Asheville’s Fox & Beggar Theatre troupe aims to do nothing less than elevate the quality and interest in circus arts around the Southeast with its retooling of an already ambitious show the group debuted to high praise last year at The Orange Peel.

Tarocco: A Soldier’s Tale is the story of a World War I soldier, an Italian, who escapes a horrifying gas attack only to find another wounded man who asks to be told a story as he passes. The soldier discovers a deck of tarocco cards, also known as tarot cards, and uses them as inspiration for his tale.

What the audience encounters as the narrative unfolds is a masterful melange of everything from puppetry and aerial arts to dance and original, live music. Handmade and hand-painted costumes and masks, graceful acro-yoga and a gut-wrenchingly poignant ending make it clear that writer and director Nat Allister and his team thought through every aspect of their show.

But that was last year. The show has been remade, with a heavier focus on dance and a sleeker production that will allow it to travel around the Southeast for the dozen or so shows it has booked, from the Bijou in Knoxville to the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. Tarocco runs today through Sunday at Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville.

“We’ve taken a vision that was birthed in Asheville and polished it and we’re trying to create a network around the Southeast,” Allister says. “I want to show the craftsmanship Asheville has to offer because Tarocco really has the full gamut of arts, spoken-word and visual and performing art.” Here’s more from my recent talk with Allister:

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about your background with theater?

Allister: Sure. I got a degree in film production in upstate New York, but have always had an interest in folklore, storytelling and writing. I traveled around working on a Web series after school, but only made it as far as Asheville. When I got here, I found a neo-Vaudeville, circus street theater scene and decided to stay. The rest was kind of natural.

Q: What’s been happening since last year’s staging of Tarocco?

Allister: It was just over a year ago that we did the test run of the show at The Orange Peel. It was such a strong concept that we’ve just been working on improving it ever since. The Orange Peel was great, but there were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do because of time or money. We’ve transitioned from a circus troupe to a dance company, so new choreographers have come onboard. We’ve fleshed out a lot of the acts. We’ve improved our costumes and have more masks and puppets. We’ve also put a lot of new technology into the show. For example, the background is hand-animated, with the performers interacting with the background. So it’s really starting to look like what I conjured up in my head threes years ago. The traveling company is 19 people, and they perform 51 characters. We’re ready for the Southeast to see the show now.

Q: How did you build the tour? Was that difficult?

Allister: We decided to find co-presenters or hosts in each city. I’ve partnered with a similar group to ours, such an aerial arts group or an arts council or a cirque group – groups interested in our show thriving. They’ve given us all these cool resources, from marketing to street teams. It gives us a lot of feed on the ground. I think it’s a good strategy to strengthen the whole scene of circus arts around the Southeast.

Q: How do you account for the enduring interest in circus arts and shows such as Cirque de Soleil?

Allister: The quality has certainly improved, and there’s now a cinematic element to it. In terms of performances, I think some of it overlaps into the family of interest in body awareness and the fun people find in yoga or the flow arts. The other key word would be play – all these new arts coming from play.tarocco_asheville_1_2016

Q: What would you say to someone who doesn’t really know about the circus arts to get them to come out to your show?

Allister: I’m trying to offer something for everybody. Some people are into flashy circus tricks, others are into story and others are into the dance quality of it. Some just like the music and think of the show as an expression of the music that’s created. People can access it in so many different ways. This is an attempt to create a strong, resiliant, theatrical stage production that can be accessible to 21st century audiences that don’t want to just sit and watch character development for two hours.

Q: You sound really excited about the show.

Allister: Yes. We’ve taken a vision that was birthed in Asheville and polished it and we’re trying to create a network around the Southeast. I want to show the craftsmanship Asheville has to offer because Tarocco really has the full gamut of arts, spoken-word and visual and performing art.

 

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