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Circustantial Evidence: The Crimson Canary’ Serves Up A New Noir Circus Whodunit

Circus Collective of San Diego delivers “shock and awe” at Lyceum Space

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the Circus Collective of San Diego's "Circustantial Evidence: The Crimson Canary."


Performance schedule


Friday, May 27, 8 p.m.

Saturday, May 28, 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.

Sunday, May 29, 4 p.m.


Lyceum Space Theatre

79 Horton Plaza

San Diego, CA 92101


$15 - $25

Circus is no longer found only under a big top. The Circus Collective of San Diego serves up the circus noir, "Circustantial Evidence: The Crimson Canary," this Memorial Day weekend at the Lyceum Space.

Two years ago a ringmaster went missing in the first "Circustantial Evidence" whodunit by the Circus Collective of San Diego. That's right — CIRCUS-tantial evidence because at a noir circus murder mystery that's the only kind of circumstantial evidence you'll find.

This year the Circus Collective serves up the case of "The Crimson Canary."

Humphrey Bogart personified the noir detective in films like "The Big Sleep" and "The Maltese Falcon." And that gave Kayla Rose of The Circus Collective of San Diego an idea.

"We started watching old movies, the old Humphrey Bogart movies and just getting inspired," Rose said.

And the result is "The Crimson Canary" with Danny Gibbs (formerly Inspector Gibbs of the S.D.P.D.) taking a case of murder and mayhem.

Rose described it as "a film noir style whodunit play with a circus twist."

Jacqueline Witt is directing. She said, "We are really taking circus and stripping it of the big top, that ring, and that whole arena, and bringing it to theaters so that we can show circus as an art form to a wider, broader audience."

It’s a whole new way to see circus and things such as aerial arts on ropes and silks, acrobatics on the ground and much more.

"Instead of thinking of going to a circus tent and having popcorn and cotton candy and seeing elephants and things you would normally think of when you think of a circus, it’s kind of a night at the theater but with all these amazing feats of strength and agility mixed with a great play," Witt explained.

The setting is 1942, a dingy downtown club run by a maniacal mob boss. Of course there's a dame involved, as well as a missing necklace, blackmail, and yes murder. On the case are the bumbling Gibbs and his sassy secretary.

The Circus Collective took on its first case of "Circustantial Evidence" two years ago and now it’s tackling its second, "The Crimson Canary." Assembling the usual suspects for a noir mystery means taking into account each person’s skill set and tailoring the story to them.

It also presents directing challenges say Jaqueline Witt: "The challenges with directing acrobats is you have to have your acrobats in character and also have enough breath to have their lines when they are done. That’s been pretty much the biggest challenge, doing all these like amazing feats of strength and ability and then running right over [saying lines] and then you are like sucking wind."

But it’s well worth the extra work.

"I think what you get coming to a show like this, a circus show, is that shock and awe," Rose said. "I can guarantee there are going to be multiple times in this show where people are going to be on the edge of their seats thinking is that person going to fall? Is that person going to make it? Are they really going to pull off that stunt? That’s what’s different from a musical theatre where the tap dancing is entertaining but there’s not that risk factor that you have in circus and in this show."

"Injuries have been one of our biggest setbacks and one of our biggest challenges," producer and writer Travis Ti explained. "When you do a circus show and includes circus arts it’s kind of the name of the game and what you have to plan for and deal with when it happens."

Ti had to have his part rewritten after an injury and now he said he's just acting.

The first Circustantial Evidence was performed at the Glashaus in the Barrio Art District. "The Crimson Canary" will be at the Lyceum Space, which has a diamond shaped stage that performers had to learn how to deal with in rehearsal.

"It gives us kind of an interesting view that you wouldn’t necessarily have in a regular square theater. So that’s kind of fun because in how seats are arranged they are almost, the front row is right up in the action so we are going to be utilizing those people in front row," Witt said.

Audience members should be prepared for interaction with the performers and determining things in the play. It’s all part of an evolving new style of circus theater.

"It’s been exciting to see the art form grow and expand and be presented in a different sort of form so it’s really gone a little bit more mainstream I’d say than circus used to be. It’s exciting for all of us because we’re really happy with that growth and to show everyone what we love."

"Circustantial Evidence: The Crimson Canary" takes flight Friday, May 27, and runs through Sunday, May 29, at the Lyceum Space. But if you miss it, it will return at San Diego International Fringe in June.

You can check out the first case of "Circustantial Evidence" as well as "Cirquetacular! Cirquetacular!" an earlier show from the Circus Collective of San Diego done at the Lyceum Space.


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