Backstage at the 2024 Utah Arts Festival: Street theater returns on a large scale, with Voodoo Productions

Before the pandemic, street theater, roaming stiltwalkers, and aerial artists were part of the Utah Arts Festival  experience and audiences scrambled whenever there was a performance either along the south-facing glass wall of the City Library or along the crescent arch or in the heart of the festival grounds.

In 2014, Australia’s Strange Fruit using a soundtrack with excerpts from Mozart to swing, acted out a universally approachable timeless story of a boy and girl in romance, expressing love, loss, jealousy and joy. However, the quartet of performers danced, flirted and delighted audiences with comic gestures while atop specially made flexible fiberglass poles reaching more than 15 feet high. For the 40th anniversary in 2016, the ‘internationally acclaimed aliens’ otherwise known as the Neighbourhood Watch Stilts International from the U.K. performed Les Oiseaux de Lux, a story about a flock of wingless birds who have the power to elicit even a good bit of laughter and amusement from the most stoic ego-focused individual in a festival crowd. In 2018, BANDALOOP, which expanded its international portfolio of vertical dance works to breathtaking new levels of artistic altitude, transformed the City Library’s south-facing glass wall above the reflecting pool into a unique stage. In 2019, Close Act Theatre, based in The Netherlands, brought Saurus, a trio of large dinosaurs to entertain and ‘confront’ – good-naturedly, of course – crowds at several shows each day of the event.

Voodoo Productions

For the first time in five years, the Utah Arts Festival is bringing back street theater on that similar memorable scale with the Salt Lake City-based Voodoo Productions featuring aerialists, sway pole artists and stilt walkers along with ballerinas, a floating violinist and ballerinas, revolving wheel performance and poetry pros throughout all three days on the festival campus. 

Salt Lake City’s deep benches of talent in all forms of dance, music, theater, acrobatics and aerialists and spoken word and slam poetry has fed the network for artists interested in the art of cirque performance. In an interview with The Utah Review, Jennifer Tarasevich, owner and talent coordinator of Voodoo Productions, said that as demand from clients grew for cirque-style performers in other cities, “I decided to ramp up the efforts in Salt Lake City to organize a hub for cirque talent.” She added that Voodoo Productions has recruited  cirque talent with documentation that they are at the top of their game in skills and professions. Periodically, she will issue casting calls for those who have expressed an interest by submitting their portfolio of work. 

Voodoo Productions has filled every imaginable request, according to Tarasevich, including large numbers of bagpipers, or pirates and mermaids for exclusive shows as well as Santa Claus for the winter holdings. She added that their production formula prioritizes creating fresh show content, as needed. 

When the Utah Arts Festival planners approached Tarasevich about performances involving the same spaces that international acts have used in previous year on the Library Plaza in downtown, she said, “I told that we can make that happen.”

For the festival, Voodoo Productions, which has a well-established portfolio of corporate clients and special events performances, has created acts with new elements that will be seen publicly for the first time. Festival visitors will see aerialists on a trampoline style wall 20 feet in the air, as well as performers on a sway pole of the same  height  — the only such apparatus in Utah with the next available one located in Las Vegas, which is a major hub for cirque entertainment. Tarasevich added, “It takes a little circus village to make it happen.”

The newest acts will include a floating violinist on a sway pole, while two ballerinas dance near her feet and there is a dress ten feet in length. This will be performed daily near the library’s crescent arch, on the east side of the festival grounds. The flavor of the act reminds of the Baroque and Rococo eras and the violinist resembles Marie Antoinette. There also will be a revolving aerial wheel with two female performers inside performing. Performer at the festival will include the following: sway pole, Emilie and Paris Le LeCheur; aerialists, Courtney Stevens, Aly Larson and Jax Creative;;Rococo Violinist, Courtney Majors; Rococo Ballerinas, Lydia Forsgren and Madi Moller; revolving wheel aerialists, Mandi Johnson and Makayla Finlinson; Poem Pros, Alixander Court, and Flower Stiltwalkersm Emilie Le LeCheur and Heidi Butterfly.

Voodoo Productions.

The festival’s renewed embrace of street theater resonates with this year’s event, which features emerging artists in every program and new performers on every stage this weekend. “Today, in the cities full of events, the popular spectacle returns to take on an increasingly important significance, aided by the policies of reappropriation of historic centers. Not only the street but also urban spaces lend themselves to become scenic spaces. … New artistic forms are born that combine theatre with plastic arts, circus arts, and mime,” Sebastiano Spinella explained in a 2022 essay. “Popular theatre today, therefore, goes back to the people, rediscovering an ancient decentralization. All this determines the encounter even with people who do not possess theatrical culture and who perhaps would have no other way to assimilate to this type of experience live.”

“It thrills me as an event organizer when people realize that they do not have to go out of state to find this type of experience because we have the talent and resources to do this in Utah on the same scale,” Tarasevich added. 

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