‘What better way to entertain people than with human spectacle!’ – Francesco Minniti on making circus accessible in ‘Society’
Francesco Minniti was lured into circus during his time at Swinburne University. Since his student days, the actor, director, writer and circus performer has devised everything from productions for casinos to Green Room Award-winning circus. In 2007 founded AfterDark Theatre and sold his car to bankroll the company’s first show, Runtime Error. Initially a black light theatre experience, AfterDark Theatre has grown into an internationally renowned circus production company. Now, Minniti and AfterDark present Society – a blend of circus cabaret that kidnaps its audience for a whirlwind tour of New Orleans. Combining Cajun party culture, French exuberance, Creole Voodoo, Masquerade, and breathtaking acrobatics, Society features extravagant lighting design and live music with original songs. Frank Minniti caught up with Til Knowles to chat magic: the magic of New Orleans, the magic of Spiegeltents, and, of course, the magic of circus.
What drew you to circus as an artform?
When I was studying my acting degree, I was introduced to physical theatre and circus. I immediately fell in love with the physical aspect and thoroughly enjoyed pushing my body to the limits to perform these unique skillsets, whilst attempting to portray a story at the same time.
Your latest show, Society, is a New Orleans inspired circus cabaret. How did you choose this topic? How do you go about building a show from this theme in these forms?
I travelled to New Orleans in 2010; it was a trip that would change my life.
It was a city that opened my eyes to amazing unique cultures, music, art, and lifestyle. I saw my first Mardi Gras there, also my first funeral parade. I also saw second line bands parading up and down the streets and a party that never seemed to end. I began scribbling ideas in my notepad with ideas of acts that resembled what I saw in that amazing city and I came up with the idea of having a show about one of the parades I witnessed. I also did some reading into the history of New Orleans and the history of Mardi Gras and turned out some interesting information about ‘secret societies’ that hosted these lavish parades. From that, I began structuring a show. I selected circus acts I thought would best portray the theme, then moved onto piecing together a loose narrative to bind the acts, and lastly I paired music and atmosphere to create the wild nightlife and culture I remembered.
New Orleans is of course known for its wild nightlife, comfort food, rich culture and its music. Who is your favourite New Orleans musician?
That’s a tough one. I have to say it’s an even draw between Trombone Shorty and Legend Louis Armstrong. I do love listening to the BIG 12 by Shorty, however, St James Infirmary by Satchmo blows my mind every time I hear it.
The press release mentions the multitude of secret societies in New Orleans… what was the most interesting secret society you uncovered during your research?
There were some really eerie and creepy voodoo societies that I learnt about, however the most interesting was the Mystick Krewe of Comus, who were essentially the original creators of Mardi Gras as they competed in the late 19th century for the best party in their quarters.
What’s the most difficult part of directing a show like Society?
Trying to make sure we pay homage to everything that is New Orleans and giving it justice. There’s so much about this incredible city and about the party of Mardi Gras that we couldn’t fit in without making it a 2 hour show. Cutting content has been the hardest thing.
How much does the venue influence the way a circus production is formed? What’s it like working in the Melba Speigeltent?
The Melba Spiegeltent is a fantastic venue to compliment Society and we definitely altered the production so it was far more interactive because of the seating arrangements, staging etc. It literally feels like you’re in an exclusive tucked away venue to have your own private party.
When we began creating the production, picking the right venue was a key factor. We could do this show in a black-box theatre, but we wanted it to have character and Spiegeltents (as we all know) ooze with character and charm. Also our stage was designed to replicate the look of a float slipping into the Spiegeltent.
You’ve talked about wanting to make circus more accessible to general audiences. How do you convince an audience to come and see circus acts over say, traditional theatre?
By creating content that’s interesting and engaging, yet accessible and understandable. Traditional theatre has a very powerful tool to explain or to advance a narrative; dialogue. Circus CAN have dialogue, however circus excels in movement. The trick here is to blend the art forms so that a general audience member does not feel out of their comfort zone, yet still challenged by seeing something a little different. And of course, people want to be entertained. What better way to entertain them than with human spectacle!
I read a previous interview where you mentioned you’re a comic book fan. If you could adapt any comic for the stage, what would it be and why?
I would love to adapt Blade! I loved the concept of day walkers and vampires and think that it would be a great horror walk-through piece of theatre.
Finally, if you had to sum up Society in three words, what would they be?
Debonair. Loose. Crazy.
Society is on at the Melba Spiegeltent on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 10 – 26 May. Tickets, including for exclusive booths and the Gala Night, are available via the AfterDark Theatre website.