Live like a clown at Manhattan’s premiere playground theater

Written by By Sonali Mehta, CNN

Playground Theater Company, a new immersive theater that runs in a series of galleries, transformed its base in Greenwich Village into the Club for Aerialists and Clowns. The unique performance invites adults (and one very young boy) to become circus performers by pretending to be children.

Kudos is an immersive theater where adults pretend to be children ” by pretending to be children. Credit: Patrick Corcoran for Playground Theater Company

In a series of long hallways, performers act out clownish characters that initially don’t quite get away with their childlike quirks. As the situation escalates, adult circus performers are made to perform circus tricks. Adults skateboard around the corridors and do things like put on pony tails and pretend to escape from the star of this year’s Lunar New Year at the end of the performance.

To build the illusion that the actor is really a child, actor Alex Pantazi wears a spooky clown mask, while puppeteer Seema Gill plays the role of a friendly circus clown. In a bit of unexpected physical comedy, Gill performs a number of impressions of David Bowie, Lorde and Kanye West, before karate kicking her ears to loud drum beats.

Two actors on swing set. Credit: Patrick Corcoran for Playground Theater Company

“I was pretty nervous” when she was asked to play a clown at the start of the production, says Pantazi. “I was thinking, are we going to do the circus move that turns into, ‘Is he a good clown or a bad clown?'”

Children will interact with the artist inside the loop of the theater, finding clues about the performances during the performance. Here, eight-year-old Alex Townes wears the face of the boxer Freddie Roach, while his 10-year-old sister Angelina wears Roach’s boxing shorts. The sibling pair dress in pink to add an element of girly-ness to their role.

“It makes the performance more playful and less strict,” explains the show’s artistic director, Ben Horan. “I liked the notion of a kid performing and it being a performance. We give them a space where you’re walking through a series of walls and into the through-lens of a camera.”

Behind closed doors … The second part of the show is slated to take place next September. Credit: Patrick Corcoran for Playground Theater Company

Horan describes himself as someone who “loves being a kid.” His childhood memories involved riding BMX bikes and pretending to be a ninja. In his latest theater project, he says there is a unique innocence to the work that comes from imagining one’s childhood as performance.

“There’s a purity to that child-like process,” he says. “As a grown up I hope that some of the work has that spirit of innocence to it.”

The final performance will take place in Manhattan at Williamstown Theater Festival in September. To fund the show, the opening exhibition features Andy Warhol’s Halloween costumes and Jake Gyllenhaal’s birthday mask.

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