• The 'Pippin' Profiles: Callan Bergmann on juggling knives ... and driving a stick

    by John Moore | Sep 18, 2014
    “I dance, I sing, I tumble, and I smile a lot. Currently touring the country with 'Pippin the Musical.' Living the dream!”

    Pippin_Callan_Bergmann_400
    That’s how Callan Bergmann describes himself on his Instagram profile ... and truer words were never spoken. 

    Bergmann is playing Lewis, the boy who would be king -- if only his nasty mother, Fastrada, had her way. But half-brother prince Pippin stands in both their ways, so the dim-witted soldier is pretty much relegated to daddy’s battles and mama’s knee.

    And Bergmann couldn’t be having more fun. When Director Diane Paulus and Circus Creator Gypsy Snider decided to tell the story of Pippin in the context of a traveling circus, they pretty much turned Lewis into a part that Bergmann was born to play.

    “I was in a gymnastics class when I was 4 years old, and my teacher told me then, 'You should be stretching every day; every chance that you get,’ ” Bergmann said from Denver, where the new revival of the 2013 Tony-winning best musical launched its national tour last week. 

    “She told me to stretch whenever I was watching TV at night. Instead of sitting on the couch, she told me to sit on the floor and stretch and do my straddles and my splits. So that's what I did.”

    Bergmann, whose credits include Cinderella on Broadway and Smash on TV, grew up in the Buffalo (N.Y.) area and attended Point Park University in Pittsburgh. He spoke with Denver CenterStage two days after Pippin had its opening night in Denver.

    Pippin_Callan_Bergmann_Quote_1


    John Moore: So I imagine you must be pretty beat right now.

    Callan Bergmann: Yes. It was a long tech process, as they always are. But now that that’s all over, it's nice to be able to breathe a little bit. But what am I saying? We start understudy rehearsals today. So no rest ... yet.

    John Moore: When you get through that - then what are you going to do with all of your free time?

    Callan Bergmann: I have toured before, and what I like to do in each city is get out and do something that’s related to the city I'm in. On our last day off, I went out to Red Rocks Amphitheatre and went hiking. That was awesome. I am hoping to make it to a few of the museums here in Denver. I like to take tours of state capitols.

    John Moore: What did you think of Red Rocks?

    Callan Bergmann: Oh, it was breathtaking. Beautiful. It was fun to get out there and just take in all that fresh air.

    John Moore: So you came to Pippin directly from performing on Broadway in Cinderella. But many of your Pippin castmates had direct experience with the Broadway production. So what was it like for you to step into this incredible new world completely fresh?

    Callan Bergmann: All the Broadway people really helped us jump into that world faster. We only had four or five weeks to learn the show, and so having those people there, like John Rubinstein and Sabrina Harper, was great. They just took everyone under their wings and helped us to really dive into the material faster.

    John Moore: What appealed to you most about going after this opportunity in Pippin?

    Callan Bergmann: I saw Pippin on Broadway when it was in previews, and I loved it. I thought it was so amazing. What really appealed to me was the circus aspect of the show. I grew up as a gymnast, so I like to flip around and do all that fun stuff. I have always had this dream of running away and joining the circus. So when I was cast in Pippin, I was so excited. I said, 'I want to learn every circus skill in the show.’ That’s my goal. The creative team has been so wonderful because they have kind of catered the part around me, and have even changed it a little bit so that I get to show off some of what I do. I get to dance. I get to tumble. I get to sing. I get to act. It’s the best of every world.

    John Moore: So what all have you learned so far? Are you juggling knives?

    Callan Bergmann: No, but I do tumble through knives being juggled.

    John Moore: I think that is even more impressive.

    Callan Bergmann: One day in rehearsal, Gypsy (Snider) grabbed me and said, 'We are going to add you into this part. You are going to be tumbling through the knives that are being juggled.' I just stopped and was like, 'Um, Gypsy? I know I said that I wanted to tumble in the show … but I didn't say I want to tumble through knives!'

    John Moore: And what was her response?

    Callan Bergmann: She said, 'Oh, it will be fine, it will be fine. We're going to practice.'

    John Moore: Well, I should hope so.

    Callan Bergmann: She's so great, and she is so safe. You go step by step. You start by running through the knives, and you learn what to look for. And then you start doing a cartwheel through the knives. And then you start doing your whole tumble pass-through. So that was fun. I also play on the Chinese poles a little bit. I jump onto one from what we call ‘the chute.’ Honestly, from the audience, it doesn't look very scary. But when you're up there, and there is a gap between you and this pole? It’s a little bit scary.

    John Moore: That gap is real.

    Callan Bergmann: That gap is real.

    Pippin_Callan_Bergmann_800
    That's Callan Bergmann as Lewis, far right. Photo by Terry Shapiro.


    John Moore: That must be fun just messing around backstage with all those circus professionals.

    Callan Bergmann: Oh, yeah. I've already started working with some of the acrobats on hand-balancing. Nothing major. It really just starts with practicing handstands. You have to start by getting so good at doing handstands on the hard ground. But they can literally hold a handstand for 10 minutes. There is a technique to it, and they have been helping me out with that. They are so nice.

    John Moore: I noticed that on your resume, you list your special skills as 'basic contortion, stunt doubling ... and driving a stick shift.' I wonder: Which of those three should we be most impressed with?

    Callan Bergmann: That's funny. Driving a stick shift is definitely a dying skill.

    John Moore: I'm surprised Gypsy didn't work that into the show.

    Callan Bergmann: Me, too.

    John Moore: So let's talk about contortion.

    Callan Bergmann: I think I'm just more flexible than the average person. But I'm not as crazy as some of the people in our show, though.

    John Moore: Before you saw the Broadway performance of Pippin, had you ever been involved with a previous production of Pippin?


    Callan Bergmann: No, I had not. But I saw Pippin at a local school when I was in high school.

    John Moore: What did you think of it then?

    Callan Bergmann: It was actually a very good production, and I loved the show. The part of Pippin has been on my radar ever since. Just getting the chance to play Lewis and understudy Pippin now is so exciting for me.  

    John Moore: But Pippin is now a 42-year-old musical. Why you think it feels  contemporary for your generation of friends who might be seeing it for the first time in 2014?

    Callan Bergmann: What I like about this show is that it's really simple when you think about it. Yes, there is all this stuff going on, like all those great acrobatics. But really this show follows Pippin on his journey to find himself. It comes down this: All of our lives are extraordinary, even doing everyday, normal things like falling in love and choosing to lead a small-town life. I think that's good for people to know. Be content with the life you choose. The journey that you are on is where you are meant to be.

    John Moore: So do you find that the show resonates with your friends who are seeing it for the first time?

    Callan Bergmann: It does, and I think that shows how timeless the piece is. Life now is really just the same as it was back in 1972, and just as it was hundreds of years ago. We’ve just added some modern technology.

    John Moore: That modern technology here is really just human skill and physical prowess.

    Callan Bergmann: But what I love is that the acrobats are not just up there doing circus acts. They are acting and performing just like the rest of us.

    Pippin_Callan_Bergmann_Quote_2


    John Moore: So after all this time learning the show; building trust with your castmates; refining your timing and precision, what was it like for you to be up on that Buell Theatre stage for your opening-night curtain call knowing that that you all had just pretty much nailed it?

    Callan Bergmann: Oh it was thrilling. The energy was so exciting. We have spent the past six weeks finessing things and getting it ready -- but it‘s not over. This really is a never-ending process, because we have to keep up with safety and with all of these skills. This show is not something that you can just settle into, ever.

    John Moore: So you are going to have audiences come who have a deep and abiding affection for Pippin going back to the beginning. But I suspect most people who come -- especially young people -- will be seeing it for the first time. How do describe to them what kind of theatre experience they are in for?

    Callan Bergmann: It’s a theatre experience like they have never had before. Maybe they have seen a Cirque du Soleil show, or maybe they have seen a Broadway show.  But this combines everything. And that's why I think it’s so memorable.

    John Moore: Well, you said you wanted to run off with the circus, and you pretty much have. Because you are going to blink and you will be folding up the tent in Denver and you will be off to another city.

    Callan Bergmann: It's true. I am living my dream.

    'The Pippin Profiles' interview series:  


    Pippin
    : Ticket information

    Sep 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    Photos, video: Opening-night festivities in Denver
    Video: 5 questions for Composer Stephen Schwartz

    9News anchor Cheryl Preheim has a walk-on cameo on Sept. 16
    Video: Audience testimonials reacting to seeing the show
    Video series: The 'Pippin' Personalities: Five questions with creatives
    'Pippin' meets Denver: Media Day photos
    Broadway's Matthew James Thomas to play Pippin in Denver
    Hello, Denver! 'Pippin' cast and crew arrive

    Photos: Pippin loading in Denver, rehearsing in New York

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • The 'Pippin' Profiles: Kristine Reese on keeping up with the Jones

    by John Moore | Sep 10, 2014

    Pippin_Kristine_Reese_5

    For many audience members, Catherine (played by Kristine Reese), walks away with the show, even though she doesn’t even show up in the story until the second act. Photo by Terry Shapiro. Photo below by Peter Hurley Photography.



    Pippin_Kristine_Reese_4Kristine Reese went to see the Broadway revival of Pippin and, like pretty much everyone else in the audience …  she fell in love with Rachel Bay Jones.

    Jones was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Catherine, the quirky widowed mother   who awaits young prince Pippin at the end of his quest to find meaning in his life like a curvaceous, open-armed human grail. 

    She was, by composer Stephen Schwartz’s assessment, nothing short of “amazing,” “heartbreaking” and “transformative.”

    Boy. And you thought Sasha Allen had a tough task trying to follow in the magic footsteps of Ben Vereen in the role of the Leading Player.

    Reese has been cast to play Catherine in the national touring production of Pippin now launching in Denver. She is doing her best to keep up with the Jones … by not trying to keep up with the Jones.

    “Obviously, what Rachel has done with the role is really amazing, and I think she has made it really special,” said Reese. “But whenever you take on a role (that you didn’t originate), you have to be true to who you are. I want to honor what Rachel did, but I also want to be me.”

    Reese must be doing something right. Schwartz’s first impression of Reese: “I have to tell you that we have found a really wonderful young woman to play Catherine on the tour who brings a lot of the same qualities that Rachel brought to the role," Schwartz  said. "I am really enthusiastic about our new Catherine.”

    How great is it to hear that?

    “That makes me want to actually cry with happiness,” Reese said. “That means so much to me. All I've ever wanted is for Stephen and (Director) Diane Paulus and everyone involved with the show to be enthusiastic about what I bring to the role. To have him say that is really amazing, so, thank you. You made my day.”

    Reese hails from the Midwest and graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. She’s played Nessarose on the national touring production of Wicked and Sophie in Mamma Mia.

    Pippin_Kristine_Reese_1


    Here are excerpts from our conversation with Reese, who plays a character many audiences think walks away with the show, even though she doesn’t even show up in the story until the second act:

    John Moore: So I have seen Pippin many times and in many shapes and sizes …  and I have to say, I think Catherine is almost always my favorite character.

    Kristine Reese: Yeah, a lot of people say that, actually. A lot of people.

    John Moore: How do you see this woman’s place in the story?

    Kristine Reese: She is genuine and she is pure and she is natural. And yes, she’s got a quirk to her -- especially in this production -- and I think I do as a person, too. When you play Catherine, I think you have to find that quirk inside you, because that's part of why Pippin falls in love with her. And I think that is actually the essence of who Catherine is. Even though she says in her song, ‘I'm just a plain, ordinary girl …’ she’s actually not. I think that's the point of all that silliness for the actor (who gets to plays her). She’s so special and so different, and she's not coloring in the lines like almost every other character in the play.

    John Moore: I know we can't tell people specifically about the new ending in this version of Pippin, but your character is certainly a key part in it. I think if you’ve ever seen the original Pippin, it's possible to misconstrue what the writers are actually trying to say about Pippin's ultimate choice -- in my opinion. I talked to Diane and (Circus Creator) Gypsy Snider about this, and part of their point, as mothers themselves, is to say that society needs to look again at how we perceive a young man who, after a life of pure adventure, sees marriage and fatherhood as an extraordinary life choice. … Which actually doesn't even give anything away about the new ending, I am happy to say! What's your take?

    Kristine Reese: I think that's a great way of saying it. I got married a couple of years ago, and I wasn't all that young when I did. But people would say to me, 'Why are you settling down?' No. I don't see it that way. When you live in New York and you work as a performer, some people see marriage as being tied down or restricting you -- and I  think it's the opposite. When I saw Pippin the first time, I think that's why the Catherine character resonated with me. It’s because of the connection she has with Pippin, and because of the choice he makes. I can relate so much of that to my real life, and how much my relationship means to me. I don't have children yet, but when I do, I would imagine the same thing for myself. That's the life I want.

    John Moore: What I like about the new ending is that it really takes the focus off of our looking at Pippin's choice as the ultimate point of the show and shifts it ... shall we say ... onto something different for us to chew on.

    Kristine Reese: Absolutely.

    John Moore: But I think it makes sense to acknowledge how family has changed as in institution in this country over past 40 years. When you look at all of our social problems, there is something kind of odd about a man who chooses family being seen as a bold choice.

    Kristine Reese: It is very interesting. You wouldn't think that would be a controversial thing still. But it is.


    kristineQ2Pippin_Kristine_Reese_2


    John Moore: OK, so here is your really hard-hitting, important question: What do you do for the whole first act while waiting for Catherine to enter the story?

    Kristine Reese: Actually, I am a Player in the circus troupe, and not actually Catherine. So in the first act, I am playing a silent clown. And in the second act, my job is to play Catherine in the story of Pippin that we are putting on for the audience. You may not really notice me in the first act, or know, 'Oh, she’s going to be Catherine' -- but I think that's the point.

    John Moore: We think of Pippin as this quintessential coming-of-age story about a boy becoming a man. But I see so much female empowerment going on with this production. What it's like for you to be in the room with all of these strong women?

    Kristine Reese: I am so glad that you asked me that, because that is really important to me. Like you said, Diane is a mom, and Gypsy is a mom, and Nadia DiGiallonardo, who is our music supervisor, is a mom, as are many others. I am not a mother myself, but I think that is a really special thing to have around you. I remember when Diane won the Tony Award (for best direction), and how much that meant to me as a female watching. Here was this woman up there who has this great career, but she also has children and a family. That means so much to me. And it means so much to her. I have really wanted to work with her. Not to take away from (Choreographer Chet Walker) or anyone else on the team, but I think there is something about being able to speak with a woman director about motherhood and love and family, and what those things mean. Not to say that if I had a male director the show would not be good, but I think the connection that women share is special, and I am so honored to be working with these respectful, strong women who have children and have love in their lives. They understand what my relationship means to me, and how I can use that as an actor.

    Pippin_Kristine_Reese_8


    John Moore: Many who see Pippin in Denver will be seeing it for the first time. And for those who have seen it before, it will in many ways be new for them as well. Help me to articulate what kind of a theatrical experience they are in for.

    Kristine Reese: The story is told through the circus lens, and you haven't really seen a lot of Broadway shows that have that aspect to it. I think what makes it so magical is the excitement that the circus element brings to it, contrasted with these really intimate, grounded, emotional scenes. For all the spectacular, dangerous things these performers do in these beautiful, sparkling costumes, you also have these almost naked acting moments. This show has everything. And that's why I fell in love with it when I first saw it. It was so special when they sang Simple Joys and they started jumping through hoops. But then to see this beautiful connection between these two actors playing Pippin and Catherine, I thought, 'That's really what this play is about.' I think people can take both of those things away from it. 


    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.


    'The Pippin Profiles' interview series:
     


    Pippin
    : Ticket information

    Sep 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    Video series: The 'Pippin' Personalities: Five questions with creatives
    'Pippin' meets Denver: Media Day photos

    Broadway's Matthew James Thomas to play Pippin in Denver
    Hello, Denver! 'Pippin' cast and crew arrive

    Photos: Pippin loading in Denver, rehearsing in New York

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • Video: The 'Pippin' Personalities: Five questions with cast and creatives in Denver

    by John Moore | Sep 06, 2014


    In this fun video series, we will pose several personality questions to the cast and creative team behind the national touring production of Pippin The Musical, launching in Denver this very night: Sept. 6, 2014.

    The ‘Pippin’ Personalities video series:
    Video 1: What makes YOU extraordinary?
    Video 2: If you could run off with the circus …
    Video 3: What was the first big show you saw?
    Video 4: What has ‘Pippin’ taught you about yourself?
    Video 5: First impressions of Denver

    Our guests include Director Diane Paulus, Sasha Allen (Leading Player), Matthew James Thomas (Pippin), John Rubinstein (Charles), Lucie Arnaz (Berthe), Circus Creator Gypsy Snider and Choreographer Chet Walker. 

    Videos by John Moore and David Lenk for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.


    Video 2: If you could run off with the circus …




    Video 3: What was the first big show you ever saw? 




    Video 4: What has ‘Pippin’ taught you about yourself?


    ​ 


    Video 5: The ‘Pippin’ Personalities: First impressions of Denver





    Pippin
    : Ticket information

    Sept 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    'The Pippin Profiles' interview series:
     


    Our previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    'Pippin' meets Denver: Media Day photos
    Broadway's Matthew James Thomas to play Pippin in Denver
    Hello, Denver! 'Pippin' cast and crew arrive

    Photos: Pippin loading in Denver, rehearsing in New York

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

  • 'Pippin' meets Denver: Media Day photos

    by John Moore | Sep 03, 2014
    Pippin_Media_Day_1

    Today was "Meet the Media" Day for the cast of the national touring production of Pippin The Musical that launches in Denver on Saturday. From top left: Sasha Allen, Matthew James Thomas, Chet Walker, Gypsy Snider, Diane Paulus, Lucie Arnaz and John Rubinstein. All photos by John Moore.

    The cast performed two numbers: Corner of the Sky, a sneak peek at the show's theme song that introduces the son of King Charlmagne as a young man seeing meaning his life, and Simple Joys, a song sung by Allen as the Leading Player that demonstrates some of the show's now signature circus and gymnastics moves.

    To see our full gallery of photos from the afternoon, click here.




    Pippin_Media_Day_3

    Sasha Allen. Photo by John Moore.



    Pippin_Media_Day_5

    Matthew James Thomas. Photo by John Moore.


    Pippin_Media_Day_6


    Pippin_Media_Day_7

    To see our full gallery of photos from the afternoon, click here.  Video and interviews still to come.


    'The Pippin Profiles' interview series:
     


    Pippin
    : Ticket information

    Sept 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

    Our previous Pippin coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    Broadway's Matthew James Thomas to play Pippin in Denver
    Hello, Denver! 'Pippin' cast and crew arrive

    Photos: Pippin loading in Denver, rehearsing in New York

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!




  • The 'Pippin' Profiles: Circus Creator Gypsy Snider

    by John Moore | Aug 09, 2014

    To lifetime circus performer Gypsy Snider, "circus is like eating and sleeping and family." Photo courtesy Gypsy Snider. 

     

    Note: "The Pippin Profiles" is a series of interviews by Arts Journalist John Moore with the "Pippin The Musical" cast and creative team leading up to the launch of the first national touring production in Denver on Sept. 6. First up: Circus Creator Gypsy Snider.

    In Pippin the Musical, a family of circus performers defies death to tell their story with every flip, tumble and mid-air spin.

    The same is true of those actors performing in Pippin the Musical.

    And the same has been true of Pippin Circus Creator Gypsy Snider since she began her career as a circus performer at the tender age of 4. 

    With all respect to Stephen Schwartz, composer of Wicked and Pippin, Snider was defying gravity long before Elphaba was a green twinkle in his orchestral eye.

    Snider’s parents are the founders of San Francisco’s pioneering Pickle Family Circus, an acclaimed alternative circus often cited as a primary influence on the creation of Cirque du Soleil. Snider is the co-founder of Montreal’s 7 Fingers (Les 7 doigts de la main), a pioneering form of live entertainment that has twice brought Traces to Denver. That innovative show used astonishing displays of athletic skill to tell the real-life stories of seven street teens.

    Snider embraces circus as its own narrative storytelling form. Her brand of physical theatre requires strength, agility and grace.

    Her upbringing was like no other. She grew up around the likes of circus legends Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle. She appeared among an entire town of street performers in Robert Altman's 1980 film Popeye. By 18, she was attending a physical-theater school in Switzerland.

    She co-founded 7 Fingers in 2002 and, for her first foray into Broadway, she was called upon by Pippin Director Diane Paulus to help re-tell Schwartz’s iconic story of a young prince’s quest for meaning in life set within the world of circus. Pippin won the 2013 Tony Award for best musical revival. Its first national touring production launches at Denver’s Buell Theatre on Sept. 6.

    Modern audiences who have a familiarity with circus generally think of Cirque du Soleil. But while Snider toured with Cirque and has a deep love for it, she says Pippin should not be mistaken for it. If anything, she said, it should evoke the old days of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

    “This is old-school, hard-core circus,” she said.

    We’re talking juggling knives and swallowing fire.

    “I would say that Cirque du Soleil is like the grandfather, and we are the rebellious teenagers,” she said.

    Pippin culminates with a boy becoming a man, having to choose between a life of adventure or family. Snider has never had to pick  between the two – her small children are also embracing the circus life. But Snider’s life turned upside down in 2008, when she were diagnosed with advanced-stage colon cancer.

    “It was definitely a life-changing experience,” she said. Much surgery, chemotherapy chemotherapy and radiation followed.

    “Suddenly, my work felt trivial and my family became more important than ever before,” Snider said in a previous interview with Broadway Buzz. “I began to question how taxing show business can be and wondered if I should just move to the country and raise my two daughters in a stress-free environment, instead of in the glory of this wonderful but all consuming lifestyle. It was during this difficult time that Diane Paulus reached out to me about the possibility of collaborating on a new production of Pippin.”

    And when she did, her charge to Snider was simple:

    “Come make this thrilling.”

    Here are more excerpts from our recent conversation with Snider for MyDenverCenter.Org. It took place just before rehearsals were to begin for the national touring production of Pippin as Snider and her family were visiting her parents' family retreat in the Berkshires.

    The Broadway cast of "Pippin," above. The first national touring production of the iconic musical, with circus creations by Gypsy Snider, launches in Denver on Sept. 6. Photo by Joan Marcus.

     

    John Moore: When you brought Traces to Denver in 2011, could you have even imagined what your immediate future had in store for you?

    Gypsy Snider: Actually, Denver plays a semi-big part in this. When I was working in Denver, I saw all of the other productions that were being staged there at the time. I remember sitting there watching the (Denver Center Theatre Company’s) A Midsummer Night's Dream. That’s when I knew that I wanted to get back to the States, that I wanted to work in the English language and that I wanted to work in the theatre. I remember saying that to (Denver Center for the Performing Arts President) Randy Weeks afterward. I got really excited about the possibilities from Denver on.

    John Moore: How did the Pippin opportunity come about?

    Gypsy Snider: My first conversation with (Director) Diane Paulus and (Producer) Barry Weissler coincided with Traces being in Denver. She had just done a Cirque production called Amaluna, so she was really starting to be familiar with the Montreal circus scene. She had already seen tons of videos of things we had done. Barry had been following us for several years. At my first meeting with him in New York, I was like, 'What am I doing? How did I end up here?’ But Barry said, ‘Look, I don't know what to do with you. But I know that I love what you do.’ And so, he continued to follow our shows. Later on, when Diane said, ‘I think we need to put circus into the Pippin story,’ Barry said, ‘How about Gypsy? And she said, 'I totally know who you are talking about.’ And so then they sent me the script.

    John Moore: I read somewhere that you had never seen Pippin before.

    Gypsy Snider: No, I had not. Maybe I had remotely heard the music, but I didn't associate it with the story. So I read the book and … it’s a very strange piece of literature. But I fell in love with it. I instantly knew what I wanted to do with it. I read it in one hour in my bed and I just … knew. When I met with Diane, I rambled on and on. I had no idea what I was getting into. But she was sold.

    John Moore: Sounds to me like you are the rambling river in that story.

    Gypsy Snider: Oh, Diane Paulus is a big river instigator. She saw my enthusiasm. And when she feels someone has an idea that is flowing, she does an incredible job of pushing that flow and guiding that flow.

    John Moore: What specifically did you bring to the creative conversation?

    Gypsy Snider: At 7 Fingers, we have a way of bringing emotion and texture into acrobatics. In a way, I think the passion and the theatricality that circus brings to it quickly became the backbone of this new project. Of course, Bob Fosse and Stephen Schwartz are the backbone of Pippin. But in terms of rejuvenating it, the circus became the backbone of doing it this way. 

    John Moore: What was it like high-flying into the world of the original Pippin choreographer, the late Bob Fosse?

    Gypsy Snider: I was fascinated to learn the extent to which Bob Fosse was a huge influence on my career -- unbeknown to me. There is a kind of sexuality and a violence in his artwork that I always need whenever I am creating a show. I know that sex and violence sells TV shows, but Fosse really criticized the entertainment industry for the addictive and seductive nature of sexuality and violence in entertainment. I don't mean to go off on a crazy tangent, but if we are talking about seducing Pippin into a living a more extraordinary life by luring him into something that could be potentially fatal … that’s the entertainment industry. In that way, we are really looking at a retrospective of Fosse's life. That's what I found so, so fascinating about it. And then there is the innocent side of Pippin: The loving family man, the “corner of the sky” Pippin. That was absolutely the Stephen Schwartz that I got to know, amazingly, through this production. He's just so positive and so hard-working.

    John Moore: How do you think Bob Fosse would have liked the idea of setting Pippin in a circus?

    Gypsy Snider: I feel like Bob Fosse would have wanted us to do this, and that he would have done it himself if this were available to him at the time. Maybe not to this extent, but …  it was there. It was already there in the words.

    John Moore: With this reimagined version of Pippin – both setting it in the circus and, more tellingly, in consideration of the life choice Pippin faces in the end – it seems to me as if maybe Diane Paulus is saying that Pippin is you.

    Gypsy Snider: I think so. Diane and I are both the same age, and we both have two daughters. We have discussed on a very personal level the seduction of the business and this balance you try to achieve, being professional women who have families. It’s really like we are the Catherines -- but we are also being seduced like the Pippins.  It was interesting for both of us how we connected on an emotional level to this musical. Pippin has this choice to make, and one of them it to embrace this simple home life with an older woman and her child living out in the country where there is no magic and there is no makeup -- which is something Fosse presented in a very boring, very pejorative manner. And yet here I am talking to you right now while I am out here in the country with my children -- and I love it. But I also love my work. I feed on it so much, and I am proud to show my children how passionate I am about my work.

    John Moore: For 40 years, both audiences and writers alike have argued whether the ending to Pippin is a tragedy ... or a compromise ... or a perfect, happy ending. I imagine, given your life story, that you are split right down the middle.

    Gypsy Snider: I am split down the middle. For me, circus is like eating and sleeping and family. It's my brother; it's my mother; it's my father. Just talking about it makes me so emotional. There were maybe a few moments in my life when I felt like walking away from it, or perhaps trying something totally different. Circus is a very physically demanding life. It's a very itinerant life. And when my kids started going to school, I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ But circus is my family, too. Sometimes I like to think of it as the mafia because it's a very closed, tight-knit circle. But the reason is because there is so much danger and risk and sacrifice involved. True circus people know each other, and there is a whole sort of respect and value system to it that is so honorable and so genuine and so truthful. To true circus people, there is no nonsense. There is no competition. There is no, 'I am better than you are.' There is no, 'I am going to be a star, but you are not going to be a star.' Each individual circus performer is absolutely unique, and that uniqueness is valued. There is no one way to do anything. Unfortunately, it's not like dance. To survive in the dance world, you have to sacrifice so much of your individuality and soul. Everyone wants to play Romeo, for example. In circus, that is not ever an issue. People don't compare themselves. There is somehow a place for everyone.

    John Moore: How do you feel about getting the whole Pippin creative team together and doing this all over again with a new cast?

    Gypsy Snider: Diane, (Choreographer Chet Walker) and I have been talking about how exciting it is going to be to get back in the room.  I am feeling like this is going to be an incredible reunion for all three of us.

    John Moore: Well, then … welcome in advance to Denver.

    Gypsy Snider: I am so excited.  There is a place in Denver that sells poutine (gravy fries with cheese curds), so I am definitely looking forward to that.

    John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

    Coming up on the Pippin Profiles:  

    • Choreographer Chet Walker
    • Director Diane Paulus
    • Composer Stephen Schwartz
    • Plus ... select members of the acting company

     

    Pippin: Ticket information

    Sept 6-20, 2014 • Buell Theatre
    Accessible Performances • Sep 20, 2pm
    Tickets: 303.893.4100 • Toll-free: 800.641.1222 • TTY: 303.893.9582
    Groups (10+) • 303.446.4829
    Online • www.DenverCenter.Org

     

    Previous "Pippin" coverage on MyDenverCenter.Org:

    My three Pippins gather at Sardi's to honor John Rubinstein
    Photos: Exclusive look at first 'Pippin' rehearsal
    Lucie Arnaz joins Denver-bound ‘Pippin’ as Berthe

    From Pippin to Pappa: Denver tour launch will feature John Rubinstein
    2014-15 season: ‘Pippin,’ ‘Kinky Boots’ are Denver-bound!

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ABOUT THE EDITOR
John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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