A circus set to perform in Homer finds that their gear and performers went to Arkansas instead after either an honest mistake involving state initials or perhaps a more intentional error. With a policy of never canceling a show and 48 hours to go, the Spalding Family Circus is holding open auditions.
So goes the plot of the play “Circus Auditions,” showing at Mariner Theatre April 15 and 21 at 7:30 p.m. and April 22 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. The show is a Homer original written by Sally Oberstein and Michael McKinney, choreographed Ann Gittinger and directed by Oberstein.
“It’s a musical comedy about a circus that loses all its performers and has to come up with new performers,” McKinney said.
The first part of the show is the auditions for the circus, while the second half deals with the actual circus show, Oberstein said.
“There are differences that have to be resolved and there’s a little romantic interlude. The person who owns the circus — so we think — is something between Cruella de Vil and the Wicked Witch of West and he’s driving it in a not so great direction,” Oberstein said. “But of course Homer is overcome with all kinds of things and it ends up being a great experience for everybody. I don’t want to give away what happens but its a heartwarming story.”
Oberstein and McKinney asked Ken Castner — producer of the Homer Nutcracker – if he would produce a show for them and he said he would, if they used an idea he had been holding onto for 30 years.
Castner wanted to do a show about a circus focusing on the audition process and the idea that a performer never knows who is watching them perform. When he first started producing the Nutcracker in the late-1980s, he brought up the idea of a show called Circus Circus to the then-choreographer but tabled it for lack of interest, Castner said.
“It’s about the whole thing in life where you always want to do your best. You never know who’s watching you, whether its the first show or the last show. Some people kind of walk through it, but you never know who’s watching,” Castner said. “In all my years in theatre, I have this thing about relationships between audiences and performers. Without an audience, there’s not much of an art. It’s like a tree falling in the forest. I always stress with the kids, you can’t make them fidget or wait for you.”
Oberstein and McKinney, who also wrote The Wizard of Odds and The Sixties Show, took Castner’s idea and gave it life throughout the month of January.
“We would sit down and say, ‘Where do we want to take this?’ We would take hours pacing the floor, telling a lot of bad jokes before we found a good one, and saying, ‘What about this?’” We’ve written several other shows together. It’s a process of finding what really fits Homer,” Oberstein said.
Part of the process could not be finished before the cast was set, Oberstein said. She and McKinney waited to see who would be cast before they finished the play so that everyone involved would be able to contribute something of value to the show based on their unique talents. Many performers familiar to the Homer theatre community can be seen on stage in Circus Auditions, including Nancy Chastain as a mime, Britny Bradshaw as the circus secretary, McKinney as the circus ringleader, and Brian Duffy and Susan Singer Alvarez as roustabouts — circus workers who handle a broad range of tasks.
“That is just a splinter of how many great performers there are,” Oberstein said.
The process of rehearsing the show and watching the actors settle into their characters has been a fulfilling experience for both Oberstein and McKinney, they said.
“It’s a pleasure to watch these people and watch them bring something Sally and I wrote in her kitchen alive,” McKinney said.
The production has been full of laughter since it began, Castner said.
“It’s very very fun. Ever since the auditions for the show, everybody has been having so much fun. The people in the audience watching the auditions were clapping. It’s been a wonderful experience,” Castner said. “Sally said if the world ended tomorrow it’s okay with her because we’ve had so much fun putting it together.”