By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
THE CLOCK WITH the attached antlers reads a minute shy of 11 p.m., and like elves in the cobbler's workshop, the construction crew of Bare Bones Productions are busily putting the finishing touches on their own impossible task: the Circus Berserkus Halloween pageant. Or not quite the finishing touches. The room, some 30-feet square with a high tin ceiling, is stocked to overflow with dozens of puppets, maybe hundreds--helmets, pods, shadow silhouettes, skulls, and skeleton stilts--all made from materials dumpstered, begged, borrowed, and (you didn't hear it here) possibly stolen.
Which is to say that it's business as usual for this rag-tag army of volunteers. Or business as unusual. Or, to put a point on it, not business at all. For Bare Bones' Halloween production--a messy and glorious outdoor performance spectacle--has now reached its fourth year with no hint of the onset of institutional maturity. Last year's final show, held in cruel 5 degree weather, attracted some 230 people to the banks of the Mississippi near the abandoned St. Paul power station--with no press releases, no newspaper blurbs, and no appreciable advertising. It was a sprawling two (or three?) hours of inspired lunacy (and some true magic too) featuring 50-odd performers engaged in ritual ceremony, seasonal skits, Sapphic love chants...and a mock-defibrillation. Call it kids' fare only if you dare.
"It was very big," says Susan, one of the producers, about last year's model. "A lot bigger than we were ready to deal with." That show was the product of $10,000 in grant money, which inspired some dangerously outsized ambitions. There were three performances, along with workshops, internships, and, according to Susan, "many spaghetti dinners," to sort it all out. This year, Bare Bones has returned to their namesake aesthetic, mounting a circus-themed show in Minnehaha Park on the $500 left over from the grant, while also attempting a new, seemingly unimaginable artistic goal: decentralizing what was already utter chaos.
To this extent, the extravaganza has been divided into three distinct segments--the sideshow, the parade, and the pageant--with individual performers and groups staging their own material. Amy and Stephania, for example, will manipulate a 15-foot anaconda, which they're now beginning to coat with lavender paint. It's an impressive creature, constructed in dozens of articulated segments from Cub Foods cardboard, and Stephania--who politely refuses to name her day job--admits that its construction probably represents the better part of 75 hours.
While the serpent-girls have based their detailed design on pre-existing plans, Mark, a 31-year-old Montessori teacher, seems to run a more makeshift operation. He's close-cropped, soft-spoken, and fairly slight, and, without making too much of it, the hemispheres of his face don't exactly seem to match. Mark's 3/4-scale elephant--which has recently been seen around town strapped to the roof of his hearse--reflects some really alarming ingenuity.
The skeleton is constructed of PVC tubing, the hide from black roofing insulation. A wicker chair constitutes the covered skull, and copper piping and a three-pronged grabber will operate the trunk. Mark has scrounged nearly all of these materials, and if that achievement weren't enough, he'll also climb inside the 70-pound beast and perambulate atop 5-foot stilts. "I tried it out at rehearsal," Mark says, "and after 20 minutes my kidneys hurt. So I bought a one-dollar weight belt at the Salvation Army to support the frame."
And then the phone rings--which, like the clock, sports papier-mâché antlers. ("You can use it just like a normal phone," Mark jokes.) It's Suzy, this year's director, calling for a status report. "It's going to be a tight, strong show," she says while Maren and Julian, veterans of the erratic and ultra-low-profile Bedlam Theatre, beat each other with foam batons--"abuse therapy," they call it. A printed card beside the antler-phone a few feet away defines the snigglet "Helmp" as follows: 1. Cantankerous self-sacrifice performed half-wittingly at the expense of thoroughness.
"The show's going to be beautiful and meaningful," Suzy continues--and the strangest thing of all is that she's probably right. The production, she says, will somehow be ready a week from now, though she reports that "there are puppets that still exist only in our imaginations." And without a sprinkling of fairy dust, it's difficult to imagine they'll ever emerge from that realm.
That is, unless the nimble, third-shift elf helpers punch in at the workshop come midnight.
Circus Berserkus: A Carnival of Spirits begins Friday at 7 p.m., next to Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park; call 341-1038.