“Circus artists aren’t the best actors,” Shana Carroll notes, “it’s not their thing.”
By Robert Israel
Director Shana Carroll calls herself “one half of a shell.” The other half is her husband, Sebastien Soldevila. Together they are the creative force behind Cuisine & Confessions, a circus arts production of Montreal’s Les 7 Doigts De La Main (Seven Fingers). Arts Emerson is bus-and-trucking the show to the Emerson/Cutler Majestic stage in Boston, MA from July 12 through August 7.
The show features a cast of nine performers who mix acrobatics, dance, music, and personal narrative into a mélange about our relationship with food. It is the fourth production of the troupe that has appeared at Arts Emerson.
“When planning a production, our troupe starts with brainstorming,” Carroll explains, “and during our initial sessions for this show, the theme of food kept recurring. The cast is international, so we shared stories about our experiences growing up in kitchens in France, Spain, Canada, and the United States. And, from these story sessions, all the pieces came together. It was like creating a meal. Food is central to all of our lives. The memories we explore in our performance are universal memories we can all share.”
Carroll grew up in California; Soldevila hails from Spain. The pair met in Montreal, a melting-pot city where, together with a few other circus arts street performers, they founded 7 Doigts in 2002. They have collaborated with Cirque de Soleil, another Quebec-based circus troupe that has made its mark by first performing at outdoor urban venues and in Montreal’s numerous parks, before soaring to theatrical mega-stardom. Both troupes have achieved international notice. Cirque has become a showbiz phenomenon with no fewer than three touring productions going at once in Canada and the States, including a permanent installation in Las Vegas. In contrast, 7 Doigts has kept itself lean and agile, true to its roots. Like Cirque, they spend a lot of time on the road. This year, Carroll says, they have performed Cuisine in Paris, Rome. and Moscow. The Boston engagement will be their U.S. premiere.
“After the brainstorming session,” Carroll says about their creative process, “we translate the stories into how they can be physically expressed. We build scenes. At first it’s an improvisational coming together, using nonsense sounds and expressions so words don’t collide with the act of physicalizing the scenes.”
The memories shared in the show can be bittersweet, Carroll says, such as one that tells about a boy growing up in a single-parent family with four brothers and sisters. He lovingly savors the omelet his mother makes for him. This meager repast is a memory he treasures, even though it reminds him of a father he never knew and the struggles his mother and siblings endured.
“Circus artists aren’t the best actors,” Carroll notes, “it’s not their thing. They can be great artists but they aren’t trained to project their voices or to act out scenes. So we work with each performer individually to find a way that they can create a character, to express their uniqueness dramatically.”
Carroll draws on her own training and her work with troupes like Cirque du Soleil to bring out the best in each cast member. “It’s a bit like commedia dell’ arte,” she explains, “and when I was working with Cirque the director was always telling us that we had to ‘get a gimmick,’ to find our own act. I also trained at a circus school, so I learned how to combine theater with the physical aspects of acrobatics, dance, and gymnastics. What we do brings all these disciplines together.”
The result, Carroll says, is an entertainment that welcomes us into the performers’ stories (and kitchens), intensely physical dramas that we reflect our own deeply held memories of food.
“What we want to reveal,” she suggests, “is that anything is possible, that we, as humans, can go beyond our limits in our explorations, and that we can experience palpable joy.”
Robert Israel writes about theater, travel, and the arts, and is a member of Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.