‘Wunderage’ is the daring new circus show that involves the audience

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‘Wunderage’ is the daring new circus show that involves the audience

Photo: Rob Blackburn
Words by Augustus Welby

Circus Oz shows always include a range of daring physical feats executed by a troupe of multi-faceted performers unafraid to push themselves to the limit.

Wunderage – a collaboration with Brisbane independent circus operators, Company 2 – is no different. However, this time the audience can get involved in a very real way.

Taking place at Meat Market, North Melbourne from Thursday June 20 to Sunday June 30, Circus Oz have done away with seating in order to bring the audience into the action. It’s the final show for Circus Oz Artistic Director, Rob Tannion, before he moves on to Cirque du Soleil. Tannion details the layout and organisation of the interactive setup.

“The Meat Market’s in two halves, probably about 30 minutes long each side. So, we’re using the entire cobble stone half of the space and we’ve taken out all the staging and everything on the theatre end of it,” Tannion says. “There’s four tight wires in the show – one at one metre, two at two metres and a four-and-a-half metre high one – and then some other apparatus platforms around the space.”

There is an element of choose-your-own-adventure to Wunderage, but the action is precisely conducted and there aren’t always multiple things happening at once. There are times when the audience is guided by the music and times when they’re guided by direct interaction with the performers.

“All the test audiences and the dress rehearsal, you’ve got some people who are adventurous and want to see the bodies tremble or get up close and others that go, ‘No, actually I need to be five metres further back so I can get the whole picture’,” says Tannion.

Everything in the show is elevated above the audience. There are performers walking on a tight wire, people on pointe shoes on a tight wire, people jumping over people on tight wires and even someone riding a bicycle on the high wire. There’s also a handstand act on top of a three-metre high platform, a Chinese pole act, and a balance bike act on an elevated platform.

“There’s an acrobatic stacks-on routine,” says Tannion. “We’ve got a beautiful old Ford flatbed truck, which is acting as the band stage and that’s parked in the venue. And then we’ve got some general acrobatics that happen in the space and on the floor.”

Live music always figures prominently in Circus Oz productions. Bonnie Stewart and Grant Arthur are the nimble musicians handling Wunderage’s live soundtrack.

“Bonnie is vocals and drums/percussion, but also plays guitar. We’ve got Grant who plays everything – guitar to piano to slide guitar to trombone,” Tannion says. “We’ve ripped out the guts of the piano and we’ve mounted it on an old horse-and-cart, which they play percussively at one point in the show.”

The inclusion of the cart and the Ford truck is an indication of the show’s intentionally nostalgic edge. The costumes, designed by Harriet Oxley, are also very nostalgic.

“We did talk a lot about what was and what is,” says Tannion. “There’s a real look back at some old school nostalgic circus costumes. There’s a real sense of nostalgia when you enter the space, which is exactly what we want to do. Obviously, the Meat Market is an old historical building.”

The production’s advertising tagline is “the tightrope between who we are and who we might become.” Tannion co-directed Wunderage with Company 2’s Chelsea McGuffin and the pair were unapologetic about embedding the production in a specific era.

“One of the points that we talked about was that, even now in 2019, circus is viewed as still a very nostalgic artform. Theatrically, Company 2 does look at very specific eras, so the fact that we went back into the 1950-60s costume-wise was really good, and it marries itself to this space.”

Wunderage runs from Friday June 21 until Sunday June 30 at North Melbourne’s Meat Market. Tickets and more information via the Circus Oz website.