Internationally acclaimed Brisbane-based Circa Contemporary Circus has joined forces with multi-award winning animation studio Aardman to create a new circus-theatre production for audiences of all ages, Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show.
We recently caught a first peek at this all new production ahead of its world premiere season in our Lyric Theatre.
Check out these quick snaps and a snippet from an interview with Circa’s Artistic Director, Yaron Lifschitz.
Q: Where did the idea come from to bring famous slapstick British TV series Shaun the Sheep to life as a circus stage show?
A: Shaun the Sheep came to my attention through Andrew Kay, who is an Australian theatre producer. He told me he had been in conversation with Shaun the Sheep animation studio Aardman. He thought [Shaun the Sheep] would be awesome for circus and [was interested] to make it with me. He ended up not going forward with the project, we took it over and two years later here we are.
Q: How did you go about transforming this animation into a circus theatre show?
A: To turn the animated TV program into circus and a fully theatrical family experience requires absolutely everything. You have to get the story, concept, dramaturgy, light, sound, video… everything together and also make them make sense. Circus is naturally great at giving you the wow. You’ll come and clap, and marvel that the artists can run, flip, stand three people high and slide down a pole, but what does it mean? You have to find a way to bring together the story and the tricks. To integrate those things and create something that is dramatically and theatrically coherent.
In Shaun The Sheep’s Circus Show we have done that and I am incredibly pleased with the show itself. The first half is a kind of madcap physical comedy series of incidents and adventures. The second half takes you deep down a rabbit hole of live cinema where the animals are doing stuff with cameras. I don’t want to spoil it, but the whole world flips on its head and you go into this kind of zany world, almost where the difference between reality and fiction gets blurred.
Q: Who does the show appeal to?
A: What I love about Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show is that it is a show that has equal appeal for children and adults. It’s not a show just for the youngest of children and I think it is even a show that teenagers will enjoy. You may not want to tell them as you bring them to the show, but let the idea of joy be a surprise to them. I genuinely believe this is a show that everyone will enjoy.
Q: Shaun the Sheep episodes are really short – so do we get one long plot with the stage show or lots of little episodes?
A: The key driver of the plot of Shaun the Sheep’s Circus Show begins with the very first thing that happens on stage and finishes in the curtain call. It has lots of episodes, adventures and rivulets of experience, but at the end of the day the show is a very coherent theatrical adventure. It should feel like going to see one of those musicals or family shows that really takes the audience on a journey. It’s two acts so you can go and get an ice-cream and then come back and really go on a different adventure, and one that all wraps up beautifully at the end.
Q: Did you have to do an incredible amount of research to get the characters and feel of the show right?
A: Absolutely! Luckily Aardman has been incredibly generous with what they have given us. We have all the Shaun the Sheep episodes and we literally watched every single episode and catalogued them for physical gags, character, circus references, and for good general scenarios, which meant we started with a creative tool kit. It was sort of like arriving with an esky full with too many great meals you couldn’t possibly eat them all and then filleting away and exploring and going down our own weird pathways. As a Director there are certain things I like and things I don’t, so we shaped it but the research behind it was huge and that’s not to include the input from the sound and animation teams etc. One of the really big features of the show is a very large animation screen that we have, which moves and is beautiful. One of the things it does is allow us to show the series. What this means is that even if you don’t know the show it doesn’t matter. Ten minutes into the show you will know all the key characters, you will get the power dynamics, and the family relationships, because this is a family drama at its core. It’s a story of a small group of beings on a farm called Mossy Bottom away from the rest of the world, who have to figure out how to have fun and get on with each other.
Q: Is this a show you watched 15 years ago when it came out – were you familiar with it beforehand?
A: No, 15 years ago I was in that zone of thinking I was way too cool. I think you needed to young or maybe a bit older than I was, but seriously I have always loved Wallace and Gromit – that was my introduction to Aardman. There’s a kind of charm and a kind of imaginative inventiveness in the series where you never know what to expect next. I think one of the great things about what we have been able to do is to capture that. In almost every moment of the show the next moment you won’t know what is happening. I think that gives us a great palette to keep delighting and surprising the audience.
When I first encountered Shaun the Sheep I was wowed by that affect whereby transforming animals into characters they become more human and they actually reveal things you can’t say about humans through their “animalness”. And of course they have this unbounding physicality and the ability to communicate without words, which suits us incredibly well as a circus and they are just, of course, lots of fun.
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