On the spectacle and/of Circus Contraption

Circus Contraption‘s Grand American Traveling Dime Museum
Theater For The New City, NYC, 9/13/06

“A bracing curative for the afflictions of our times”

Circus Contraption opened with a bang—a spectacle-bang. The translucent curtain covering the band was yanked away dramatically, dragged across the floor by unseen hands/tools, and a massive billowing of smoke was released. Simultaneously, the decorated band plunged into the first musical number, a beautifully dissonant arrangement. The ringmaster began his seduction…

I ate it up. My eyes ate it up. It burned holes in my retinas, then went through them and down to my throat. Yes, folks, I got verklempt by the small-theater spectacle of a radical and macabre circus.

It was to only get worse/better when Darty Kangoo took the stage, or rather, the aerial-rope. The costume, the lights, the accompanying music, the costume, the movement, the costume, the spinning, the dizzying heights—craning my neck, so overwhelmed I had to blink away the tears. My eyes—distracting, blurring tears aside—were sponges, soaking up everything, open for anything else to come their way. My brain followed suit while my throat remained tight.

Actor-spectator interaction is one of my favorite theatrical tools, but on this occasion I discovered the beauty of being the purest form of spectator—only eyes.

The juggling act was done with red-lit balls on a pitch-black stage. The self-consciousness of being in a crowd (and yes, we were in the front row) evanesced, and I became Emerson’s “transparent eye-ball”—privy to only that which was displayed before me, the darkness absorbing my body, eyes burning from the bright spheres contrasting the blackness, the burn the only physical sensation felt. My mind was a slate, my eyes taking in everything for it to sort through later.

These moments—standing alone or as a microcosm of the entire show—held the brilliance and the political possibilities of spectacle. You react to the overwhelming sight—or sound, or some such combinatory sensation—before you with an awe bordering on a mind-blow, a passion bordering on insanity. You want to absorb it, devour it, to cling to it as long as you can, to never let go, knowing though you must, and so gobbling up as much as you can, as open as you can be, praying it will be forever emblazoned on your memory.

In these moments you are at your most open, your most susceptible, and sure this can be taken advantage of, and often is, but it can also be used for good—for enrichment, enlightenment, at the very least for opening up your mind to the possibility of other ways of thinking, of being, of experiencing. And that can’t be all bad, can it?


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2 responses to “On the spectacle and/of Circus Contraption

  1. I saw Circus Contraption five times in September, bringing friends and family each time.I have rarely been so inspired – something about those performances loosed some stricture in my brain and triggered a great rush of ideas and dreams. I tried to capture that feeling and put it into words in my own blog – you have done a fine job here.

  2. Pingback: The music of Circus Contraption « Vee Levene’s Insipid Missives

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