This is not a circus for the faint of heart.
Tread lightly up the dark path toward the big top, through a wrought iron gate, across a lawn pockmarked with tombstones and finally into the waiting mouth of the circus tent. Try not to scream at what awaits inside.
Welcome to Paranormal Cirque.
A production of Cirque Italia, Paranormal Cirque is inspired by a similar supernatural show in Italy. It will debut in Palmetto this week.
There are no clown brigades, animals or tamers in this act.
Instead, elements of circus, theater and cabaret are combined to create a dream-like experience. The show bill promises illusion, fright and fantasy.
It is also a circus for a mature audience. Some of the acts and costumes in the show are R-rated. For instance, the demonic clown comic really does not hold back.
"We are specifically aiming at young adults, 18 and up," said Tim Orris, who oversees booking and marketing. "But if you're 70 and you're into that type of thing, fine."
Children aged 13 to 17 must be accompanied by an parent or adult guardian over 21 to get in.
The show includes some classic circus acts with sinister twists. Audiences can look forward to an aerial silks dance, plate spinning, a magician's act and a woman hanging only by her hair, for starters.
Zombies, vampires and other ghouls will lurk in the shadows of the tent, and no one is safe from getting grabbed.
"It's going to be full of paranormal phenomena," Orris said. "Not blood and guts type of things, but enough to make you want to cuddle up to someone."
"The whole idea is to give people something new and different and unusual," Orris said.
With the decline of traditional circus acts featuring captive animals in recent years, Cirque Italia is one of the companies taking the circus concept in new directions.
The company's other show, Water Circus, is an aquatic-themed act featuring a stage that holds 35,000 gallons of water and cutting-edge technology. Two units are currently touring the country with the aqueous act.
Cirque Italia was founded in 2012 by Manuel Rebecchi, an Italian entrepreneur with the circus in his blood.
Rebecchi's aunt, Moira Orfei, was a famous Italian circus performer and actress.
Originally Rebecchi wanted nothing to do with the circus industry when he moved to Sarasota from Milano, Italy. The plan was to start a career in real estate.
Rebecchi now has his successful real estate career, but he picked the wrong town to try to get away from the big top. A fateful ticket to a local show got his mind working.
"I was extremely dissapointed," Rebecchi said. "It was not classy, not elegant. In Europe, we have high class traveling shows."
"He had ideas about how he could do things better," Orris said.
Rebecchi is a self-proclaimed animal lover who says that animals have no place in circus acts. That is why he has always looked elsewhere for inspiration.
"We're proof that you can leave the animals in the jungle and still put on a good show," Rebecchi said.
Now, the tickets are flying for Paranormal Cirque. Orris said that circus acts typically draw crowds from about a 14 miles radius, but for this show it is closer to 90 miles.
The show includes carefully selected performers from Bulgaria, Russia, Italy, Germany and a few from the U.S.
The next stop for the scary circus is Ocala, and from there it will travel up the east coast.
At a dress rehearsal on Monday night, Rebecchi saw some places for small adjustments in the act, but overall he said he was very happy with the atmosphere his team has created.
"From the first moment that you park your car, there is a color, a feeling, an environment we are creating here," Rebecchi said. "My artists are working really hard to create the show."
Things to know:
▪ Don't worry, the tent is air-conditioned.
▪ Guests wearing costumes, masks or theatrical make-up will not be admitted into the show as a safety precaution.
▪ The show includes mild physical contact with performers, like some Halloween attractions.
▪ This is not "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Details: June 7-17. Riviera Dunes Marina, 102 Riviera Dunes Way, Palmetto. $10-$50. 941-704-8572. paranormalcirque.com.