We have talked a lot in rehearsal about the traditional perception of the traveling circus troupe – about the ways in which we romanticize that life. In a way everyone secretly wishes he or she could run away with the circus and perform some unimaginable feat few others would dare even attempt. We've talked about the transient nature of the circus – how suddenly it bursts into town thrilling audiences with colorful displays and inexplicable tricks, and then just like that, it is gone again. There is an element of mystery in all of that. You find yourself wondering, "Who are these people? What do they do when they are not flying through the air or jumping throughburning hoops? Do they eat? Do they sleep? Do they perform ordinary daily tasks just like the rest of us?" They become almost superhuman figures existing outside the constraints of regular life.
However there can be another side of this image – a darker side. We may admire and romanticize circus performers, but we do not tend to glamorize them. We can imagine them to be gritty, robust, even grizzly at times – working grueling hours, traveling alongside elephants and lions, living out of trailers. The future is uncertain. There is an element of danger to their lifestyle; not only do they tempt fate each night onstage, but an equally uncertain fate can await them outside the circus tent. So we somehow place them both above ordinary life and below it. Their lives can be both awe inspiring and terrifying. Something about that duality is very thrilling. And very confusing. And very seductive. And, as we are finding, very appropriate for the setting of "Pippin," a story of an ordinary man who yearns desperately to be extraordinary but is deeply conflicted about how to accomplish that goal.
In a few days we will travel to Cambridge and start bringing the show to life on the stage of the A.R.T. What better way to prepare for this next part of our journey than to pay a visit to the circus! This past week a largegroup from our company attended the Big Apple Circus which is currently playing at Lincoln Center. The moment you walk into that dimly lit tent with its beams of light shining through the haze, its sawdust floor and bright red circus ring something happens to you. Suddenly you are filled with childlike delight and anticipation, and this feeling only grows as the show begins. There is something joyful and comforting about the oompa-pa of the tuba – that familiar circus sound – and something adorable and silly about the scruffy circus dogs jumping through hoops as symbols crash. We laughed at the buffoonish antics of the clowns, marveled at the serpentine moves of the contortionist, and gasped at the mind-blowing skill of the slack rope acrobat. This experience really helped provide some more context and inspiration for the world we are trying to create in "Pippin." A huge thank you goes out from our company to Guillaume Dufresnoy of the Big Apple Circus who arranged the tickets for us (and to our own company member, Viktoria Grimmy, who coordinated the evening). It was truly a wonderful night.
One final shout out. You may notice that this week's photos are a little fancier than usual. This is because I didn't take them! Our wonderful music intern, recent Harvard graduate Kevin H. Lin, took them! Our company is one shockingly multi-talented group, and Kevin the musical whiz/photographer extraordinaire is no exception. Please enjoy the wonderful rehearsal shots he took for us!
The company of Pippin inside the circus ring at the Big Apple Circus
Patina Miller, Diane Paulus, and Matthew James Thomas
Matthew James Thomas and company
Matthew James Thomas and Rachel Bay Jones