Penn Live Arts Blog

5 Questions with Chris Lashua

Posted January 16, 2024

On Jan 28, the daredevil acrobats of Cirque Mechanics return to our stage with more “high-flying, free-wheeling fun” (Omaha World-Herald) in the Philadelphia premiere of Zephyr. For today’s 5 Questions feature, we connected with Cirque Mechanics’ Founder and Creative Director Chris Lashua, who shares some insight into his career, the company’s work and what audiences can expect from Zephyr.

1) What first got you into circus arts?
In 1992, I was at the Wu Ciao circus festival in China representing the Ringling Brothers Circus performing my trick cycling/box act. I met Gilles Ste-Crois, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil, at this festival. Gilles invited me to join their summer tour of Japan. Once I was involved with the circus, I knew I wanted to continue working in this world any way that I could.

2) How would you describe the work that you typically create?
At the heart of Cirque Mechanics is the belief that the magic lies in the interactions between mechanical apparatus, or scenic element, and the artists. We seek to explore these relationships, and they become important visual elements in the productions. As a soloist for many years, I enjoyed having the stage to myself, but now I find so much more pleasure in creating scenes that employ multiple artists.

3) What is your process?
The process for the creation of our shows is opposite the way theater is normally created. We start with an original mechanical device that excites us. We then brainstorm an environment for this device and a setting based on what it looks like or does. We then bring in artists to workshop, continue to gather information about this new apparatus and take note of the personalities and skills of the artists that we have assembled. The narrative generally comes later in our process once we’ve decided on key players/artists and acrobats.

4) What projects are you working on currently?
During the pandemic, we bought our own orange and grey circus big top. We are now engaged in developing relationships and finding partners to help us present our work in the tent. This is really exciting, but also a bit scary. When we tour in theaters, we rely on that venue's relationship with their community to sell tickets. Being in our own tent means we are responsible for everything, from finding the venue/lot or site, to permitting, promotion, finding and hiring local labor and selling tickets. While having a hand in “how” this is all done and putting our spin on this is exciting, it is much more risky than the work we do in the theater world where the venue takes care of all of those elements.

5) How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
Our new show Zephyr, which is built around a large working windmill, is a story about mankind's relationship with the wind, and our belief that we all need to take another look at alternative sources of power and energy. We use the windmill to demonstrate this long history of using wind energy and also how we lost faith in this and have tried to find better solutions. In our show, we use our central character “Nigel” to tell this tale and see how he loses HIS faith in the wind and then rediscovers its power.

Bonus Question: Do you sing in the shower?
Yes, I do… I am a terrible singer but I have been known to get carried away. I am very prone to ear worm and often get a song or phrase stuck in my head that just needs to be repeated over and over and over… so yeah, I sing in the shower and everywhere else…. ;-)

related event