Theatre Review: “Zirkus Grimm” at Q Artistry

"Zirkus Grimm" Q Artistry

I’ve been thinking about “originality” a lot lately.  Artistic director Ben Asaykwee often describes Q Artistry as a theatre company that is devoted to producing original works.

Ironically, most of the shows they’ve done in Indianapolis so far have been adaptations of other works.  “Cabaret Poe,” for example, was a musical adaptation of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.  “Bot” was a robot opera based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.  “Perry Haughter” was a musical spoof of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.  And so on.

Even the first show I saw from Q Artistry, back in 2010, “USO: Songs of War,” was basically a collection of popular songs from World War Two, loosely tied together by a frame story about letter writing between soldiers and the folks back home.

I am not complaining about any of this.  Of the several Q shows I’ve seen so far, every single one has brimmed over with creativity, freshness, wit, skill, talent, and successful collaboration.  Every single one includes in its adaptation some totally new material in the form of music, choreography, dialogue, perspective, and more.  That is definitely a kind of originality.  I mean come on: “The Fowl” was a two-part musical re-enactment of Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” by an all-child cast except for the Ostrich, with the second part told from the point of view of the birds.  If that is not original, I don’t know what is.

Most importantly, all Q shows include a love and a mischievous respect for the previous works.

I mention all this in prelude to talking about the world premiere of Q Artistry’s newest show, “Zirkus Grimm,” as a way of saying yes, there are umpty-billion adaptations of the spoken stories that folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected and wrote down from the everyday people that were telling them (and adapting them!) around their hearth fires in Germany in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  Some adaptations are quite bad, some are ho-hum, and some are informative and/or enjoyable.

I bet none of the others is as all-out intriguing as this one is. 

Here are the main three reasons I love this show and had to see it twice. (I would see it again if I could.)

  1. It actually combines two iconic things – Grimm stories and the circus – seamlessly and gives us a lot to think about.  I love shows that give me a lot to think about.
  2. It is richly layered artistically.  It includes dark-yet-sparkling music, poetry, dancing, storytelling, juggling, flirting and more.  All are performed exquisitely on a very cool set with costumes that tell stories of their own.  All are well blended into a coherent, if almost surreal, whole that addresses all of the senses.
  3. It is richly layered psychologically.  Being in the audience feels like being in a lucid dream.  You observe things like a clown pulling a rope from a guy’s fly and it turning into Rapunzel’s hair but you don’t question it because you know you’re dreaming.

There is a lot to take in.  I’m going to write about my two experiences of the show below as a way of processing them for myself and not worry about spoilers.  If you’re thinking of going (and I always encourage people to experience a show for themselves and form their own opinions), I would make reservations right away, not just because the first five of seven nights sold out but because the Irvington Lodge venue has been transformed into an intimate circus tent with the audience sitting around the edges inside.  The large cast uses every square inch of unoccupied floor space under the black “big top.”  Management will not be able to cram in extra chairs to accommodate crowds.

If you do get in, you’ll literally be rubbing elbows with the circus folk.  They are as thrilling as live wolves.

So leave the little kids at home.  This isn’t a Disney show.

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