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Author: Sam Bradfield

Cirque Mechanics’ revival of ‘Birdhouse Factory’ looks to give audiences hope while showcasing acrobatics

The last time Cirque Mechanics performed at CU Boulder in January 2020, they presented “42FT – A Menagerie of Mechanical Marvels”, a show based on the history of classic one-ring circus acts. Cirque is back on Oct. 9, and this time around, they’re bringing a fan-favorite from their vaults: “Birdhouse Factory.”

“Birdhouse Factory” was the original Cirque Mechanics story, premiering in 2005 and running until 2007. A remount was initially intended for a 15th-anniversary revival tour in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans. Instead, it is now running as a 16th-anniversary production in the same spirit.

“[Birdhouse Factory] is such a hopeful, beautiful show,” says marketing director Aida Lashua, who co-founded Cirque Mechanics with her partner Chris Lashua in 2005. “We were excited to put into practice a lot of the things that we’ve learned through the years as a company to this show.

“This was our very first production, so it was a little heavy when it came to transporting the set. We’ve learned so much about how to make things lighter and still make them look great,” she adds. “We wanted a chance to be able to take the show back on the road and apply all of the lessons we’d learned from all of the other shows we’ve produced since—I think that’s just going to make it different in one way, but better in another way.”

The premise of “Birdhouse Factory” comes from Depression-era work life, taking place in a 1930s widget factory on the brink of closure. The workers feel the grind of monotonous factory work until a singular moment changes the trajectory of their day—an injured bird flies into the factory in need of rescue. In the process, the workers “come to understand that they ought to be making something that’s more helpful, beautiful and interesting. Of course, they end up making birdhouses,” Aida says.

“At the end of Act I, the factory is closing because it’s just producing things that are not really that interesting or necessary. But the workers don’t give up,” she continued. “They’re like, ‘No, no! Like this bird, we’re not going to give up! We are going to produce these beautiful birdhouses!’ And in the process, we see their true spirit as they use the factory elements to show us their prowess.”

For inspiration for the show, Chris Lashua looked close to home—a small paper mill town in Massachusetts, which has since closed. The factory buildings served as an inspiration for the location of the show, while its color palette came from Diego Rivera after a trip to San Francisco and the Coit Tower.

“[Rivera’s paintings] are so beautiful,” Aida says, “and yet they’re showing men at work, essentially. So that started the idea of making the factory as beautiful as we can and trying to be inspired by these paintings.”

Additional inspiration came from other icons like Charlie Chaplin and Rube Goldberg, says Aida. “When Chris started designing these machines, everyone kept saying, ‘Oh, Chris! This is so much like Rube Goldberg!’

“And to be completely honest, we were like, ‘Who’s Rube Goldberg?’” she chuckles, “and then we realized who he was and it just fit perfectly. It was like, ‘Yes, of course! The machine and the person are working together in kind of a silly way!’”

The best parts of the show, according to Aida, are all rooted in the idea that audiences will see something unusual with every circus act. There will still be German Wheel performers and contortionists, but they’re going to be performing in atypical ways.

For example, “they’re going to see a contortionist and she’s going to climb on top of a table, and the table will be driven by two unicycle riders,” she said. “She’s going to do all of her moves while she’s being moved, which you don’t see often because it’s hard to do contortion while you’re in motion.”

These big and small moments combine to create a singular and spectacular night, Aida promises: “I think it’s that twist of seeing maybe something you’ve seen before—the circus acrobats doing their thing—but in an unusual and different way, which is going to spark the imagination a little bit more.”

Cirque Mechanics’ “Birdhouse Factory” takes place on Oct. 9 in Macky Auditorium. Tickets start at $23.