‘PSY’-fly theatre

F rontier psychiatrists get it all out on the table

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Photo: Canadian troupe 7 Fingers presents “PSY” at the Victoria Theatre April 12 & 13; photo credit: Peggy Faye 

Les 7 Doigts de la Main (7 Fingers), the indie-circus company that brought you “Traces,” is back in Dayton with “PSY,” an airing out of the mind’s cupboards in the most physical extravaganza to ever topple the pink elephant that is mental illness.

Dayton City Paper had the opportunity to speak with “PSY” assistant director and 7 Fingers co-founder, Isabelle Chassé, and delve into the emotional and physical acrobatics of the show.

About the name, is “PSY” short for “psyche” or “psychiatry” or “psychotic” or …?

Yes, yes exactly. It is short for all of this, I think. In French, we use it really commonly to talk about psychiatry. The show takes place in the office of a psychologist and you have 11 different characters that have different mental conditions. You get to learn about how they feel and how they overcome their fears or overcome their illnesses. There’s group therapy and there’re funny moments and there’re tender moments. There’re a lot of comical themes, too, that are all group based, so you get to see all the different characters interact with each other. For instance, you have one who is manic-depressive interacting with someone who has a sleeping disorder. It creates very funny moments and a lot of dramatic tension, too. -Isabelle Chassé

What did you learn while developing this show? What was the most rewarding?

For me, “PSY” is a very sort of personal show. It’s an important subject to talk about – mental illnesses – and it’s important to not make it taboo. I feel like we found the right balance between addressing a very important subject and addressing it in a fun way, in a way that’s accessible and funny and endearing. I’ve learned that we can do this, we can talk about something that’s really serious and take it seriously, but still shine some light on it, you know? -IC

Psychiatry deals with disorders of the mind, but this manner of storytelling is very physical. How are these stories better told with the body than with words?

As a circus company, we do feel that the most extreme or the most vivid way to express yourself is through the circus arts, through circus disciplines and the extremities that the body can go to. For instance, if you have someone who has obsessive compulsive disorder, you could create a choreography where things repeat themselves and things are very anal and very perfect and the sentiment or the feeling of that choreography evokes that illness. It’s also a way to make the audience’s brain function, to work and imagine things. We don’t give them every little text or every little sub-text that we want to portray in the show. By the choreography and by the acrobatics, the themes are invoked. -IC

For you personally, as a performer, is there ever a part in a show that you’re scared of? Maybe not SCARED scared, but that you anticipate more than others?

Especially in circus there’s a lot of actual, real risk taking. There’s always one trick that’s like, “Okay, this is the moment where I really have to focus all of my being to make sure that everything is going to go right.” Sometimes there’re multiple moments in a show or in an act. The closing act of “PSY” is a teeterboard act. Every single jump, that person gets thrown 25 feet in the air and does acrobatics and then lands on a little mat. Every time, every jump he gets thrown is the moment that he has to be completely, fully mentally aware and physically ready for the impact. Everyone’s got their moments, even people who don’t take such strong physical risks, like tumblers or clowns. It’s the risk of failure, the risk of being in front of an audience and just either not being funny and getting booed or the risk of dropping your balls on the floor. It’s a matter of dealing with the stress and maintaining your focus. -IC

What’s next for 7 Fingers?

We have a lot of different projects running now. We have a show that’s going to play in Mexico this summer that we’re working on, and we have another show that’s very theatrical that we’re writing that’s going to open in September in Montreal. There’s a lot of rehearsals and a lot of training and a lot of brainstorming and writing and creating happening right now, so that’s very exciting for us. It’s a really great time for our company and we’re super proud of all the projects and all the work that we’re doing, including “PSY.” The thing is, it is a circus show. In and of itself, it’s a lot of bodies and a lot of disciplines and a lot of acrobatics and it’s fun and it can just be plain entertaining. You don’t have to talk about it after you get out because you had a great time and it’s an experience, but if you do want to go and dig deeper, there is a lot of substance to that show. That’s great, too. -IC

“PSY” will be at the Victoria Theatre as part of the Projects Unlimited Variety Series on Friday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $39 to $61 and may be purchased in person at the box office of the Schuster Center, by phone at 937.228.3630, or online at ticketcenterstage.com. For more information about “PSY” and 7 Fingers, visit 7doigts.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at jenniferhanauerlumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com


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