For the past three years, the members of the Handsome Little Devils have drawn on Vaudevillian slapstick and Chuck Jones-inspired gags to form the "Squirm Burpee Circus," a stageshow that features extreme juggling feats, damsels in distress and monumental prop pieces. Their work has paid off. Starting next month, the troupe will bring its unique blend of tongue-in-cheek comedy and complex set work to the New Victory Theater in New York. Troupe members will spend their final month in Colorado raising funds for the show, which features a giant juggling contraption, a full-sized cannon and a hulking circus wagon. Westword caught up with troupe member Cole Schneider, who plays the shows wide-eyed damsel in distress, to talk about the show's format and the troupe's goals for the next four weeks.
Westword (A.H. Goldstein): Can you give a brief background of the troupe? Cole Schneider: The Handsome Little Devils was started 10 years ago by Mike and Dan Huling, who were attending CSU in Fort Collins. They were artists who learned to juggle and who came up with a hilarious show. A few years ago, they decided to expand from doing a duo act with the brothers to an ensemble piece. That's when the idea of the Squirm Burpee circus was born, and that's the show we are now bringing to the off-Broadway theater, New Victory.
What we call the show is a "Vaudevillian Melodrama" -- it's a family-friendly comedy with humor for all ages. It features circus skills like juggling and acrobatics, a lot of fast-paced comedy and there is a melodrama plot. So there's the good guy, the bad guy and a damsel in distress.
WW: From the shows I've seen, I get the sense that you pull a lot of inspiration from old Warner Brothers and Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons for the plot points. CS: Oh yes. There is a lot of influence. In fact, whenever we're trying to come up with new material, we'll just sit and watch old cartoons for at least an hour a day during the development process ... We try to inform our show with that history, for sure.
WW: Up to this point, where have you performed? Have you stuck to shows in Colorado? CS: When we first started, Mike and Dan themselves were doing street performing. They would do a lot of local busquer festivals. Then when we got a couple of other people, we did some festivals, but quickly wanted to shift into the theater scene. So we've been spending the past few years developing those relationships and I'd say for the last two years, we've been touring performing arts centers and presenting our show all over the country. We've done it in Canada. We're hoping for Europe next year.
WW: How did the opportunity to perform in the New Victory Theater in New York come up? CS: It definitely took persistence [laughs]. We have been trying to go up to the next level with our show. It's not an easy thing to do, because what we do is so unusual. There's not really a niche for it, there's no way to characterize it that is easy to define and say, "This is why this show should be off-Broadway."
A bunch of performers that we respect and look up to recommended that we should be playing the New Victory Theater. One of the people that recommended it to us had actually produced a show at the theater -- that was Al Kraizer. He kind of pushed us along ... We contacted a few other people, and finally the New Victory looked at our promo materials.
They said, "OK, you guys have got the greatest promo materials we've ever seen. When can we come and see the live show?" The show at the Aurora Fox last November was the show that the performance the New Victory artistic director came and saw. She flew out, she saw it. At first she said, "I really like it, we definitely want to have you out. We don't know when."
She gave us some ideas of what they we would like to see from us.
WW: What kind of suggestions did they have for the show? What did they want you to change? CS: The format at the New Victory is a 75- to 80-minute show with no intermission. Our show normally runs an hour and a half with intermission. That was the biggest structural change.
The other thing was that they wanted to see a different finale. Normally, we juggle chainsaws, bowling balls and eggs. They had some questions about permitting that trick, so we came up with something else. This is the big push that we're doing right now, is to try to garner some support for this particular set piece and prop. We're building a huge finale contraption -- a juggling machine -- that is going to trump our circus wagon. For people who have seen the show and seen the circus wagon, this is three times bigger and way more involved. It's really crazy.
WW: So most of the fundraising push at this point is for the set pieces? CS: Well, (there's) another thing they wanted to see. I do a tap number in the show, and it wasn't quite up to speed. It wasn't original; it was just me covering a Cole Porter song. It wasn't totally fitting with the story; it wasn't serving its purpose. So we actually commissioned a composer, Hugh Sutton, from the Seattle band Circus Contraption. We have a new original song; there's a whole new set piece we're building for that song, too. The band that's doing the recording is the White Ghost Shivers from Austin, Texas.
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WW: What's your fundraising goal? CS: If it were possible, we would really love to get up to $10,000. But what we're shooting for on the kickstarter website is $4,000. That's a realistic goal, and that will definitely get us pretty far with finishing the rest of the stuff we need to finish. Right now, we have 27 more days. We leave on Halloween, and we open our show on Nov. 12.
WW: Has it been difficult to pack up all of your set pieces for the tour? CS: We are going to fit everything in our trailer and our bus. We have to purchase a trailer that's four feet longer. But the thing about Dan and Mike, who are building the bulk of our props and tech stuff, is that they're very ingenious when it comes packing things away because they were street performers for so long. They had to carry everything with them five times a day ... Our finale contraption, even though it's humongous and it's really intricate and it's really big, it actually all folds down into itself. It doesn't take up too much space. I think actually everything might fit.
WW: Can you talk more about the new finale contraption? CS: It's actually featured on our video on the kickstarter site. It's a juggling machine. As an homage to our friends in Seattle, we call it the circus contraption. It has a million things to look at. We're hoping that when people see it, they'll want to see it again and they'll come back to the show. There are so many different layers -- there are snails jumping over salt shakers, there's a crocodile eating some ducks, there are juggling pins and juggling rings going around mechanically. There's flashing lights, there's fog -- it's a party.
To check out videos of the Handsome Little Devils' "Circus Contraption" and to contribute to the troupe's fundraising push, log on to kickstarter.com.