Monday, November 15, 2010

What a Contraption!

Squirm Burpee Circus has opened at the New Vic! The show is created by Denver company The Handsome Little Devils …but some of us here at the New Vic think that’s a misnomer. It’s true, they are extremely handsome, but this troupe should be called the Handy Little Devils for their top notch inventions! Squirm Burpee Circus is an amazing mishmash of styles and inspirations, including vaudeville, steampunk, circus and silent film (a long twirling mustache will symbolize a villain forever). Here’s the back story on their most extraordinary attempt yet: the FINALE CONTRAPTION, built especially for their New Victory run.

Dick Van Dyke with invention in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The idea for the finale contraption started with two basic ideas. The HLDs wanted a super juggling machine with three circular parts and they wanted its base to be a hot air balloon basket. No problem at all for brothers Dan and Mike (or as you may know him, Mike the Handsome)! They started with those two ideas and invented new ones along the way in their Denver workshop. Dan started out as an engineering major in college and then he switched to art and design, so he handles all of the physics, mechanics and electronic elements. Add the natural family talent - their dad is an aerospace engineer-and Caractacus Potts-style ingenuity is inevitable.

Photo: Handsome Little Devils
By the time Mike and Dan completed the contraption, they realized that the back, which was full of gears, gadgets and mechanics, was actually more interesting than the front! They expanded that look and added steampunk flair all over, in addition to some inside jokes. Make sure to look for the line of yellow ducks that look like they’re at a shooting range; they are made out of old license plates. The crocodile was added in an act of circus solidarity. Their former touring partners, the Daredevil Chicken Club, had a crocodile painted on its circus tent, so the HLDs added a crocodile to their finale contraption. Once you find the ducks and crocs on the finale contraption, keep your eyes peeled for the 3D Daredevil Snails! One of their friends in Denver constructs animal masks out of leather. It turns out it is not so hard to twist an animal horn into a daredevil snail!

Mike and Dan install the engine. Photo: Handsome Little Devils
The finale contraption is the HLDs' first electronically powered creation. (Everything else they have made is mechanically powered, either by gears or humans). After trial and error, Mike and Dan discovered that the best motor for the contraption came from…wheelchairs. They made the Alpha motor of all wheelchair motors, using four old wheelchairs for parts. That includes one wheelchair from Cole’s grandmother! Now here is where you can see how intuitive the design really is: despite its huge size, the contraption completely folds down into its wheeled base (remember, it looks like a hot air balloon basket!) and to put it back together requires only one Allen wrench. Wow.

The finale contraption has been designed as an extra-special addition for the New York audiences, so don’t miss this opportunity to appreciate the talents of the truly inventive and resourceful! Squirm Burpee Circus plays at The New Victory November 12-28. Want to know more? Watch the trailer here.

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