“Squirm,” in the world of children, is what you do when you’re so excited you can’t stand still. “Burr” is the sound you make when you shiver with anticipation. And “pee” is what you just might do when you laugh too hard.
Put ’em all together, and you’ve got “Squirm Burpee Circus — A Vaudevillian Melodrama,” coming to Queens Theatre just in time for the holiday season, said Cole Schneider, the artistic manager of Handsome Little Devils, the troupe performing in the show.
Part circus, part drama, part dance and part vaudeville comedy, the show tickled the fancy of Ray Cullom, Queens Theatre’s executive director, when he caught it during its 2010 run at Manhattan’s New Victory Theatre.
“It’s like nothing I ever saw before. It’s an incredible combination of spectacle — the good, old-fashioned, ‘how-did-they-do-that’ kind — and story. It’s reminiscent of an art form that has fallen away,” he said.
Among the more spectacular treats in store for audiences, according to Cullom, are feats of acrobatics, people being shot out of cannons and a juggling act involving chainsaws.
“It’s an unbelievably lively show from start to finish,” he said. “It’s the kind of theatrical ingenuity that takes your breath away.”
And, according to Schneider, the show is appropriate for viewers of all ages. “We look at the Disney/Pixar- type films: There’s topical comedy that the kids don’t get, comedy that goes straight to the parents, but there’s still plenty for the kids. We do the same thing. We’re trying to bridge the generation gap,” she said.
Schneider took up dramatic writing while at New York University’s Tisch School, but her home base remains Colorado, where she met Mike Huling.
Mike and his brother Dan had been performing as a duo, specializing in juggling and other circus-type acts, but were thinking about expanding the act.
“The brothers were looking to transition into an ensemble show,” Schneider said. “We discussed some show ideas and started playing around.” She credits Dan with giving the current attraction its name.
Eventually, a storyline about a villain committed to the demise of circus performers with names like Lovely Little Lolo and Dashing Dave was added, melding the dramatic with the acrobatic to create a new genre.
The current troupe consists of four performers, including Lara Chamberlain, a Queens resident who appears as Lolo, a role previously played by Schneider. For the Queens engagement, Schneider will serve as stage manager.
Chamberlain, who also hails from Colorado, moved to New York in 2008. She has previously lived in both Sunnyside and Astoria and has now settled in Woodside.
She explained that she “moved to New York to be an actress and a dancer. I fell in love with what this company was doing. And I get to work with friends.”
Performing so close to what is now her home is also attractive to Chamberlain. “I love it,” she said. “It’s right by my house. I can’t wait to have friends who don’t get to see shows I’m in when I’m on tour come to the show.”
She is also particularly impressed with the show’s set design and said she loves “being around new set pieces and seeing how they can work.”
With performers scattered across the country, rehearsals can pose a challenge. “We get together a few times a year in Denver and on the road a few days before we tour. And we always do brush-up rehearsals on the road,” Schneider said.
Following a sold-out engagement by another troupe around this time last year, Cullom is confident this year’s attraction will do well. Once the presents are opened, he said, people need a place to go.
When: Dec. 27 to 31; daily at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Where: Queens Theatre, Flushing Meadows Park, 14 United Nations Ave. South
Tickets: $32; family 4-pack available for $99