A few weeks ago I arrived at a nondescript building in Glendale on a Friday evening. As I push the door aside, I wondered what type of debauchery awaited me only to be surprised to find a row of mannequins dressed in superhero costumes staring back at me. Confused, and slightly startled, I walked around the space to find other mannequins dressed in costumes ranging from Pennywise to Western themed, and it’s at this point where the nervousness started to set in. Luckily this review isn’t going to be about how I was scared shitless by a troupe of soulless mannequins, instead, this was just the beginning stages of what has become one of my favorite events of the Halloween season: SHAPESHIFTER CIRCUS.
The best way to describe SHAPESHIFTER CIRCUS is a macabre big-top featuring rock music performed by a bevy of “freaks”, breathtaking aerialists, terrifying clowns and a haunted midway. The building that this event took place in was part of a costume store, so when guests arrived they would have to walk down a long, narrow hallway filled with costumes on either side which gave the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. For most people this might not seem that scary, but for me, I found that it escalated my paranoia as I wasn’t sure if someone would jump out from behind the vertical rows of garments. Though the hallway didn’t take long to transverse, this still managed to evoke a feeling of tension and discomfort, especially since at the end of the walkway, I could see a cluster of mannequins staring back at me.
Upon exiting this make-shift tunnel of distrust and terror (okay, I’m exaggerating but mannequins are fucking scary, okay?), I walked into a much larger space that incorporated an outdoor element where guests could order drinks at the brightly lit bar, mingle with other patrons, get their face painted, and participate in recognizable backyard games. As I got the lay of the land, I found myself plastered with a giant grin on my face as I could already tell that this event was going to be something special. There was an air of excitement and electricity as aerialists performed overhead while drinks flowed and guests took pictures next to a ‘70’s era VW van. However, I began to notice a clown making his rounds with two bags of delicious popcorn, handing popped kernels out to whoever wanted. He seemed nice and non-threatening for the most part, but there was definitely something off about him and boy did I come to learn more when the show started.
After getting my face painted, because of course I would, attendees were notified that the main show was to begin. Leaving the outdoor space behind, my boyfriend and I made our way to where the stage was set up and took our seats in the front row, excited by whatever was to unfold. On stage came the Ringmaster who introduced himself and the live band that would be performing throughout the show. The band consisted of the typical tropes seen in a “freak show” with the addition of “Conjoined Twins” for the singers. The music they played with absolutely stellar and went perfectly with the dark and twisted tones that eventually sprang forth from the production. The show itself is abstract, but the general gist is that we are following a Carni as she spirals down into a sort of hellscape that is filled with supernatural creatures, a cannibal clown (I told you that clown was giving off a VIBE), and much, much more.
Most impressive, though, was the aerial work done by professional aerialist Jordann Baker Skipper. I was both mesmerized and horrified watching her fly across the room with little to no support outside of a rope or fabric. Sitting there in the front row, watching her unravel her body from the grips of the fabric, made my heart almost jump out of me as I wanted to rush the stage to make sure she didn’t get injured. Obviously, I didn’t do this, and it was quite apparent that Jordann didn’t need any support as her performances were flawless and beautiful. Each twist and turn of her body told a story and the emotions conveyed through each perfectly executed stunt ranged from sadness, to horror, to anger, to freedom. It was beautiful and soul crushing in all the right ways and I wish to God we could have seen more.
As I’m sure you can tell from this review, I absolutely loved SHAPESHIFTER CIRCUS. The Halloween season can be bogged down with so many of the same types of events that when this came along it was a breath of fresh air (pardon the cliche term). Even though it’s been a few weeks since I went, I can’t stop thinking about it and that’s the beauty of performance art - it can truly be long-lasting. Though their run as come to an end for the Halloween season, I’m confident that they will return in the near (hopefully) future, which at that point I will gather everyone I know so that they can also experience such a beautifully disturbing circus of the macabre. Believe me when I say that you will not want to miss what they do next!