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eNews: Phoenix BackstagePASS

Welcome to a new year and to the second half of the Phoenix Theatre's 2007/08 season. This semester our students shine, taking leading roles in the directing and design of our spring shows. MFA directing candidate Ewan McLaren presents the premiere of Lionel: The Miracle Man, designed completely by theatre students.

Enjoy this issue of BackstagePASS!

Behind the Scenes: Sideshow Freaks, Celebrity
and the Art of the Spectacle

The Musician by Ivan Puni, 1921 Berlinische Galerie

With excerpts from The Ringling Brothers' biography of PT Barnum and with thanks to the incredible resources at Side Show World.

The art of the spectacle – for promotional purposes as well as for entertainment – has evolved along an interesting path over the last century.

Pan Bouyoucas’ play Lionel: The Miracle Man is set during the waning heyday of traveling sideshows in the 1920s. Quickly assuming the place of sideshow freaks in the public’s idea of celebrity was the movie star, whose rise to fame mirrored the growth of American cinema. The hero of our play, Lionel, traverses a similar path from hometown singer, to sideshow freak, to Hollywood man of mystery, to achieve his own fame as “The Miracle Man” who grows before your very eyes!
P.T. Barnum in later years

One of the early purveyors of the spectacle was Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum (1810-1891). Now synonymous with the “Greatest Show on Earth”, Barnum was a master showman and the ultimate promoter. Even modern day public relations practitioners attribute him as one of their industry’s forebears!

He was one of the early proprietors of the “dime museum,” exhibiting "500,000 natural and artificial curiosities from every corner of the globe." These included everything from foreign animals, malformed physical abnormalities of nature (like a five legged horse) or even mummified human remains from Egypt. Barnum’s interest spread from artifacts to actual people when he obtained the services of a woman who claimed to be 161 years old and the former nurse of George Washington. "Unquestionably the most astonishing and interesting curiosity in the world!" read one of Barnum's handbills as he earned over $1500 a week off those who came to see her. He later hired and promoted Charles Stratton, who he transformed into the world-famous General Tom Thumb. Tom Thumb became so successful that he had an audience with Queen Victoria on three occasions!Barnum's Dime Museum in New York City

It wasn’t until Barnum was 60 years old that he brought the museum and acts of oddity together in P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus. At the time, it was the largest circus venture in American history and has since evolved into what is still a huge international enterprise under the banner Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth.”

An essential part of traveling exhibitions in the Victorian period in Europe and America – like Barnum’s grand circus – was the accompanying sideshow or freakshow. Appealing to the audience’s obsession with the bizarre, the foreign and the unknown, sideshows often presented excessively short, tall or large people under the guise of midgets, giants or the “Fat Lady.” Aboriginal peoples from less-traveled southern regions of the world were exhibited as “monkey people” or even “The What is It?”  Hirsute or bearded attractions encouraged creatively themed names, such as Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy, Leonine the Lion FacedJojo The Dog Face Boy Lady, Annie Jones the Bearded Lady, or Hairy Mary from Borneo (who in reality was a monkey!). The most popular attractions were oddities with extraordinary talents who could do supposedly normal things despite their disabilities, like the famous “Siamese Twins” Chang and Eng. To ensure the interest and attendance of the crowds, the formidable sideshow barker cried out the amazing and authentically spectacular nature of these attractions in a wholly entertaining presentation outside of the show.

Some of the more popular freaks made their way into vaudeville theatres or even the new media of silent films. Movies brought these testaments of the absurd to the silver screens and nickelodeons that were popping up in towns across America. This is also the case of Lionel: The Miracle Man whose extraordinary growth is captured on film to inspire millions.

The movie industry mastered the art of the spectacle, creating the world of the “Hollywood celebrity”. They used tabloids like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter which commented on the day-to-day lives of movie stars like Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. People across North America and the world over followed along with their ongoing trials, tribulations and romantic relationships. Valentino, known as the “Latin Lover” experienced a meteoric rise to fame as a movie star during the silent film era. When he died young at the age of 31,Rudolph Valentino an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of New York City to pay their respects at his funeral. He was then taken by train across country to Beverly Hills where just as many people crowded along the cortege route to his final resting place in Hollywood. The event was splashed across front pages of mainstream as well as tabloid newspapers, including one photo of Valentino in his casket!

The art spectacle had not only found a new medium in the movies, but also in print, and over the next 80 years, it would extend to television and today’s new media of the internet.


Upcoming Events: Plays, Lectures & more

Lionel - The Miracle Man: February 14 - 23, 2008
by Pan Bouyoucas
Directed by Ewan McLaren
Set Design by Jennifer Quinn
Costume Design by Natasha Sharpe
Lighting Design by Nathan Brown
Music Direction by Candace Collin
Sound Design by Tim Johnston
Stage Manager Katt Campbell

Can a song in your heart actually make you grow?
At 4'4 ", Lionel was the world’s tiniest tenor. At the age of 18, he leaves his mother and his small Quebec parish to join a travelling sideshow and eventually finds fame as “The Miracle Man” in 1920’s Hollywood. On his mission to spread his message, he grows and grows as he takes on the love and hope of millions. Advisory: Some coarse language and mature themes.

Presented by

Festival of Innovative & New Drama
Studio Series: February 28, 29 & March 1, 2008
Join us for staged readings of eight new plays written by students in the Department of Writing and directed and acted by Theatre students. Relax during intermissions in our funky coffee house. Come for one play or stay for the entire evening.

The School For Scandal*: March 13 – 22, 2008
by Richard B. Sheridan
Directed by Fran Gebhard
Originally set in scandal-ridden London of the 1770s, this classic 18th-century "comedy of manners" -- replete with devilish wit, razor-sharp dialogue and outrageous situations -- is presented in current day Hollywood as the perfect commentary on our celebrity-obsessed culture where we follow the day-to-day lives of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in tabloids and entertainment shows.

* "The Unusual Case of Mr. Morton" with Mexican Guest Director Martín Zapata has been postponed by the Director because of family reasons.

March 6: Box Office Opens

March 14 at 7:00pm: Free Pre-Show Lecture
With Dr. Gordon Fulton, Associate Professor in the Department of English and specialist in 18th century literature.


Phoenix Phacts: News on Alumni, Faculty, Staff and Students

After nine years of working in costumes for film and television, Kristen Bond has returned to Victoria to focus on fashion design. Busy with her design business, Bond has also lent her expertise to the Phoenix’s production of Lionel: The Miracle Man, helping to construct the costumes.

Recent grad Eva Markvoort, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, successfully underwent a double-lung transplant in October. Eva was last seen on the Phoenix stage at Asia in Tyrants in 2006.

Janna R. Lopez Raven has made several sound designs for Native Voices at the Autry National Centre in California: Stone Heart: Everyone Loves a Journey West by Diane Glancy, The Red Road by Arigon Starr and The Berlin Blues by Drew Hayden Taylor. All three have had subsequent tours in New York and Washington, D.C. and The Red Road also toured Australia.

Alumni Sara Topham and Graeme Somerville returned to Victoria for The Belfry Theatre’s The Turn of the Screw. Topham is an acting company member at the Stratford Festival and Somerville is a member of the acting ensemble at the Shaw Festival. Former UVic students Patrick Du Wors (set and lighting) and Erin Macklem (costumes) design the spine-tingling production.

Check out past Phoenix Phacts on our website.

Email Perks:

Check back for perks next month!

Sponsor Kudos:

The Phoenix Theatre would like to thank our community sponsors for their support of our programs.

2007/08 Season Community Partner:Cadboro Bay Village
Cadboro Bay Village Merchants
Blaney's Travel, Cadboro Bay Book Company Cadboro Bay Village Service, Edward Jones, For Good Measure, People's Pharmacy, Pepper's Foods, Smugglers Cove

2007/08 Season Ticket Sponsor: Monk Office Supplies


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