Phoenix Theatre: BackstagePASS
|October 2016 • Act 10 Scene 5
eNews: Final week of Alumni Fest: Bring on the Clowns!
We're into our final week of the Alumni Festival! We're so honoured that alumna Shannan Calcutt has returned to the Phoenix from her home in Las Vegas where she has performed in Cirque du Soleil's show Zumanity for the past 10 years. She is also the show's Co-Comedic Director and the Clown Coach for Cirque du Soliel's resident shows. She has been called "a Jedi master of improvisation" and her shows "...a spell-binding, comic/poignant tour-de-force performance." Read more below.
By John Threlfall,
"There is nothing so funny, sad, and purely entertaining as a highly skilled clown, and Shannan Calcutt is that, to be sure." - The Georgia Straight,
For most people, Las Vegas is a place of escape and relaxation. But for Shannan Calcutt, what happens in Vegas keeps her in Vegas.
Calcutt, (BFA ’97), has spent the past decade starring in Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity at the New York New York Hotel and Casino. Part burlesque and part cabaret, Zumanity is billed as an “erotic thrill ride” and has become one of the must-see sensations in a city built on sensory overload. Yet Calcutt plays down the show’s sensational side and instead sees it as that rarest of theatrical gems: a steady job.
And while it’s Calcutt who got the job, it’s her famed alter-ego clown Izzy who has entertained over half-a-million Cirque spectators in Zumanity, and who will be appearing at the Phoenix in October as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations. “My partner and I are the comedians in the show, and we change what we do every night based on what the audience says and does. That keeps it fresh.”
While Calcutt had mask and movement training at UVic, she didn’t formally study clowning until after graduation, when she attended California’s acclaimed Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre on the advice of then-Theatre professor John Krich. It was there Calcutt met master teacher Sue Morrison (shown right), which resulted in her studying with noted Calgary physical theatre company The Green Fools; and it was there, during a Morrison-led workshop in Clown & Bouffon, that Izzy first emerged with what became her signature line.
“We were doing duos at a cabaret in front of an audience and I asked my clown partner, ‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ That’s really where Izzy was born.”
It didn’t take long for Calcutt to make a name for herself with the Izzy trilogy—Burnt Tongue, It's Me, Only Better! and Out of My Skin—winning multiple awards and playing to sold-out audiences across North America and as far afield as the Sidney Opera House.
She was scouted by Cirque du Soleil as early as 2000 (“I was put forward for Varekai and Corteo”), but it wasn’t until 2005 she joined Zumanity. Not that she’s been resting on Izzy’s laurels since then. “I just finished a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Dramatic Media with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,” she says. “I spent a lot of time in the dressing room writing papers.”
In addition to John Krich, Calcutt also notes Theatre professors Linda Hardy and now-retired Julianna Saxton as key influences, but names the late legendary professor Kaz Piesowocki as being singularly important.
“As the movement coach, Kaz was a huge influence on me... he made such an impact on us all — the way he taught impulse, physicality, the breath — it was all so simple, but resonates in everything I’ve done since.”
This kind of dynamic learning is what makes UVic’s Theatre department different from other Canadian universities, notes department chair Dr. Allana Lindgren. “In addition to our ‘hands on’ approach to education, we offer a comprehensive program that equally values practical and more traditionally academic courses,” she says. “These factors mean that our students leave our undergraduate and graduate programs with numerous options ... it also doesn’t hurt that we also have one of the best educational theatre facilities in the country.”
While it’s been nearly 20 years since she graduated, the 40-year-old Calcutt is philosophical about aging alongside her character. “As you get older, so does your clown, so Izzy has really grown up here in Vegas,” she explains. “In Burnt Tongue, Izzy is very innocent—it’s her first show, she’s all about finding a guy—but now she’s one of the sex experts in Zumanity. (An older, 'more experienced" Izzy shown right!) Izzy has a husband in the show—played by my clown partner, Nicky Dewhurst—but my 'real life' husband Darren Pitura is our back-up, so I do work with him on occasion too. Darren and I have had two kids, so my body isn’t 25 anymore ... that’s the beauty of being a clown—instead of having the shame of not looking like you used to, you shamelessly celebrate it instead.”
As well as her work with Cirque du Soleil, Shannan has also been teaching the art of clowning, including a recent workshop called "Celebrate Your Ridiculousness" at the Vegas Theatre Hub (photo below). "The more I teach, the more I realize how important this work is. Not just for artists, but for all of us. The art form of Clown is simply extraordinary. Clowns show us their flaws, so that we can forget our own. Clowns celebrate their shortcomings, so we can laugh at ours. Clowns show us their humility and vulnerability and wear their hearts on their sleeves. They remind us that we're all simply human and shouldn't take ourselves so bloody seriously," Shannan said of her experience. "Let's face it, we need clowns now more then ever!"
Best advice she was ever given as a theatre artist? “Make your own show; don't wait to be cast. Look at the alumni coming back — Charles Ross or TJ Dawe or myself — we’ve all created our own vehicles to perform. Don’t wait for someone to decide that you’re good enough, or smart enough, or talented enough. Talent is great, but you’ll never have more than you do today; you can work on skills and training, but it’s motivation and drive that will get you where you want to go.”
ANNIVERSARY ALUMNI FESTIVAL
10 – 26, 2016 |
PREVIEWS: Nov 8 & 9
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