There's a revolution going on under the Big Top. Radical, alternative, underground: it's not your grandmother's circus anymore. It's not the big-budget Cirque du Soleil, which has become an entertainment empire; nor is it madcap dinner theater like Teatro Zinzanni. Instead, inspired by edgy performance artists like Jim Rose in the US and encouraged by the discipline of formal circus schools in Europe, there's a whole new generation of circus geeks and freaks.
We have one such troupe here in Seattle: Circus Contraption. The company, a dozen or so musicians, jugglers, aerialists and comedians perform in a terrific space out at Magnuson Sand Point Park. Co-founded in 1998 by Lara Paxton [a terrific dancer and trapeze artist] and Armitage Shanks [a larger-than-life, louder-than-needed onstage persona], the group is currently presenting a wacky evening titled "Grand American Traveling Dime Museum," with songs and skits based on exhibits from old-time sideshows and penny arcades.
I could carp about an unimaginative lyric here, a missed light cue there, but that would miss the point. These guys are in the vanguard, out on the lunative popcorn fringe of live theater, and they perform to enthusiastic crowds. The real shame is that half the seats in this supposedly theater-crazy town were empty last night.
Circus Contraption's good enough to have nailed down a gig in New York this fall, where they're sure to be a hit. They're doing three shows a weekthrough July at Sand Point. Go see them before they leave. No kidding. www.circuscontraption.com.
PS: A new book called Freaks & Fire devotes an entire chapter to Circus Contraption.