by Meredith M. Griffith
It’s time to let your freak flag fly!
Orcas Center’s upcoming local show is all about creating fun and celebrating the beauty of each other as unique individuals, says local dancer Katie Zwilling.
Channeling “The Greatest Showman” this month with a pull-out-all-the-stops musical and acrobatic extravaganza, talented islanders will present an evening of nine shows featuring the 100-voice-strong Rock on the Rock choir (including 40 children), magician Matthew Laslo and a troupe of adults and teens from Island Aerial Acrobatics.
Directors Grace McCune and Jake Perrine promise a night of oddities, wonderment, magic, singing, dancing, acrobatics and even a menagerie of wild animals, punctuated by a short “secret talent” show when audience members can share their covert skills onstage.
The roughly 75-minute show opens at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 23 and runs May 24-25, May 30-31, June 1 and June 6-8. Tickets for Friday and Saturday night performances are $20, with $10 weekday specials on Thursdays. Tickets are available at www.orcascenter.org or 360-376-ACT1.
“The show is all about oddities and inclusion, for all shapes and sizes and colors and creeds; that’s kind of the heart of ‘The Greatest Showman,’” says Perrine.
The production, titled “Cirque-US,” brings together choreography by Zwilling, aerial coordination by Stephie Mac, a set by Robert Hall and costumes by Asifa Welch. While this will be Perrine’s and McCune’s seventh show masterminded together, Zwilling and Mac are new to these leadership roles in a production.
“Katie Zwilling has done just the most breathtaking choreography. I just love what she’s done,” says Perrine. “She’s taken a few people who aren’t dancers, some have never danced before, and made just showstopping numbers out of it. She’s amazing.”
Zwilling says the opportunity to choreograph the show makes her feel like a kid in a candy store.
“It’s been such a gift so far, just experiencing the whole dynamic of the show and its message and the energy that everybody brings to it – dancers and the singers and the directors,” she said. “It’s an enormous amount of fun.”
Zwilling says the dancers are doing “a phenomenal job” executing difficult pieces with grace and beauty, adding, “This idea that we’re all important and we’re all beautiful and we should celebrate each other – for the kids and adults to all be behind this message together – this is something that everybody gets.”
“Our goal with all of these shows is to give people a chance to do something they’ve never done before, and we get a lot of people taking us up on that,” said Perrine, who is also the center’s technical director. “Really my focus working at Orcas Center is to engender all kinds of creative projects from all levels of professionalism or amateurism. This is kind of the centerpiece of the year, for me to just draw in those people who are lurking on the fringes.”
An audio engineer, Perrine tries to make Rock on the Rock choir participation more accessible to working islanders by creating backing tracks for each vocal part, allowing Rock on the Rock choir members to practice at home and attend fewer rehearsals. McCune and Perrine record parts for each segment of the choir.
McCune calls “Cirque-US” a “musical narrative” with a ton of acrobatics, saying, “The sparks are flying, the imagination just keeps growing.” She says the music from “The Greatest Showman” is “the hardest material we’ve ever done before,” but adds, “making the choice to do it has really upped everyone’s game.”
She says the choir is a safe place for people to explore their own vocal abilities in a supportive environment.
“It’s really a big lovefest,” McCune laughs. “It’s really fun to get to watch people’s processes, coming into their own, creating that musical space.”
Mac says it’s been “such a joy” working with McCune and Perrine on a production, and that the show itself really embodies the heart of Island Aerial Acrobatics instilled by founder Maria Bullock: an ethic of mutual support, welcome and encouragement for all bodies, rather than the attitude of cutthroat competition Mac says is often found in other dance programs.
“This is a loving environment; we care about each other,” says Mac.
She’s been “floored” to see the progress her aerialists have made while preparing for the show. “Watching them accelerate and improve so fast … seeing them advance so quickly has been really rewarding,” Mac said.