Feature Vol. II, No. 4

 

 

GYPSY SNIDER HELPS BRING CIRCUS TO BROADWAY

 IN REVIVAL OF THE MUSICAL PIPPIN

The 7 Fingers production company was founded in Montreal by six young circus artists and their CEO mentor back in 2002.  One of the company’s founders was Gypsy Snider, an American whose parents founded the Pickle Family Circus, in which she began her performing career.  The troupe debuted their first production titled Loft in San Francisco in conjunction with the Circus Center there.  All six of them were involved in performing in this production.  Henceforth they were rarely performing together and their interests turned toward producing and directing.  Within a few years the company produced several productions at the South Street Seaport Spiegel tent and others that toured internationally.  The show that has changed everything for them, however, has been Traces, which made its United States debut once again in San Francisco and recently took New York City by storm and played an extended engagement there in an off Broadway venue.

While in New York Traces drew the attention of numerous people in the theatrical industry.  One of these was Barry Weissler.  He and his wife Fran are the producers of the long running champ Chicago.  He was impressed enough to express interest in working with the company at some point in the future.  Another person drawn to the company’s work, and in particular its talent for making an emotional and visceral connection with acrobatics, was Diane Paulus who had already won renown as the director of the Broadway revivals of Porgy and Bess and Hair.  She was at the time directing Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring production AmaLŭma.

The project that brought them all—Snider, Paulus, and Weissler—together was the American Repertory Theatre’s proposed revival of the 1972 musical Pippin.  Paulus’s idea was to stage the musical as if it were a circus production.  It was the ideal situation in which to enlist the help of Gypsy Snider.  The characteristic of the company’s work Paulus so admired was to be a vital element in the way circus and acrobatics were incorporated into the emerging production, in which the circus was seen as integral to the show’s theme of wanting to be extraordinary.  That was back in 2011.  Snider has been working on the show on and off for the past two and a half years.

It all began, as these projects are wont to do, with a two week workshop that was staged in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of ART.  It proved successful enough to warrant further work which eventually culminated in a full production in Cambridge, which quickly created a buzz in the New York theatrical community that brought the Weisslers in as Broadway producers.

This brought the Pippin company back to New York for further rehearsals which were held in the Union Square off-Broadway theatre where Traces has been in residence for over a year.   Having had her show there Snider knew that they could rig the stage with what they needed in order to proceed.

One of the most difficult aspects of getting the show up for the Cambridge run involved the casting.  “I had to be very particular to find people who were strong acrobatically, had serious circus background, and were very versatile,” Snider explains.  “I only wanted seven acrobats who could also fit the parts they were to play in the show.”  In addition they had to be able to sing, have a strong stage presence and be stage savvy,    A couple of the people she chose she had worked with previously on various productions of  Traces and other 7 Finger productions.  One of these was Philip Rosenberg, who had also been a student of Snider’s in San Francisco years earlier and had also worked in Cirque Mechanic’s Birdhouse. Two were French and had been her students in the Canadian national circus school. The one hire who was not from the circus was Olga Karmansky, who had a strong background in Olympic competition of rhythmic gymnastics.  She was selected in particular for her contortion skills.  One of this group, Victoria Grimmy and her mother also provided another skill needed for the show.  They created the quick change costumes for one of the show’s stars Charlotte d’Amboise.

So skilled and versatile were those chosen to provide the circus skills, it was simply a matter for Snider to pick and choose which of the skills she wanted to use in various numbers.  As the show was being staged the choreographer Chet Walker, Snider and Paulus worked together as a trio throughout.  In helping to create a world of circus, Snider was in on all the discussions including even the set design and rigging. “I was really there to help Diane create this vision.  I was integral in the creative process from day one.”  Snider says.  She also introduced Paulus to costume designer, Dominique Lemieux, who had designed all of the early Cirque du Soleil productions working with Franco Dragone. “I wanted someone with knowledge of circus and the body,” she explains.  “The visual aspect of the production is based on the traditional circus; it’s not about contemporary circus; it’s about the big top and the nomadic feeling of a circus troupe magically appearing.”

The production also contains a good deal of illusion, which, once again was created out of the central collaboration.  They did bring in Paul Kieve to help on the magic, and Nancy Harrington, associate director, had experience working with Bill Irwin and working with magic and illusion.  In addition another of the show’s stars, Terrence Mann had a lot of circus background.  He had worked with the Big Apple Circus people on Barnum and had studied circus and clowning.

Prior to the New York premiere, April 25, Snider has been living in the city since February 21st, and by the time the press reviews began she was anxious to get back home to Montreal, her husband and children.  But she will hardly be idle while there.  This summer will find the 7 Fingers company in Latin America and Mexico with their developing production called Amuse.  In the meantime several of their productions will be touring the world.  Traces is currently touring the states, and Patinoire, her husband’s one man clown show is in France.  La Vie will also be in Mexico City, and Loft, will finish its year-long run in Berlin.

But having a raft of shows touring the world is not the company’s real goal. “We are trying for a diversified product, not so many touring shows.  We create our shows rather delicately, and we are talking about creating a repertory company,” she says. “We are all hands on.”  Another source of gratification is watching the people in their shows grow and develop their talents for directing and production.  “We love working with people to develop a style and more and more people are able to go from one show to another, so we are talking about a repertory company.”

On the subject of Pippin, Snider says, “It has been one of the most enriching experiences of my career. My story telling has always been inspired by musical theater and seeing that the two worlds can really meld is gratifying, and I am honored to be a part of it.”