Twenty actors gyrate their bodies to an uptempo pop song blaring from a speaker in the corner of the room. They rotate in a circle, moving fluidly. It's like a kindergarten dance party.
"I know there isn't choreography here, but can we move to the beat so it's just a little bit neater," a guy with a blonde-highlighted lawnmower haircut suggests after the music stops. He's Q Artistry artistic director Ben Asaykwee, and he's directing his company's latest, ZirkusGrimm, a musical based on folk tales by the Brothers Grimm opening July 12.
One might infer from the playful dance scene taking shape that Asaykwee's take on Grimm's tales is, well, a little less grim than one has come to expect from 20th and 21st-century adaptations. And one would be right. Askykwee, who's been working on the script and music since last summer (the songs came first and inspired the "mood of the story," he says), skips over some of the toe-lopping and frog-throwing in favor of a more whimsical approach, which finds a group of German ex-cons turned circus performers telling the tales.
Asaykwee has been fond of the circus since an age when most find themselves traumatized by well-meaning clowns, and he thinks the setting is perfect for the show. "I find that adding humor into a show that has serious themes and parts in it really makes the intense parts more intense," Asaykwee says. "The entire show is much more well rounded if there is a good balance between humor and drama."
Q Artistry is, appropriately enough, staging ZirkusGrimm in the round: "When you are in the circus, everything is in a circle," Asaykwee says. The cast has been working on getting all the music, lines and choreography down during the past couple of weeks.
Actors are scattered throughout the Irvington Lodge today, practicing lines and dance moves. Asaykwee isn't worried: "I know these guys can come prepared to give a great performance, and because of that we've been spending a lot of time on getting the music solidified." A live band will perform the score, written and adapted by Asaykwee, who's also responsible for Q Artistry's other musicals (BOT, Cabaret Poe, Strike!)
Most of the show's actors have been busy with other projects this summer. A couple among them - NoExit's Georgeanna Smith and EclecticPond's Thomas Cardwell - are effectively taking a break from helming their respective organizations.
Smith hasn't done a musical since college, but she says it's nice to "branch out and work with other professionals in the area." Cardwell, whose company shares building space with Q Artistry, plays one of ZirkusGrimm's main characters. "I was in Spamalot with Ben, too, and we work really well together," Cardwell says of Bobdirex's just-closed production at the Athenaeum Theatre. "It's been a lot of fun working with him again, and the whole concept of the show is great. I think it will resonate well with the audience."