Everyone loves a circus, and most adults love a good burlesque show. Smoosh ‘em together, and you’ll get Absinthe, an intimate variety show featuring acrobats, contortionists, strippers, and an irreverent ringleader known as The Gazillionaire. Absinthe is not a new show; it began in New York in 2006 and has been a Las Vegas staple since 2011. At that time, Las Vegas Review Journal suggested that it was a welcome parody of Cirque do Soleil’s shows. Now, Absinthe is coming to Los Angeles for a limited engagement at L.A. Live.
Absinthe is produced by Ross Mollison and his production company, Spiegelworld. In advance of the show’s run, the Weekly had a chance to chat with Mollison about his various hybrid cabaret productions, about Absinthe’s history, and about bringing the show to Los Angeles.
OC Weekly (Scott Feinblatt): To what extent are the various shows under the Spiegelworld banner independent productions?
Ross Mollison: We produce them in various places and in various scales, so yes they're totally independent of each other, but we have different partners on different projects, so it just depends where we're producing and what scale we do it in. We produced a show last year in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and we partnered with a company in Edinburgh to put it into a little venue they had, so that was kind of six people in a fifty seat venue, which is different from what we're doing in Los Angeles.
How did Absinthe begin?
We started in 2006, in New York, on a pier, under the Brooklyn Bridge, and that was the very first show that we produced in a hundred year old tent called the Speigeltent, which is this beautiful old stained glass, wooden tent, that we brought to New York from Belgium, and we surrounded it with a music program with everything from Jazz to kids’ shows to late night DJs and all sorts of stuff. So it was kind of our launch season, in 2006. It played three years in New York. It toured a bit; it went to Miami, it went to Melbourne, Australia, and then we opened it in 2011, in Las Vegas, where it's been ever since.
What inspired the permanent move to Las Vegas?
The thing about Vegas is we felt that it was a particular market that would really welcome a show like that. It had the big productions shows; it had eight big productions shows from Cirque du Soleil, which are very very successful there. But it didn't have a kind of circus-oriented, smaller, more avant garde show, which we thought might find a market in Las Vegas, and we'd been incredibly successful in New York. But because we were in a tent, and because of winter, New York only allowed us to play three or four months a year, whereas if we went to Vegas we might play twelve months a year, which turned out to be the case.
Is there any kinship between your shows and the Cirque du Soleil shows?
I have worked with Cirque in Australia and New Zealand. I'm from Australia, and I've toured with Cirque du Soleil shows with them and promoted them in Australia for thirteen years now, so they're very close colleagues, and we have many many friends, but we don't share creative resources. Our ideas have been developed separately from what Cirque had actually done and you can just see from the scale of their productions, our shows cost fifty bucks and even a small [Cirque] touring show costs about twenty-five million, so they're producing on a different scale. I mean their tents are incredibly intimate, but theirs seat two and a half thousand people, you know?
What inspired you to take Absinthe on the road, out of its base in Vegas, at this time?
We've been looking at Los Angeles ever since we started the company, in 2006. And we'd drive around and we'd look at a block of land, and we'd be going, "Yeah, we could put a tent here," or go down to Santa Monica pier. But I've always been very nervous about the market because it is such a large metropolitan area surrounding the city, and coming from Melbourne — which is not as big but it's the same sort of thing — I know the challenges that not being in the city creates. But I couldn’t really judge where the best place to put it was, and then we were approached by AEG to go downtown to the L.A. Live site, and it just seemed to make great sense to me. This is a very accessible place. It's a place that people love going to for all their sporting fixtures, that they produce, and concert events. And it really has become a centralized events destination, which is surrounded by great facilities, like easy [parking] and lots of restaurants...I just think downtown LA is really cool now. Just walking around the streets at night...you know, we went to this speakeasy bar, last night, hidden in the back of somewhere. I don't think I'll ever be able to find it again, but it's there, somewhere! [It's The Varnish, accessible through Cole's]. And it had delicious cocktails; it just feels right to me. It just feels like the pier did, when we opened in 2006 — albeit a very nice pier, this one — but it feels like this is an area everyone's excited to come visit and see.
You'd already said that it's a fairly small compared to the Cirque tents, but how easy was it to adapt Absinthe into a travelling show?
Well, it was built as a travelling show, really. It was originally built in a tent in New York, so to adapt it is relatively easy. Our stage is nine feet in diameter, and we have several stages from the various productions we've done. So, it's really like watching artists perform on your dining room table; it's that intimate. It's performed totally in the round, so that makes it easy. And we've worked out, over the course of the ten years it's been operating, how to do many of the acts that nobody had ever done in that sort of format before, in such an intimate way. So, I mean, I wouldn't say it's been easy, but we've had ten years of learning how to do it, and when we came to LA we decided to do it a specific way, which is to actually take an event tent, and to build out a venue within that, which we're really excited about. I think it's going to be a super interesting venue. I can't wait to see what the audience think on opening night!
What's the seating capacity in the tent?
It's 600 seats.
Wow, that does sound pretty intimate!
Yeah, when you put 600 seats in the round, the back row is really the center of the orchestra in a proscenium arch. It's the best seat in the house in a proscenium arch theater! And that's the thing about one room theater; it's not like a typical theater experience, where you're in one room and the curtain goes up and there's a whole lot of people performing in another room next door. You're in the same room as the artists, and they're relating directly to you, and you're part of the picture that a lot of people see — especially if you're sitting in the front rows and your reactions are critical to the whole event, so it's a super exciting way to experience live entertainment.
This is not the first Spiegelworld show that you've taken on the road.
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La Vie toured the world for about three or four years; [Gazillionaire’s] Late Night Lounge, we toured that to Miami, and we've done some events of that in Las Vegas; and then we had another show, Empire, which we toured Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and actually we came into Portland — we opened that in Times Square.
Are there any plans for future touring?
There's all sorts of touring options that we have ahead of us, which we're constantly fielding from people whether it's in Europe, Japan, Australia, or indeed around America. And I think it's going to be really successful in LA; I think people here are going to go crazy, and I think that will lead to us touring more around North America, which is exciting.
Is there anything else you think might interest our readers about Absinthe or working in Los Angeles?
The only thing I would say is that the last show I did at Los Angeles was a show called Slava’s Snowshow, which we did at the UCLA Royce Hall. [The show] is a Russian clowning show, and we sold every ticket. It was just an enormous hit, so I'm really just excited to be here. The artists are really excited to be here because we know it's such an incredibly creative town, and when you bring extraordinary entertainment, everybody really supports it, so just really very very happy to be visiting Los Angeles!