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Posts tagged ‘Circus’

A Chat with Lindsay Bellaire & Phillip Psutka of Theatre Arcturus on ROUGH MAGIC at the 2017 Toronto Fringe

Interview by Madryn McCabe

We were thrilled to see that Theatre Arcturus had another show in this year’s Fringe after being amazed by their awe-inspiring production of Weird last year. We spoke with Lindsay Bellaire and Phillip Psutka about their rigorous process of creation and training and why Rough Magic is a perfect story to explore right now.

MM: Tell us about your show.

Lindsay Bellaire: A collision of air and earth, Rough Magic creates a vertical world to tell the story of Ariel and Caliban in a newly imagined prequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It’s an aerial theatre piece: a play written in the style of Shakespeare (mostly in verse), with aerial silks and rope weaved into the world of the characters. Ariel, an airy free-spirited sprite, touches down and makes contact with a young Caliban, a ground-dwelling, god-worshipping mortal. Meeting between air and earth as two very different beings, they reach across the boundaries that make us fear the “other”, only to find themselves enslaved in the end, where the storm is conjured that begins The Tempest.

MM: What drives you to tell Shakespeare’s untold stories, the stories he only hints at in his texts?

Phillip Psutka: I’ve always had a passion for Shakespeare and I enjoy the challenge of meticulously researching whichever play of his that I am going off of, while at the same time having to fill in the blanks of the story that I am trying to tell myself. Also, the heightened text is a natural blend with the aerial arts in that they are both larger than life, in a way. Hearing the poetic, image-based language, while simultaneously seeing the intense physicality of the characters take to the air on the apparatus creates a world for the play where one element helps the other out – I feel that the audience can buy into the sound of the verse in an original contemporary script because of the heightened physicality… literally.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: You say that, although this is an original script, it was researched meticulously through Shakespeare’s text and other source material. What was that research process like? Why was it so important to do this research and not just create from an idea?

PP: To start off, I read through The Tempest a number of times – mainly looking for clues to the back story of Ariel and Caliban. Once I had compiled all of the info on them that Shakespeare provides, I then went back through the script focusing on the characters themselves: how they react to certain situations; what kind of language and images they use; how much they speak in verse vs. prose and, when they switch from one to another, what triggers it. It’s like detective work and that’s part of the fun of it. Because I was using the Arden, I also pulled inspiration from one of the Appendices: Robert Browning’s poem Caliban Upon Setebos, which is where I took the idea of Caliban being religious. After I was through with the “Sherlock Holmes” portion of the script development, I outlined the entire show, filling in the blanks of what I wasn’t able to discover through the research before writing the first draft. I think it’s totally valid to create something completely original even if it’s based off of another work; I just enjoy the research part of it so much. More than anything, I like that idea that an audience could watch Rough Magic and then jump right into a production of The Tempest and it would be one continuous story, for Ariel and Caliban at least.

MM: You talk about telling the story of “the other” in your play. Why is that? What do you seek to say to your audience?

PP: That, even though we may live in our own worlds, it’s important to remember that others do as well, and we can never know everything that has shaped that person or being into what they are at this moment in time. I feel that the ongoing challenge of being human is to not make assumptions about others, to stop and listen before passing judgement on their situation. I’ve definitely been guilty of saying irrational and disrespectful things to someone else simply because I had the hangeries, and if it’s that easy to trigger a short response to a situation and shut another person out, I can only imagine what it must be like to try to work constructively with a leader that wants to build a wall between their country and yours and has decided that you are going to pay for it: end of story, not interested in your opinion. I believe that there is always more to learn about the human existence and the best way to learn is to listen before speaking, which is a quality I feel the world is lacking in at the moment. I can certainly do it better myself, but little reminders every now and then are helpful. I hope Rough Magic serves as one of those little reminders.

Photo Credit: Larry Carroll, The Lens Man

MM: I can tell from your press photos that this is a very physically demanding show. What is your rehearsal and training process like? What is your development process? How did you develop your show?

LB: The physical training for our shows is ongoing, even when not in rehearsals or a creation process. Outside of our theatrical productions, the aerialists in the shows are professional performers, training acts for events and teaching aerial classes – it’s not a skill that we learn specifically for the show. The physical training is 4-5 times a week, in 2-3 hour sessions, year-round (with some time taken off for rest and recovery, of course).

The scripts are written by Phillip, usually over an intense period of 2-4 weeks, then edited, read out loud, and edited further. Then the rehearsal process begins, where it becomes a collaboration between the director (whom, at this point, gets final say on all decisions), writer, actors, aerial and fight choreographers, and composer. This is actually a very small team, with the actors doubling up as chorographers and writer. Costumes and lighting are also designed somewhere in there!

For Rough Magic specifically, the script was written first, and the rigging designed to suit the story (the decision to use silks and a rope, and how they would be hung). We were lucky enough to be able to bring Kevin Hammond (former AD of the Humber River Shakespeare co.) on board as our director for a 5+ month development process. Because we were creating out of a studio space in Muskoka, our process for this show was unique in that Phillip and myself would do preliminary work on each scene, getting it on its feet using some basic exercises and following our instincts. Kevin would make a trip up for a weekend intensive every 3 weeks to further develop and sculpt each scene, offering invaluable insight and guidance into the text, and establishing the balance between air and ground work. Our Stage Manager, Lisa Sciannella, travelled up for the last few weekends of rehearsals to work on the sound cues. Her job entails knowing our choreography and some aerial vocabulary, as her sound cues are based on what we’re doing in the air. She’s also a constant safety for us, acting as an outside eye and responding to any little aches, bumps or bruises we inevitably sustain at various points throughout the process.

The music and costumes are also an important component. The music was composed by Rachel C Leger, and was created to suit the feel of the piece (nautical), with a flavour for each moment where music is used. The choreography was created separately, and married together in the last month of rehearsal. The costumes, designed by Lisa Magill (Toronto) were actually designed before most of the show was on its feet, in order to get promo shots long before opening.

MM: What would you like your audiences to know going in to see Rough Magic?

LB: You do not need to have a thorough understanding of The Tempest, or even Shakespeare in general, to follow the story. Although it is inspired by The Tempest, and based on clues from Shakespeare’s text, we purposely created a show that can stand alone and be enjoyed for its own story. For those audience members who have studied The Tempest, there is definitely an added layer.

Rough Magic

Company: Theatre Arcturus
Playwright/Creator: Phillip Psutka
Director Kevin Hammond
Cast: Lindsay Bellaire, Phillip Psutka
Choreographer: Lindsay Bellaire
Fight Director: Phillip Psutka

Set on a mystical island, ROUGH MAGIC follows the innocent beginnings and volatile consequences of a relationship between two unlikely beings: Ariel, an airy sprite; and Caliban, a ground-dwelling mortal. An intricate weaving of theatre, aerial work and music, the show confronts ideas of freedom and otherness through a story inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

WINNER: Cutting-Edge Award (2016 Toronto Fringe)
(5 stars) “Absolutely exquisite and mind blowing in its execution.” – My Entertainment World
(NNNN) “One of the most memorable shows at the Fest.” – NOW Magazine

736 Bathurst St, Toronto

9th July – 8:45pm
11th July – 1:00pm
13th July – 12:00pm
14th July – 5:45pm
15th July – 8:00pm


t: @TheatreArcturus
f: /theatreacturus
i: @theatrearcturus

Cirque is back – Amaluna hits TO

September 18th 2012

Interview by: Noah Vanderlaan

Stacy Clark worked in marketing and advertising, but somewhere in all that grown up career stuff discovered circus. She started flying trapeze with the Toronto School of Circus Arts in 1996 before founding her own troupe, High Strung. Yet there comes a time of transition in every acrobat’s life, and Stacy returned to her hometown of Montreal in 2006 to begin a career at Cirque Du Soleil. Amaluna, which premiered in Toronto two weeks ago, marks her shift from casting to acrobatic coaching. In the Green Room sat down with Stacy Clark to discuss how Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna presents a different spin on the traditional circus spectacle.

Coach Stacy Clark before Toronto premiere of Amaluna. Photo by Ben Freedman

NOAH VANDERLAAN: Amaluna is one of the first productions by Cirque du Soleil that really forefronts the role of women in the circus. What drove that decision?

STACY CLARK: Traditionally there have been more male circus artists and male acrobats, not only in Cirque but globally, particularly at the level that we’re looking for. A classic example might be a flying trapeze number, where you have several hotshot male flyers and a couple of beautiful girls who do lower level skills and sort of add a little bit of beauty and flare to the number, but they’re not necessarily delivering acrobatic caliber.

The intent behind Amaluna was to really turn the tables and try to pay tribute to the strength and skill of women, all of that of course put into the context of storytelling.

NV: Does this production possess the inherent potential to be a real game changer, in terms of equity, both for Cirque du Soleil and for circus troupes worldwide?

SC: Coming from a casting perspective, I regularly see certain disciplines as a breeding ground for more women than men or vice versa. What I think we’ve managed to do here is transcend the discipline and simply showcase powerful women with enormous talent, and that’s not just the acrobats, it extends to the musicians. It’s the first time we’ve had an all female band and they are rocking out with a power and aggression that is really noted by the public. People are responding to these talented four gals and their driving rock n’ roll sound. It’s again, another push in that direction.

NV: Are there particular segments of acrobatic choreography which you feel stand out?

SC: I’m a little biased, obviously, but I could probably highlight just about every act in the show. It was a very deliberate choice from the creative team to bring in the kinds of acts that we have, in order to showcase diversity and contrast, to find a great rhythm to the show so that we have the big acrobatic WOW and the more sublime still and enchanting numbers. For example the balance goddess takes you to a different place all together than the male teeter board number, which is all POW POW POW action acrobatics.

That said, the uneven bars act, performed by fiery Amazons, presents the strength and power of Amaluna. What we’ve done is taken a traditional Olympic discipline and put a Cirque du Soleil spin on it, creating new combinations and skills that aren’t done due to the confines of sport. Add in strong character development and choreography and the act transcends gymnastics and becomes circus.

Backstage at Cirque du Soleil’s Amaluna. Photo by Ben Freedman

NV: I’m super stoked to check out this play.

SC: I think it’s interesting that you call it a play. That’s nice, it’s an element that the director is striving for, to bring a more theatrical bend to the presentation of what circus is traditionally know for, which is high level acrobatics. It’s kind of nice to have the reflection that maybe Amaluna presents a little more than what people have seen before.

NV: It does seem like a hybrid, and without giving much away incorporates Greek and Roman character references, and Shakespearian plot elements. What’s next, for the show and for you personally?

SC: We are here for 2 months before moving to Vancouver. For me personally, I’ve really enjoyed the transition from casting to coaching, and it’s still so new that I’ve got little ways to go yet. My perspective on the touring life is that it’s city by city; every city brings with it a whole new set of experiences and challenges.

NV: Any words of inspiration for someone who is looking to break into the circus community?

SC: Yes: follow your bliss. It’s really important to set your sights on what it is that you love the most. There’s no greater privilege than going to work every day in an environment that you love, surrounded by people that you want to be with. When you love your job it’s no longer a job in the traditional sense. For our artists, being and working here has been a dream of theirs for a very long time. To go back to my casting perspective a bit, Cirque du Soleil is absolutely accessible and available as a terrific career option, it’s a very special and unique organization and you just have to go for it.  It takes a lot of work. This is not easy, and everybody here works really really hard, but the privilege of being on stage and sharing what you love with the public is insurmountable.

Amaluna Runs from Sep 6  to Nov 4. $58.50-$158.50, stu/srs/child from $43.50. Grand Chapiteau Tent, Port Lands, Commissioners at Cherry.