Theater department brings the carnival to BC

Puppet - cropped

Bellevue College’s Carlson Theater will be transformed into a carnival-on-campus from March 11 – 14 at 7:30 p.m. Community members are invited to witness a show like no other that has been performed by the BC theater department.

“Carnival” is based on Michael Steward’s book, with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill. The musical that will be performed was the 1962 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, and has over the years been performed by many different producers. “And now it’s here at Bellevue College,” said Tammi Doyle, director and chair of the theater department.

“Carnival” is not produced very often, Doyle explained, but it is not something that everyone has forgotten. “I’ve known this show for years,” she said. “My dad was really into circus and carnival. He always took us, and it meant a lot to him.”

The story follows a young woman, Lilly, who in her search for something unbeknownst to herself, finds her way to a travelling circus and must learn the ropes.

This carnival is like a whole new world to Lilly. Ollivier explained, “She sees this carnival that’s larger than life to her, and that’s kind of how we play it a bit. The designs for the circus, the tents and the acts, everything is big and over-the-top to convey that fantastical world that this young woman, Lilly, is crawling into.”

“She can’t get enough of it,” Anderson said of the carnival. “She’s young and, naïve isn’t quite the right word, but it’s in the right direction.”

“It’s really fun to watch as a narrative,” said Jack Anderson, who plays Marco the Magnificent, a magician, “because the character that the audience gets to follow is someone who’s new to the carnival. You get to experience all these new things, these awesome things, with her.” He continued, “At the same time, everything’s going on around you. All these people are practicing here, and jumping around over there.”

The play will exhibit magic acts, puppeteering, juggling, plate spinning, ring tossing, trapeze stunts and knife fighting, all skills that the theater students have learned and practiced in preparation for the musical.

carnival trapeze - cropped

The characters express themselves through their crafts. Anderson said, “They’re putting their love and affection, their wants, needs, hopes and desires all out there through their craft.”
Doyle explained that she loved the idea of the students in the play becoming immersed in the circus and learning its acts.

“A carnival is different than a circus,” Doyle said, “but this really is a small, travelling circus-like carnival.”

The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts, SANCA, let the theater students practice with them at their facility twice, and one of the instructors also came to BC once for training. BC ended up purchasing two trapezes, which the theater department will now have for future use.

Along with training through SANCA, the students have been working with Fred Tse, a certified fight director who has also been doing circus acts since he was 8 or 9, Doyle explained. He came to help choreograph sword fighting and other circus acts for the performance of “Carnival.”

“Getting those skills incorporated into the show and to bring our characters to life and to bring extra enjoyment for the audience,” said Brian Ollivier, who plays one of six male leads in Carnival.

carnival magician - cropped

“It’s going to be something that this college has not seen,” Ollivier said. His character is Schlegel, the ring master of the carnival. He described Schlegel as a “scavenger, a survivor. He’s not a fighter and he’s not really a lover either.”

Of “Carnival,” Ollivier said, “It’s a fascinating look at the human condition as it was immediately post-WWII.” The play takes place in post-war Europe, following a carnival of misfits that have been “stitched together like a ragdoll,” Ollivier explained. “There are a lot of different viewpoints in this particular carnival.”

“My character believes that this is his show, and he’s running the business here,” said Ollivier. The character’s decisions reflect this goal to keep the carnival running. “Sometimes he has to babysit. Sometimes he has to give a little bit and may not want to,” Ollivier said. “It’s a cool viewpoint to be coming at as an actor because I have to satisfy so many different individuals.”
The characters in the play are probably widowers, ex-soldiers, war heroes and orphans. “We’re really made up of vagrants and vagabonds,” Ollivier said. “They’re almost gypsy-like, people who have nowhere to go and nothing to do.

And by the side of the carnival action itself is an integral tale of love or the lack thereof. Anderson described the situation as “some angular shape of love,” which works its way into the heart of the story. Anderson claimed it isn’t quite a love triangle. “It’s something pointy.”

Michael Lacker, who plays Paul Berthalet, the puppeteer, described the carnival as more than just your stereotypical conglomerations of crusty carnies and bearded ladies. His character used to be a dancer, but during the war he was shot in the leg and acquired a limp. “He has to make something else dance.”

Lacker described his character Paul, saying that he is a bitter man because he lost everything that defined him. “He is no longer him,” Lacker said. “As a result, he’s constantly in search of self again, which is something that, at his point in life, he shouldn’t have to be searching for. This guy, he got that ripped from under him, and it’s jarring.”

He continued, “As a result, he kind of takes it out on people. You get to see both side of that,” Lacker explained. “You get to see him obviously take it out on those people, but you also get to see the parts of him that feel guilty, the parts of him that wish he wasn’t like this, the parts of him that are actually in love with Lilly, this girl that he meets.”

The audience gets to see Berthalet and Lilly’s relationship develop, as well as the many other relationships evolving throughout the course of the show.

Lacker said, “I think the coolest part about this story is that him finding this love in Lilly, and finding the sweetness in her, seeing the good that’s in her, helps him see the good in himself, and recognize that he isn’t just this beast of a human. He’s more than that.”

“This show is a spectacle of sorts,” Lacker said. “It is very entertaining to watch, it’s entertaining to experience. Come for the fun time, and hopefully this inspires somebody to do something that they’re passionate about. Find a reason for living on this earth.”

Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 students and BC Faculty and can be purchased through The show will play at 7:30 in the Carlson Theater from March 11 – 14, with 150 seats available per night. A limited number of leftover tickets may be available for sale beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the day of each show and may be purchased with cash or check at the door.

“It’s going to be something remarkable,” Anderson said.