Clowns have been getting a bad wrap for decades — from John Wayne Gacy to Stephen King's It to the Gathering of the Juggalos. But thanks to Cirque du Soleil's Koozå, the art of clowning around might be making a respectable comeback.
Set in a big top outside the Sam Houston Race Park, the zany production takes all the jack-in-the-box creepiness of the circus experience and reworks it into a two-hour melée of daredevil acts. And the antics begin the moment you take your seat in the air-conditioned tent.
"There's a good amount of audience participation in Koozå," said performer Jason Berrent during a recent interview. "Every night is different, so the show always seems fresh."
A mustachioed master of ceremonies roams the makeshift amphitheater before the show begins, tripping over guests, pretending to steal purses and spilling drinks of those coming from the VIP lounge and its open bar. A hobo-style clown runs down the aisles, yelling at the emcee to start the performance, while another clown dressed as one of the actor's possessive mother attempts to run backstage.
"There's a good amount of audience participation in Koozå," said performer Jason Berrent during a recent phone interview with CultureMap. "Every night is different, so the show always seems fresh."
In his role as The Trickster, Berrent orchestrates the production's cast of acrobats, stilt-walkers, and contortionists as a means to show many wonders of the circus to a rather strange child-like character called The Innocent.
The MC, also known as The King, keeps the show moving in between acts with a pair of bawdy clown underlings, who manage to pull a handful of audience members onstage for bits ranging from simple magic tricks to disappearing acts.
"Compared to Cirque's bigger shows in stadiums or in Las Vegas, Koozå has much more of an intimate feeling," Berrent explained. "It's a smaller amphitheater set-up, so viewers are never far from the stage. All the performers are very close."
"Many of the people who helped to develop the show are actually still performing in it today, which is wha t makes this production so unique."
In such proximity, the crowd almost can feel the nervous energy emanating from performers as they launch themselves 30 feet in the air from a see-saw, ride bicycles across a high wire or . . . actually, nevermind . . . I don't want to give too much away.
Berrent explained that Koozå is much more in line with how Cirque's earliest performances were devised in the 1980s, with many of the performers, himself included, creating their own characters and designing their own stunts.
"Many of the people who helped to develop the show are actually still performing in it today, which is what makes this production so unique."
Performances of Koozå are scheduled through Sept. 2. Tickets start at $43.50. But for those interested in getting the full big top experience, be sure to consider the premium seats at $105.50 and $143.50 — it's worth the price difference.