20 August 2013

Market Report on “Oz Incorporated”

Earlier in the summer I caught a performance of Circus Smirkus’s “Oz Incorporated” show. Each year this traveling youth circus has a theme, lately one based on some cultural milieu of the twentieth century: superheroes, journalism, pirates, westerns, science fiction. Sometimes those shows have had narrative arcs.

This year’s production took its inspiration from The Wizard of Oz (mostly the 1939 movie rather than the book). But it didn’t really try to retell the story; rather, the show relied on audiences recognizing moments and characters from the source material and tying those together for themselves.

This show also shifted the setting of Oz to a modern office building and corporation—think How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Thus, the Wizard is a charlatan CEO, Glinda his executive assistant, and the Munchkins hand-puppet workers in a phone bank. The usual arch to the backstage was treated as an elevator door. I’m not sure how much of that biting satire the youngest members of the audience got.

The Scarecrow came on as a mop-headed, mop-wielding janitor in the building. The Tin Woodman was introduced through a juggling act, with a juggling club doubling as his oil can. And the Cowardly Lion was a big fellow in a suit, too soft-hearted for the corporate world. Interestingly, the Wicked Witch of the West was played by a young man in a stylized modern performance.

But I don’t want to put too much weight on Smirkus’s narratives because they’re really just strings to hold the pearls of the acrobatic and clowning acts. Thus, the Emerald City guards performed on unicycles and trampolines, the Flying Monkeys on trapeze, and the lions and tigers and bears on slack and tight ropes. The Wizard performed several bits of poor magic and also came out as a giant head on stilts.

When I first saw Circus Smirkus perform decades ago, the performers came in a wide range of ages. The same held true when the organization was featured on the Disney documentary series Totally Circus. But today most of the cast are in their mid-teens, young adults rather than older kids.

Every year I hope to see Smirkus present tricks I hadn’t seen before, and the show rarely disappoints. This year those were slack-wire techniques, new moves with juggling clubs, and a unicycle with three wheels. Like this.

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