Summer of Ballyhoo

Amy Danielson

Few things in life genuinely terrify me. But when the possibility of missing a traveling circus enters my mind, my heart palpitates and I develop an unsightly rash.My mind races, as I compare my calendar to the local theater listings. Luckily, a feeling of relief usually comes over me, my vital stats normalize, and I realize that there are still days before my much anticipated shows come to town. The two shows I’m about to reveal already have a hold on me; I dream about arriving late to the wrong theater on the wrong day in the wrong city as my ice cream cone drips all over my new shoes. But I won’t let it happen ñ especially not with these two shows, which look to be as fantastical a pair of circuses as can be imagined.

First up, in the intimate Bedlam Studio there is Strombolli’s Island of Donkeys and Dolls. As much a touring cabaret act of poets and musicians as a circus, this San Francisco-based troupe, devised by author Michelle Tea, combines circus elements with storytelling, oneiric poetry and improv. The show features non-traditional circus spectacles, such as a transgendered clown named Morty Diamond (a past performer with Circus Ridikulous, a punk rockinspired troupe famous for their performances at the Burning Man festival), and a queer/trans hip-hop duo. There won’t be tightrope walkers or lion tamers in this show, but it still celebrates everyone’s inner sideshow freak: on hand will be shocking spoken word performances delivered by oddly dressed cast members, which might very well be the carnival barking of this new millennium. And part of the magic of the circus is their ability to disappear as quickly as they arrive ñ catch them before they sneak away to the next city on their 28-stop tour.

With acts named “Voodoo Juggling”, “Beetle Tamer” and “Necrobalancing,” we can expect nothing less than utter ballyhoo from a Seattle-based troupe called Circus Contraption. The troupe is on tour this summer, and the Twin Cities is lucky to have them stop locally ñ they will be at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater for two days during their circuit.

While most productions that grace HOBT’s stage cater to children and like-minded adults, this traveling show is not for naïve anklebiters. The coming show may or may not include the following: Tales of a sexy, yet iniquitous, dung-hurling beetle told by ringmaster, Armitage Shanks; nightmarish juggling routines; evil aerialists; and a cabaret act of rejected children further dejected on the playground. An sinister twist is given to traditional circus fare with mordacious characters seemingly out of a Shockheaded Peter poem (stupefying puppets included). The HOBT recommends against bringing children, but they would probably take delight in this show nonetheless ñ however, naive moppets probably should be spared the site of a circus bassist donning leather fetish attire. Speaking of which: It may will be this circus’s haunting “carnival opera”music that gives this circus such a sinister ambiance (see their Website at www.circuscontraption.com for more information). The eerie sounds of a theremin, a wailing electronic instrument much loved by the troupe, can raise goosebumps entirely on its own. Also, in accordance with carnival tradition, Circus Contraption delights in presenting wicked midway games during intermission. Compare the following to more traditional Midway games found at the State Fair: Circus Contraption invites you to toss a cock-ring on a dildo or throw a money bag through the hole in a politician’s head for a prize.

According to the critics, this is vintage vaudeville at its best, folks.Who knows, perhaps they’ll soon have the resources to rival Cirque du Soleil. Step right up.

Stromboli’s Island of Donkeys and Dolls plays at the Bedlam Theater on September 11, (612) 341-1038.

Circus Contraption plays September 13 and 14 at the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.