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Friday, May 2, 2008

Interrogation with Aurélia Thiérrée

posted by on May 2 at 11:06 AM


In France in the 1970s, Victoria Chaplin (daughter of Charlie) and Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée (a French movie star) started performing a kind of circus act nobody had seen before. It was a marriage of the new and the nostalgic, vaudeville for drug people, that ditched the traditional flashy costumes, animal acts, and other three-ring hooha for dreamy clowning.

People called it cirque nouveau and it became the fountainhead for the cabaret and circus revival that’s everywhere today, from Circus Contraption to Cirque de Soleil. None of that would be possible without Chaplin and Thiérrée, the American actress and the French movie star who fell in love and ran away to their own kind of circus.

Aurélia Thiérrée is their daughter and is coming to the Seattle Rep, to perform her show Aurélia’s Oratorio. We talked on the telephone—me sitting in the park in Seattle, her sitting in her apartment in New York. She did not want to talk about her grandfather, Charlie Chaplin, or her great-grandfather, Eugene O’Neill.

You grew up performing with in your parents’ circus?
It was a way to keep the family together. Sometimes we were on the road for eight or nine months. We had tutors who came to give us lessons two hours a day in each city.

That’s nice. So if you had a teacher you hated, you knew you’d never see him or her again.
Well, sometimes yes. But sometimes we would be in one city for a few months.

What was your parents’ circus like?
They were the first to believe circus could be changed, but circus performers weren’t ready to change. They were using traditions that had been passed down through the generations. Changing their acts, their costumes, or no more animals—it wasn’t possible. So my parents created their own circus to do whatever they wanted.

Your mother created this show?
My mother and I together, little by little, while I was working with the Tiger Lilies. As a family, we always work together.

What were you doing with the Tiger Lilies?
I prefer really to focus on this show, because that’s my reality today.

What’s it like?
It’s difficult to describe. It’s not circus, not dance, not a children’s show, and not theater. The original idea began with a book of medieval drawings of the world turned upside-down. They reverted situations to create humor and were also used as politically—maybe a man riding a horse upside-down or women going to war, things like that. That was the idea: to take a tableau you’re familiar with, but everything is upside-down. Also, I had the idea of a woman going completely mad.


What will people see at the show?
I’m reluctant to describe the acts precisely.

Could you describe them generally?
I tried to use whatever I could to please my mother.

What pleases your mother?
She has a very precise theatrical language. She uses old tricks but attaches them to images that are very modern.

What kind of tricks?
Optical illusions—there is a costume where I am an hourglass and then I turn into sand, using a really, really old trick but one that’s never been used in this way.

Is there a name for this trick?
If there were, I would never, never tell you.

RSS icon Comments


You know, the beginning of this article had me totally hooked and I'm sure I would love this show, but I hate this woman so much after reading this interview, I'll never waste any time supporting her. I could never enjoy anything she does now that I know she's such a world-class jerk.

I get her insecurity, but if you'd be absolutely nowhere without your parents, grandparents and, for crying out loud, your great-grandparents, maybe it would be nice to acknowledge tham a little and come off like an ass a little less.

Posted by whatevernevermind | May 2, 2008 12:05 PM

She wasn't that bad, whatevernevermind. And it couldn't have been easy, growing up in a family with the world's most famous playwrights and movie stars. (Plus a good dose of scandal and the subject of lurid and antagonistic press.) Her prickliness is understandable. And I bet it'll be a good show...

Posted by Brendan Kiley | May 2, 2008 12:36 PM

Jesus, and I thought my family was neurotic and generally weird.

Posted by Greg | May 2, 2008 1:08 PM


What Brendan said.

Posted by Mr. Poe | May 2, 2008 1:12 PM

The show looks great, and what a fucking childhood to have. I'm green with envy.

I will be too cheap/lazy to actually go to the show.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | May 2, 2008 1:36 PM

I want to see the show still, but OH MY GOD this woman is tiresome.

Posted by Amy Kate Horn | May 2, 2008 1:36 PM

Pepper's Ghost. I'll go on record as saying that's the old illusion she refuses to name.


Posted by diggum | May 2, 2008 2:35 PM

She sounds like a bitch with a capitol "C"

Posted by jeff | May 2, 2008 2:40 PM

This sounds amazing. This sounds exactly what I want, and rarely get, from a theater experience. A truly transporting spectacle which allows me to forget the mundaneness of my world for 90 minutes. I'm so there.

Posted by Gurldoggie | May 3, 2008 12:58 AM

Though I certainly understand why the Sloggers @ 1 & 4 who enjoy the smell of their own farts would prefer to miss it.

Posted by Gurldoggie | May 3, 2008 1:00 AM

What a pompous ass she seems.

I don't care how cool/revolutionary/groundbreaking/whatever their act may be, anyone with that attitude toward her fans/potential fans doesn't deserve an audience. That's unfortunate, because this is just the kind of show I'd go to.

Oh well. More money in my pocket, less in the *choke* artiste's.

Dump the attitude and we can talk.

Posted by Wolf | May 3, 2008 3:15 PM

This is my third try. Why am I consistently deleted in many threads? I'm not being an ass...

Posted by Wolf | May 3, 2008 3:22 PM

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