moulin rouge joins the circus

Moulin Rouge is getting a makeover from theatre, dance, and circus artist Lauren Elizabeth. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and struck a cord with the LGBTQIA+ community for its costumes, comedy, tragedy, and of course, Nicole Kidman on a trapeze.

2Lauren Elizabeth is a theatre artist, dancer, acrobat and sometimes-street busker, who is turning the film into a live theatre performance with the help of her indiegogo crowd-funding effort. Elizabeth’s production company, Street Cirque is creating a circus adaptation of the film Moulin Rouge. Taking the love story, and exploring it through partner acrobalancing, staff spinning, and choreography–all set to the original soundtrack and focusing on the abusive aspects of relationships in the film.

I spoke with Lauren Elizabeth about her project.

WW: Where did you get the idea to transform Moulin Rouge into a theatre piece?

LE: Well, I been heavily involved in street circus performing. I’ve been a busker and I’ve always loved the film, so it just seemed like a natural progression to make it into a live theatre piece.

WW: What makes your project of particular interest to the LGBTQIA+ community?

LE: I would say that abusive cycles are important for people in all communities to be aware of. The movie also centers on the bohemian revolution, which at that time was on the fringe of society. I think on some levels, while the LGBTQIA+ community is getting a stronger voice and being heard, it is still exploring and trying to be a part of mainstream society. That is what these artists are doing as well– trying to have their voices and ideals heard. Looping back to the concept of what’s acceptable in relationships and what’s abusive- in the world of this show. I think on some levels abusive and controlling behavior is accepted and considered the norm and these bohemians, these fringe people are fighting to say that it shouldn’t be.

WW: How will it be different from the movie?

LE: I’m adding a lot of new elements, inspired by street circus performance techniques. I’m using staff spinning, partner acrobatics, and levitation wand ideas to bring the story to life.

Partner acrobatics at The Muse in Brooklyn.
Partner acrobatics at The Muse in Brooklyn.

WW: What is a levitation wand?

LE: It’s a circus technique that gained popularity about ten years ago. It’s basically dancing with a cane and it creates the illusion of the cane floating in mid-air. I decided to use these circus elements to switch things up and make audiences see the story in ways that they haven’t seen it before.

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Lauren Elizabeth performing with a levitation wand.

WW: You’re doing a fresh take on Moulin Rouge?

LE: I’m mainly shifting the focus with an emphasis on the abusive relationship between Satine (the character played by Nicole Kidman) and The Duke. The most major change is that the Duke is more sinister and not as buffoonish as he is in the film – this has added a much darker tone to his relationship with Satine and it makes the central love triangle of the movie, not just about true love, but also about abusive relationships: how to get out, the cycle of trying to get someone out. Every time I make another pass at the script it surprises me how well this fits with some of the numbers as well – ” [El] Tango de Roxanne” takes a totally different turn without changing any of the original song lyrics. The original movie runs two hours and ten minutes. I have cut the running time to about one hour and 15 minutes to focus on this aspect of the story. I wanted to make the show shorter and make it as good as possible with the addition of the street circus elements.

WW: It would seem like the use of staffs and canes could emphasize the violence of the relationship?

LE: Definitely, I use those techniques to form cages around the actors and highlight the deeper emotional subtext of the relationship.

WW: How far along are you in the process?

LE: We are in pre-production. I’m using the crowd-funding effort to raise money for the production needs like costumes and props. I have the cast and budget finalized and I’m working on the rehearsal schedule.

WW: Where and when are you rehearsing?

LE: We are going to rehearse in Central Park. I have performers coming from all different parts of the city and Central Park is a central meeting point for everyone. We will be rehearsing in Sheep’s Meadow as soon as the weather starts to warm up.

WW: So, you’ll be rehearsing in public? That should help create some buzz for the show.

LE: I certainly hope so. People will be passing by and will be curious about what’s going on in Sheep’s Meadow. I’m really stripping the show down to its bare bones, so the focus is on the people and the story.

WW: What about Moulin Rouge attracted you?

LE: This past summer while I was trying to launch some other creative ventures, I realized that I had access to a venue (the Muse in Brooklyn – where I now train) and could potentially wrangle some people. I quickly dug into the material – streamlined it, making the story shorter, cutting numbers, and trying to make it as manageable as possible. That’s where a lot of the story changes came from, but I think they make for a stronger story independent of Baz Luhrman’s film.

WW: Do you have a date set for the performance?

LE: Yes, we are doing it for one night only at the Muse in Brooklyn on September 10th. I took one look at that stage with its big red curtain and it said, “Moulin Rouge” to me.

A shot from class at the Muse. Yellow shirt - Michael Goldman, who will be playing Christian. Purple tank top - Chelsea Rodriguez. Person she's standing on - Ben Weston, who will be playing the "Argentinian." The final flyer is Lauren. In the back is Angela "Butch" Buccinni, who teaches the class and owns the Muse.
A shot from class at the Muse. Yellow shirt – Michael Goldman, who will be playing Christian. Purple tank top – Chelsea Rodriguez. Person she’s standing on – Ben Weston, who will be playing the “Argentinian.” The final flyer is Lauren. In the back is Angela “Butch” Buccinni, who teaches the class and owns the Muse.

WW: What are your hopes for the production?

LE: I hope people will help fund it through my crowd-funding effort and come to see it and get as excited about it as I am. I’d love to take the show to new venues and new places. It’s scaled down and not dependent on big sets. It’s the people, the story, and the talents of circus performing.

WW: Who has been essential in helping you to realize this project?

LE: The people who have been essential are Chelsea Rodriguez, Andre Squerra, Michael Goldman, and Brendan Schweda. They will be performing in the piece and they have helped me so much.

Photo: Chelsea Rodriguez.
Photo: Chelsea Rodriguez.

 

Photo: Brendan Schweda, pictured here as the Mad Hatter, will be playing Zidler.

New York City residents can look for Lauren and her troupe rehearsing at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, starting in late spring through the summer. “Moulin Rouge,” the circus version will be performed at The Muse in Brooklyn on September 10th, 2016.

Sheep's Meadow
Sheep’s Meadow

To learn more about The Muse in Brooklyn, check out their website:

http://www.themusebrooklyn.com/

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Lauren Elizabeth is graduate of Vassar College where she was a member of The Barefoot Monkeys Circus Arts Club. She is a theatre artist, acrobat, costume designer, and choreographer.

If you would like to help fund Lauren’s project, check out her indiegogo crowd-funding page:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/moulin-rouge-a-circus-adaptation#/

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Will Willoughby is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Cinema-Television production program. He has also worked in the theatre on such Broadway production as Grey Gardens, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Inherit The Wind. A Squirrel Story is the title of his first published book.