As a child, I have always been fascinated by history, especially American history. And one of my favorite eras to study as a child was the Great Depression because it was so fundamentally different from the life we lead now. However, there are a couple of things that have remained the same no matter how much time has passed – the need for entertainment and love. Using the entertaining allure of the traveling circus in the 1930s as a backdrop, CoAct Productions’ THE SIDESHOWtakes us through an intimate tale of love, betrayal, and – ultimately – forgiveness.

One of the questions I had prior to attending the show was wondering how the CoAct Productions was going to transport us into the 1930s. I won’t dive into specifics on the transition between our world and the world of the ‘30s, but where we start the show is actually quite brilliant. Audience members show up to a garage sale organized by Katelyn, a young woman whose grandmother has recently passed away. We then meet a young man who has seen an item featured at the garage sale in the paper and he believes it belongs to his deceased grandfather. After looking through old photographs found in the trunk that belonged to their respective grandparents, we then begin the gradual transition back in time to learn more about Nora (Katelyn Schiller) and Clovis (Dakota Loesch).

From this point on, the audience member is split into two. Half of the group goes with Nora and the other half went with Clovis. I was with the group who went off with Clovis where we watched Dakota Loesch’s subtle transformation into his character. He quickly broke it down for us as to why he was working for the circus and what he hoped to accomplish in his life which I found to be fascinating. We were pulled in with his avid storytelling and his quirky charm and humor, which is ultimately what sold many of us into investing into the character. And this is where props have to be given for Loesch for selling Clovis so flawlessly to us, especially given how hot and humid it was within that circus tent.

While my group didn’t get the chance to really interact with Katelyn Schiller’s Nora until the third act of the show, her performance was fun and exciting. At first, we see her from Clovis’s initial point-of-view as a rich socialite who has decided to go run off to the circus for an adventure. However, because of the layers Schiller has added to her interpretation of Nora, it was easy to see that she was much more than a walking cliche. She was saucy and exuberant. You couldn’t help but fall in love with her and, as soon as we started to see the sparks flying between the two, my group was hoping that they’d get together in the end.

Despite the brilliant performances given by the two actors, none of this could have been delivered to us without Lyndsie Scoggin’s directing prowess, the beautifully intimate script written by Nick Rheinwald-Jones, and the stunning artistic direction by Danielle Levesque. All of these came together to create the atmosphere needed to heighten the natural intimacy between Clovis and Nora in front of the audience, but also to take us back into the Great Depression era within a traveling circus.

The audience interaction was kept fairly minimal throughout the course of the show but, to be perfectly honest, this was a show that wasn’t about the audience. This show was about the developing bond and struggle between Clovis and Nora. There were moments here and there where audience members were invited to engage when we were separated between the two individual characters but, when we were all brought together, there was no need for us to say anything. Instead, all we needed to do was watch and understand why these two lovebirds continue to repeat the same cycle of memories over and over and over again.

Sometimes the best stories are not delivered in grandiose scale with a big ensemble, but with a small intimate setting between two people. THE SIDESHOW was a much-needed reminder of how different immersive theatre can be, but also what love can mean for many of us in a different setting. If CoAct Productions ever choose to remount the show again, I will be the first to push people through those circus tents to get them to see this beautiful love story develop.

THE SIDESHOW runs through August 26 in an undisclosed location in Glendale. Tickets are $75, and the production is currently sold out.

Sarah Musnicky
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