started yelling “Hey, junge!” which is a word for “boy” in German. Karl Wallenda approached Norbert and asked what he was doing. When Norbert explained he was going back to Germany, Karl told Norbert to follow him, Arden Kreisch said.
From then on, Norbert Kreisch was part of the American circus world. He did a flying trapeze act, a high-wire act and a gorilla act.
“To sum it all up, Norbert said his life did not begin until he met Karl Wallenda,” Arden Kreisch said.
Arden Kreisch is a third-generation circus performer. Her grandmother was the first generation, followed by Kreisch’s mother. Kreisch’s daughter, Noby, is fourth generation and now works as a stunt double.
When Kreisch finished high school, she traveled to Bloomington, Ill., to visit her grandmother. At the time, Kreisch’s mother was performing in the Shrine Circus in Cleveland and her aunt was performing in Minneapolis. Kreisch couldn’t find work, so her aunt told her to go to Minneapolis so she could teach Kreisch some stunts.
Eventually, Norbert and Arden Kreisch’s paths crossed, when both of them joined the Wallendas in Sarasota.
Arden’s aunt was teaching her the web and cloud swings while Norbert was learning the wire.
In 1951, Norbert and Arden Kreisch started dating. They were married March 14, 1952, in Chicago.
In 1954, Norbert and Arden Kreisch began their gorilla act while working under the Shrine Circus. With his first paycheck, Norbert Kreisch bought materials, specifically horse hair, to make the gorilla costume.
The pair continued the act until 1984, when Arden Kreisch stepped off the stage. Their daughter, Noby, took her spot and did the act with her father until 1986.
The Kreisch family also performed in Holiday on Ice four times in various countries, including Mexico. Arden Kreisch homeschooled her daughter, which she jokes is how she got her ulcer, but despite the difficult work, it was nice to have her with them, she said.
Arden Kreisch, who now lives on Longboat Key, said it wasn’t hard for her to leave the stage in 1984.
“I saw the world,” Arden Kreisch said. “Our act was so compact, we took it on the plane with us.”