Something ‘Wild’: Once again, the new circus comes to Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre
When Noah Dach, a 2016 Muhlenberg College graduate and fellow student Henry Evans decided they wanted to run away and join the circus, they instead created their own.
Dach, Evans and Tommy McCarthy co-founded the Atlas Circus Company, which has been developing performances in and around New York City since the trio graduated from Muhlenberg College. McCarthy is assistant director of “Wild.”
In part, they wanted to new opportunities for circus performers in an era when once-popular circus companies like Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are shutting down. Ringling Bros., founded in 1871 and which billed itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” gave its final performance May 21 in Uniondale, Long Island, N.Y.
Atlas Circus Company is presenting the world premiere of “Wild,” a new circus production, as part of Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, June 28 - July 29, Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance. The show fills a slot in the MSMT schedule typically reserved for a family musical.
Atlas Circus Company is part of the contemporary, or new circus (nouveau cirque, as it’s known in French-speaking countries) movement, first developed during the 1970s. Typically, a story or a theme is told through traditional circus skills. Animals are rarely used. Traditional circus skills are blended with an aesthetic of character and story development, original music, costume design and lighting design.
Contemporary circus companies include Royal Lichtenstein Circus, founded in San Jose, Calif., in 1970; Circus Oz, founded in Australia in 1977, and, perhaps best-known, Cirque du Soleil, founded in Quebec, Canada, in 1984.
“Wild,” a one-hour, all-ages show, tells the story of a boy who ventures into the unknown, meets different characters, had has adventures along the way. There’s acrobatics, clowning, juggling, dance, and magic. The cast of 10 (eight perform in any given performance) are Muhlenberg College students and alumni.
“Kids will love it, adults will love it,” says Dach, writer and co-director of “Wild.”
“There is a fantastical story and spectacular circus arts. We use a narrative, it’s about running away from home, and the theme of family, with elements of familiar stories like ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’” Dach says.
Scott Snyder, Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre & Dance Marketing and Development Manager, describes “Wild” as “in the model of Cirque du Soleil.”
As Snyder points out, ”The circus is coming to Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre this summer, but don’t expect any elephants.”
“That’s not what circus is really about anymore,” says Dach. “It’s about telling a story. And it’s about doing spectacular, amazing things like juggling, aerial acrobatics and magic.”
“‘Wild’ has been evolving as a circus performance through our dance program here at Muhlenberg,” says Snyder, “It is my favorite thing I’ve seen on stage all year, showcasing acrobatics and human performances with theatrical design and lighting. It’s really designed to be captivating to audiences of all ages.”
“Wild” is Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre’s first foray into modern circus performance, although interest in circus has been growing rapidly among students in Muhlenberg’s Theatre & Dance Department, according to Snyder.
The department has offered aerial acrobatics classes since 2011. Dach was among a group of theater and dance students who co-founded a Circus Workshop group in 2012. The Workshop’s performances grew more elaborate with time, until the group was producing full-scale, sold-out circus productions in the college’s major theater venues.
“We have a lot of students who are quite talented circus performers,” says Karen Dearborn, Chair of Muhlenberg College’s Dance Program. Dearborn choreographed a dance piece incorporating aerial acrobatics for last season’s “Master Choreographers” concert, which featured Dach, Evans and McCarthy in its cast of eight dancers. “They have brought a whole new dimension to the dance program. It’s been very exciting to watch.”
“Wild” is the fourth original world-premiere family production from Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. For each of the past three years, MSMT has produced an original piece by the Doppelskope company: “Gruff!” in 2014, “Grimm!” in 2015, and last season’s “Growl!” “Gruff!” has since been produced in New York City and is headed for an Off-Broadway run at the Vital Theatre Company in August.
Doppelskope co-founder Christopher Scheer, and co-creator of the three productions, is on hand again this summer as clowning director for “Wild.” Scheer, a 2007 Muhlenberg College graduate, plays one of the denizens of the woods that the young boy meets, and brings his clowning expertise to the show’s several comedic sequences. He and the rest of the cast also juggle, hang from silks, perform magic, and create an elaborate sound machine.
“This is a really demanding show,” says Dach. “The cast goes full-tilt for the entire hour, and they’re doing it 40 times. They’re going to be in the best shape of their lives by the end of the summer.”
Free 45-minute workshops are offered after each performance for those in attendance who can try their hands at the circus arts. Daytime Adventure Workshops are for children ages 4 to 12, and will feature clowning and juggling alongside creative movement and storytelling activities. Evening workshops are meant for participants of all ages, and will focus on developing basic circus skills. This is the third season for MSMT’s summer workshop program, with more than 500 participants each year.
Relaxed (sensory friendly) performances will be offered at 10 a.m. July 8 and 1 p.m. July 13, for children with Autism and other sensory processing challenges. Lighting and sound levels are adapted to minimize sensory impact. Patrons will have easy access to the lobby during the performance. Concessions will be available during the show. Patrons are welcome to bring sensory tools, cushions, and quiet manipulatives for use during the performance. Visual guides are available for download. The event is sponsored by ARCH of Lehigh Valley (Autism Resource Community Hub).
Audio Description for patrons who are blind or low-vision will be offered at 1 p.m. July 20. Patrons who utilize this service will wear headphones, and will be able to hear a description of the action on stage as it takes place.
“Wild,” 10 a.m., 1 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday; 10 a.m., 6:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, June 28 - July 29, Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St. Allentown. Tickets: Muhlenberg College box office, Trexler Pavilion for Theater and Dance, 2400 Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/SMT; 484-664-3333.