The magic of the circus comes alive in Running to Places’ (R2P) “Pippin.” From jugglers to unicycles to acrobatics, the musical is a comedic extravaganza in the spirit of the recent Broadway revival. The production, with backstage support by Cornell staff, runs Jan. 12-14 at Cornell’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts and is a collaboration with Ithaca’s Circus Culture school.
The idea for R2P, a youth community theater company for middle and high school students from across the area, was born in the Kiplinger Theater in 2007 during a rehearsal for “Inherit the Wind,” when R2P founder and artistic director Joey Steinhagen was a Resident Professional Teaching Associate.
J. Ellen Gainor, professor of performing and media arts (PMA), said she is delighted to foster a connection between Cornell and R2P’s “dynamic” youth organization. “Many of our faculty, staff and students are involved with community-based arts and believe strongly in the importance of the arts to civic life,” said Gainor. “We relish the opportunity to introduce R2P members to the Schwartz Center and its Kiplinger Theatre, and we hope that their experience with us at Cornell will encourage them to remain involved with the arts in their college years and beyond.”
To convey the over-the-top outrageousness of the story of Pippin, a directionless prince trying to find his purpose in life, the show uses the vocabulary of the circus in the same way a conventional musical would use dance choreography.
“Fifty teenagers, most of whom have never done circus, are suddenly doing things that leave your jaw on the floor,” Steinhagen said. “Static trapeze, juggling, doing full splits suspended from aerial silks: It’s just what you think of when you think of Cirque du Soleil – but it’s a youth theater doing these things.”
Circus Culture brought in experts to train PMA staff on how to operate the aerial rigging they installed. Schwartz Center staff have trained R2P company members on Kiplinger Theater stagecraft, like how to operate the “flys” that are part of the set. Their participation gives the R2P youth a new layer of exposure and experience they wouldn’t have otherwise, said Steinhagen. And PMA’s trained theater student employees have the opportunity to gain production and mentorship experience.
Other Cornell staff involved with the show include costume designer Liz Woods, a user-experience specialist for Cornell Library, and Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, who will play violin in the show’s pit orchestra.
“Pippin” runs Jan. 12-14, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15 general admission, $12 for students and seniors, available at www.runningtoplaces.org.
Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.