Theater turns inside out at Perry-Mansfield Premieres in Steamboat |

Theater turns inside out at Perry-Mansfield Premieres in Steamboat

Newly developed 'Carnivoila/Circus D’Illusion' is an interactive theater experience

Nicole Inglis

Meredith Shea performs during a rehearsal for “Carnivoila/Circus D’Illusion.” The play will debut Thursday at Julie Harris Theater with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Meredith Shea performs during a rehearsal for "Carnivoila/Circus D'Illusion." The play will debut Thursday at Julie Harris Theater with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
John F. Russell

— Outside Julie Harris Theater, the performance begins.

In fact, the play begins even as audience members are parking their cars and walking toward the theater.

"Carnivoila/Circus D'Illusion" is a new work written by New York playwright Andrea Thome that will debut Thursday and Friday at Perry-Mansfield Premieres. The play features 25 young Pre-Professional Intensive students.

One of those students, Brandon Hall, has no reservations about the piece of experimental theater that turns the concept of stage and audience inside out.

"I think with this play, we're going to change the acting of Perry-Mansfield for a while," Hall said.

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"Carnivoila/Circus D'Illusion" will debut at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. There will be 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. performances Thursday and Friday.

The shows will last about an hour each comprising two half-hour sections.

The first half ushers the audience through a low-brow, freak-infested carnival outside Julie Harris Theater. The audience will be milling around a festival complete with a fortuneteller, game booths and clowns all while the beginning of the story plays out around them.

In the story, two sisters who were abandoned by their father set out on a journey to find him in the circus, weaving a tale allegorical to many immigrant stories in the United States and beyond.

"Everyone in this play is trying to survive and learning what they have to give up," Thome said. "It's funny — very humorous — but there's dark sides. There's a bit of an edge. Even the ringmasters are funny but sort of evil."

For the second half — a circus more polished than the carnival outside — the audience will enter the tent through the back of the theater.

"When you watch it, it's really about, 'Can you make it in the system, or do you dream of something else?'" said Perry-Mansfield alum Timothy Near, who directed the circus half of the show.

Alex Correia directed the carnival portion, which saw rehearsals in hot weather and torrential downpours.

Near said the play is more of a parable: It's a series of various tests and trials that offer moral — and in this case quite literal — lessons.

In the juggling portion of the circus, the sisters learn to juggle more than one job.

They have to jump through "hoops" to get health care.

"It's not realistic," Near said, "It's storytelling; it's story theater."

Some of the characters were thought up by the actors themselves, and some were inspired by props or costume pieces. As the students talked about the play over lunch, they referred to the work as something they created together as a cast and crew.

"Since no one has ever played the part before, you can make each character your own," student actor Mikala Nuccio said.

The work was nothing but an idea just 2 1/2 months ago, Thome said, and changes still were being made to the script this week.

"It really didn't light on fire until … we got to know the kids," Thome said. "It's been very inspired by who we're working with. They're a very inspired and creative group."

Ultimately, Thome said, the story is a journey of hope. But along that path, the sisters and the audience might encounter an unexpected turn of a serious or sinister nature.

And the same is true of the challenge of an interactive theater piece.

"This is going to be an experiment," Thome said.

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email

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