by kellie abrahamson
With so many cirque shows making the rounds it’s getting increasingly difficult to decide which to see or even tell one from another. This month UNF is bringing one that is completely unique and is absolutely worth your time. Birdhouse Factory was a sensation off-Broadway and now it’s coming to the Fine Arts Center for one night only. Chris Lashua, who is not only a performer in Birdhouse Factory but also the show’s co-creator and creative director, was kind enough to speak with EU about the show. Here’s what he had to say:
EU: How did you get started with the circus? What made you want to start your own show?
CL: My background is actually in bicycles and BMX. I used to do what’s now the X-Games, vertical and skate ramp kind of work on a bike, and I was at a festival in China and I met one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil there back in 92…I worked for Cirque du Soleil for a number of years performing… and I was doing an act called the German Wheel, which is a seven foot wheel that you roll around [in] and steer around like a big coin. I was performing that with them and I built an apparatus that the wheel would sit on top of, like a set of rollers… and I started to build other machines after that and the idea for creating a show that would use these machines and showcase the interaction between acrobats and mechanical devices was really striking and kind of powerful to me… and I left Cirque to do freelance work and to try to pursue this idea. Luckily for me two of the people that I was working with on these machines were involved with… a circus training facility called the Circus Center of San Francisco. They do an annual show and they were interested in having this mechanical apparatus show… So we produced the show in 2005 and we’ve been doing it ever since.
EU: Give us an idea of the story that takes place in Birdhouse Factory.
CL: The Birdhouse Factory is actually a widget factory in the first act. It’s an oppressive workplace in the 1940s and the workers line up for work …and they do their jobs in a way that is the way we might think people did in these kinds of dark smoky places…years ago. In the first act the choreography is a bit heavier, a little bit more chunky, and midway through the first act a bird flies into the factory. As a result of the bird flying in, the workers completely lose interest in the work. The bird has an accident. I won’t say what it is, but as a result of that accident and the workers’ interest in taking care of the bird, they neglect their duties…and things change very much between the first and the second act in the show. The first act [the factory is] the traditional, linear, conveyer belts and machines and in the second act [it’s a] much more wacky, non-linear, Rube Goldberg-like contraption factory. The acts that happen in that second act are more playful and nonsensical, there’s clowning and things like that. So it’s really two days in the factory and one day is the day the bird enters and the [other] day in the second act is many months later when the factory has undergone this radical change.
EU: What inspired the show’s setting and story?
CL: It actually was kind of reverse engineering. These mechanical contraptions came first and early on when we were looking for a setting we thought it would be cool to have a factory setting. It’s something that is not logical for circus but very logical for these machines and contraptions. I had seen an illustration for some paintings that were done by the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. He was commissioned by the Ford Motor Company in the late 20s to do murals at the Detroit Industry Museum and essentially they were murals to glorify the assembly line. These murals show men and women working in the factory and [they have] this really great, chunky, blocky kind of iconic factory feel; machine-age kind of style. Those became the inspiration for the look of what would become Birdhouse Factory. So, it really started with the machines, the machines begot the setting: factory, and then the decision was made what kind, what style. Those murals really helped determine color pallets, the costumes, art directions for scenic elements and set design. The murals kind of informed the work of the entire show. From there, once we had a show set in a factory in the 1940s, the [question] was “What are we going to make in the factory?” and it was kind of a cool thought to make something completely illogical. This is a factory that looks like it should be making bombs or something. It’s an industrial, dark place and it makes birdhouses. Why does it make birdhouses? So we decided to explore what might have happened in this industrial widget factory to make people change their minds and make something that is completely whimsical and fun.
EU: Who does this show appeal to?
CL: This is something we deal with all the time because it was created for a family audience so there’s clowning and there’s stuff that’s appropriate for kids but most of us come from Cirque du Soleil where the focus really has never been about kids, it’s mostly aimed at the 25 to 45 year old crowd with money… [Still] the setting itself, the 1940s… there’s a nostalgia there that appeals to people that are older. There’s kind of an intelligence in the way that the scene is set and the set is used that really appeals to people who might have a mechanical or engineering background. Then there’s dance and choreography which is aimed at people who are more used to going to straight-up theatre or dance shows. So it’s got a pretty wide range of appeal. We don’t target any one [group].
Birdhouse Factory will be at the UNF Fine Arts Center on March 27th at 7:30 pm. Tickets range in price from $32 to $42 and can be bought online at unf.edu/fineartscenter. You can also order them by phone through the box office at 620-2878. To get a sneak peek of photos and videos of the show, visit birdhousefactoryshow.com.
twist, turn, tweet
by kellie abrahamson