COWBOY COMEDIAN Leapin' Louie runs into a room as if his britches were on fire, clutching a dog-chewed hat and a beat-up suitcase full of props like a rubber chicken, a lasso, and twin bullwhips. What's this clown trying to pull?
Funny you should ask. This year Louie, AKA David Lichtenstein, has taken the creative reins for the Umbrella Festival from Wanderlust Circus' zoot-suited ringmaster Noah Mickens—who doesn't readily surrender his directorial spotlight. For Louie, the now-producer makes an exception:
"With David as this year's artistic director, we have access to a global community of genius new vaudevillians that's beyond [my] reach," explains Mickens. "David is a well-beloved veteran of that scene, so he's gotten us people like Avner the Eccentric, Flyin' Bob, Summer Shapiro... these guys are doing solo shows on Broadway and headlining festivals all over the world. And David is equally connected to the younger, cutting-edge circus performers here on the West Coast; people who grew up watching his shows at Oregon Country Fair. One of these younger artists told me that David is 'like an Obi-Wan Kenobi' to him."
During the seven-show, two-weekend fest at Alberta Rose Theatre, Lichtenstein's picks will pair off with some of Wanderlust's most prominent vaudevillians, wisely balancing the novelty of out-of-towners with the loyal following of locals. On Sunday, April 21, Shapiro, a Lucille-Ball-esque clown who goofs on female sexiness and theatrical suspense, will headline "Women of the Big Top" alongside Wanderlust regular Brittany Walsh, a hand-balancer whose showstopper is shooting an arrow with her legs. On April 26, New Mexico contortionist duo Button Wagon will take a tumble with local acrobats Kazüm to the back-alley Django-twang of Trashcan Joe. The Wanderlust Circus Orchestra will kick off the festivities this Friday, April 19, and there's even a Sunday matinee for the kiddos—an audience Lichtenstein, a father, gives high priority. "I want to bring in a family audience while keeping that edginess," he says.
During his world travels as a cowboy clown, Lichtenstein has perceived a revival of interest in the form, and he's passionate about helping the groundswell at home. "I'm a born and bred Oregonian," he notes. "I want to make it happen right here in my hometown. We want to create a permanent festival that will help raise awareness of new circus in the general public and raise the level of new circus among artists."