On July 24 of this year, someone going by the name "Lizardy Guts" posted a plea to an online community called pyronymphomania ("for fire lovers everywhere"). Alongside comments about poi manipulation ("The 'whoosh' of the lit poi moving past my head is simply amazing"), fire eating, and other incendiary-related activities ("a few years back I got into some trouble with some explosives") came a call for assistance. A one-ring, Seattle-based troupe by the name of Circus Contraption had been scheduled to play a venue called Cell Space in San Francisco, a show that "was to be their big money maker," according to the post.
But the show had been cancelled at the Cell Space venue, and quickly rescheduled to the Odeon Bar, where they would be performing for "whatever piddly sum they place on the door." In a fair impersonation of the style of the carnival "talented talker" (sometimes called a "barker," although never by carnies), the online plea promised the following acts: "SEE!! Giant Bug Taming by the Sexy Sexy Darty Kangoo! HEAR!! Vocal Acrobatics and punctilious vervosity by Armitage Shanks and the Circus Contraption Band!!"
"The dead rise," the message further promised, "the fallen are caught, the wheels are ridden, and the makeup is smeared!!" Lizardy Guts concluded with a more down-to-earth coda: "Plus, they are worth it, and probably very broke."
Circus Contraption must have found some sort of an audience that night, because here it is a month and a half later, and they are on their way to the Twin Cities. They will perform this weekend at In the Heart of the Beast Theatre, which has been online posting pleas of its own, looking for volunteers to house 13 members of the troupe. Even if we are not easily astonished at the tail end of this summer of circuses, we must nonetheless marvel at the troupe's versatility. Circus Contraption will scarcely resemble Cirque du Soleil, although the two share a love for greasepaint, and both draw from similar physical arts. Both feature juggling and feats of balancing and both seem to take perverse pleasure in live brass instruments. But ignore these superficial similarities. If the central image of Cirque du Soleil is a band of whiteface clowns dressed in feathered and bangled uniforms, prancing around while traditional circus performances fly overhead, Circus Contraption has a very different image to offer us. Their mascots are called "Baby aardvark ballerinas," and they are the grotesque, masked figures in the photograph above. They perform clumsy pliés while others in the show set up for the next mordant, imaginative act--which actually includes giant bug taming, as promised by our online talented talker.
The Heart of the Beast is quick to point out that only one of the three shows this weekend is suitable for children--a matinee on Saturday, where younger audience members will be spared the company's bawdier material. This often includes a ring toss with a clown-faced performer in an open trench coat, exposing a strapped-on target--although Circus Contraption might offer a different bally game for adults this time round. Never mind: There shall be plenty to gape at nonetheless. They have regularly been performing a rather goofy routine called "Baroque Wrestlers," in which two performers in the costumes of French dandies tug away at each other. Additionally, we can be fairly sure to see their famous "Beer Bottle Orchestra," in which amazing harmonies are created by the troupe blowing into half-empty glass bottles.
This is a good time for such things. We are at the end of a year that was marked by a tragedy of fire, steel, and great heights, and I suppose there is something to the fact that this show is dominated by performers who tame fire, bend steel, and have no fear of falling. Where, in fact, the dead rise and the fallen are caught.