There’s something a little twisted— literally—about the way members of Circus Oz walk and fly and juggle. Says artistic director Mike Finch, 34, “Performers aren’t defined by what they’re best at, but by how they work in the community. The real meat of the one-ring show is how they’re cooperating, and the connection with the audience. They’re not stars, they’re weirdos, working hard with each other.” One Australian theater scholar calls Finch a “larrikin,” sort of a wild boy, but his focus and discipline are clear; recruited to run the show in 1997, he’d previously been an acrobat, juggler, and filmmaker, and he ran an enterprise called Circus Monoxide.
Oz’s onstage roster of a dozen or so is incredibly diverse: The oldest, a clown named Tim Coldwell who walks on the ceiling, is 51, and the youngest—including Ethiopian Sosina Wogayehu, an acrobat, juggler, aerialist, and contortionist—are in their mid twenties. The only animal is a robot dog. “He does stand-up,” quips juggling musician Joel Salom, whose arms are wired for sound so his clubs function like amplified drumsticks. In a rehearsal at the old navy drill hall that’s its headquarters in Port Melbourne, Australia, the company rehearses the show’s frantic opening sequence, during which about nine different things happen at once. Onstage in Manhattan, they’ll do all of it, often twice a day, and everything will be on fire. Literally.