Charles ‘Handsome Chuck’ Lechien Jr.
The Boston Circus Guild, which Lechien founded in 2009, promises to take “a theatrical look at circus” in its new production, “Threshold,” which it will perform Thursday and Friday at Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave., Somerville. Information about the performances is at www.boston
‘We use humor and we feed off the audience, but what we’re doing is much broader than the traditional circus.’
Q. What, exactly, is a contemporary circus?
A. Contemporary circus isn’t like the traditional kind of circus we’re used to seeing. There are no white-faced clowns with big red noses and big red shoes. This is much more theatrical and much less glitzy. We’re bringing together underground performers, traditionally trained dancers, musicians, and circus performers, but we’re putting it into a narrative. It’s more than just for the sake of entertaining. There isn’t a narrator or text or anything, but these performances tell a story through movement. It’s a conceptual piece where every act and every scene tells a story. There’s also a variety of characters that the audience gets to explore and understand during the show. It’s not just, “Here’s a shiny person doing fun tricks.”
Q. You make a point of staying away from the traditional circus aesthetic. Why?
A. We get and respect what those people do, but it’s not our thing. Again, we don’t have clowns, but we definitely pull from the idea of a clown. We use humor and we feed off the audience, but what we’re doing is much broader than the traditional circus. We do include some burlesque dancers and belly dancers in our troupe — not in “Threshold,” but in other performances — and they fall outside traditional circus. We want to expand on the types of skills that we include in our performances. We also want this to be a part of a much larger process: telling stories, creating art. This is just a piece of the pie.
Q. What are some of the themes within the stories?
A. We’re trying to explore the evolution and transitioning of relationships. Everyone can relate to that, and that’s really our goal. We want to portray things that humans go through emotionally, and how they interact with other people, whether it’s friends, family, or lovers. Our lives are filled with these moments of coming up to a threshold or coming up to a choice — what makes you step over that threshold, or what keeps you from stepping over it. I really feel that by the end of this show, everyone will have seen something they can relate to.
Q. What’s the draw for these professionally trained performers to join the Boston Circus Guild?
A. These people really love the collaboration that exists here. We’re bringing together original music, original performances and ideas, and it’s just this hodgepodge for artistic development.
Q. How is “Threshold” different than something like Cirque du Soleil?
A. It all sort of comes back to the idea of being human. While the performers in Cirque du Soleil are incredible and so disciplined, it almost seems robotic. People get caught up in the production and forget that those are real people. You can see on the performers’ faces [in the Boston Circus Guild] when an act is extremely difficult or when they’re really focusing. And as a result of that, audiences tend to be a lot closer to us than they are in bigger shows. It’s a lot more inspiring for the audience to see that these people are working incredibly hard, but at the end of the day, they’re human.
Q. Would you say there’s a contemporary circus scene in Boston?
A. We’re pretty much it in Boston. There is sort of like a national scene or movement for the contemporary circus, but it’s mostly on the West Coast. There’s a lot in the Bay Area [of California], and some in Seattle and Portland, [Ore.,] but it’s really not as big on the East Coast. We want to put Boston on the map there and really make us a lively part of that circus community. We have a tremendous amount of talented performers in Boston, but before the Guild, these people would get to a certain point in their career and leave, because there wasn’t much job opportunity.