What happens when you combine the booze-soaked cabarets of 19th century Europe with ribald, vaudeville-inspired comedy and titillating acrobatics – all performed on a stage nine feet in diameter, under a tent straight out of Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”?
In “Absinthe,” a crude and crass emcee called The Gazillionaire regales the crowd with R-rated humor during a 90-minute evening that encompasses gravity-defying high-wire, parallel bars and rollerskating acts – all performed by 22 cast members “draped in varying degrees of nakedness” and hailing from such far-flung places as Gratz, Austria, Ukraine and Ethiopia.
“In other circuses, what you’re watching is 100 feet away, way up on some stage, while you’re way in the back,” says the Gazillionaire, who never breaks character — even when being interviewed. “This, you’re watching aerialists, skaters, acrobats, contortionists, and the audience is two feet away. You could literally touch the performers.”
The very point of the show, says producer Ross Mollison, is to inspire “intimacy” between the performers and the show’s patrons. To that end, the seats in the tent are wooden and “not very comfortable.” There are no cup holders, and seats are positioned close together.
Drinking — copiously, if one desires — is encouraged. Signature cocktails come in unicorn and flamingo-shaped glassware. Audience participation is enthusiastically spurred on, and, per Mollison, “there are no rules, within the common bounds of decency. You can do whatever you want without annoying people.”
But it’s who’s on stage, not who’s in the seats, that makes “Absinthe” a spectacle. From gravity-defying aerial acts to a rollerskating routing to song and dance numbers, the show is going for a vibe that’s erotic, exotic and bubbling with sensuality.
Influenced by the European “spiegeltent” tradition of travelling tents used as entertainment venues, as well as by the human-powered spectacles of Cirque du Soleil, Mollison and his “Absinthe” creatives set out to make something that would break audiences out of the increasingly digital domains of day-to-day life.
“It’s not about comfort,” Mollison said. “It’s about audience energy and the spirit of going out and sharing something with a whole lot of people that you are meeting, together for one night for one specific event.”