Animated body parts in close-up: A drive-in performance like no other

ON STAGE

What: SNAFU Dance Theatre’s Epidermis Circus
Where: Phillips Brewery parking lot, 535 Pembroke St.
When: Friday through Sunday (Jan. 15-17)
Tickets: Sliding scale $25-$75 per car from eventbrite.ca

Drive-in movies have come back into vogue during the pandemic as the ultimate form of socially distanced entertainment.

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But it’s safe to say Victoria has never seen anything like the drive-in performances SNAFU Dance Theatre has planned this week.

Macro body puppetry is the best way to describe Epidermis Circus, the latest creation from the radical mind of puppeteer/provocateur Ingrid Hansen. She is the creator and star of the show, which features her body parts — eyes, fingers, lips, breasts — on view live in extreme close-up on a giant screen in the parking lot of Phillips Brewing.

The production, with direction from Britt Small, is meant to resemble a drive-in-theatre show, with audio coming through the FM radio band of each car stereo.

But that is where the similarities between Epidermis Circus and typical outdoor moviegoing end.

In one scene, Hansen attaches the decapitated head of a baby doll to her hand, giving it — under the macro lens of her high-resolution Panasonic DMC-GH2 camera — the shape of an outsized, otherworldly monster.

“She also births things out of her mouth,” Small said, laughing at the nuttiness of it all. “A house, a tree, a cow and a pickup truck all [come out of her mouth] and create this whole scene. Then she blows on it to create a storm.”

Hansen and Small, co-founder of performance company Atomic Vaudeville, are not known for their predictability, but even they admit they are pushing both buttons and limits with this project.

Attendees are not permitted to leave their cars during the performance, per provincial health protocols, so the look and feel of the site alone will be strange. A small-scale body-puppetry performance writ large for an audience trapped in a car listening to the radio?

That couldn’t be more oddly perfect in Hansen’s eyes.

“Is it the craziest thing we’ve ever done? There’s always different levels on the spectrum of crazy,” she said with a laugh.

Small added: “What isn’t crazy these days?”

Pre-taping the performances weasn’t an option, Hansen said. The risky nature of laying herself bare in real time was part of the appeal, and part of what audiences have come to expect from SNAFU, whose past productions include Blink, a dance-based show that was performed nude on the grounds of Point Ellice House.

Word of Hansen’s latest production travelled quickly among local audiences: Performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday swiftly sold out, resulting in an extra performance scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Hansen has been working on versions of Epidermis Circus for the better part of two years. She workshopped some of the vignettes with Atomic Vaudeville, but the full production will have its official debut this weekend.

The fourth wall will be broken early and often during each performance, according to Small. “You can see her doing it, but the real focus is on the screen.”

Small has no doubt the audience will be captivated. “The show is about her animating parts of her body and things that aren’t usually considered puppets. Can she animate an orange? What about a sock?”

Epidermis Circus would not have come to fruition without the assistance of organizations active in Victoria’s performing arts community, Hansen said. Phillips Brewery, Theatre SKAM, Atomic Vaudeville and the Canadian College of Performing Arts have all contributed services.

Though arts group compete with each other for revenue, a team spirit has developed during the pandemic. When one company wins, it’s a victory for all.

“I love creating in Victoria for this reason,” Hansen said. “The community here is incredible.”

Tickets are priced per car, on a sliding scale of $25-$75.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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