Education, Scene & Heard

Creative Chaos performs ”Under the Big Top” at Opal Center

(left to right) Clowns Eric Nilsen, Ryan Britton and Gary Hilgendorf emerge from the clown car to dance during opening night of ”Under the Big Top” on Friday, Sept. 9. The actors are part of Creative Chaos Actors, which is a troupe specifically for disabled actors. ALIYA HALL/THE CRESWELL CHRONICLE

At the circus, one never knows what types of characters will be performing. In ”Under the Big Top” written and directed by Carmen Dowell, these characters introduce themselves to the audience as they audition for a spot in the circus. There are clowns, hippie unicorn trainers and maybe even Lions?
In the show, ringmaster Carmen Dowell seeks the help of Creswell’s Chip Gernhardt, lion tamer, and Monica Venice, fortune teller, to put together their own circus. For two days, Dowell and Gernhardt watch the talented acts of Michael Wilson, the amazing laughing man; Trevor Thomas, snake charmer; Ryan Britton, tight rope walker; Ian Miller, heaviest man; Natasha Cosper, hippie unicorn tamer; Gary Hilgondorf, clown; and Eric Nilsen, who accidentally came to the circus audition instead of the Annie musical audition.
The actors all play themselves as their favorite circus performers, and show off their skills during the ”This is Me!” finale number, where Venice has a dance solo. The show celebrates what makes each circus performer special and sets them apart, even though it may be different.
Full of fun and a barrel of laughs, ”Under the Big Top” runs one hour, with a brief intermission between the two acts. The show is put on by Creative Chaos Actors, which is a troupe specifically for disabled actors.
Dowell is the group manager and said that this is the second show that Creative Chaos has performed. She said the group started after she tried to get her friend Venice an audition for a play, and the director asked them to leave.
”(The director) said, ‘How could you put me in this position’ and was actually angry at me,” Dowell said. ”The part she was auditioning for was a person with disabilities, and all the (character) could say was ‘No.’ One line. I thought it was perfect. It was the first time I felt discrimination with someone for disabilities and it was so wrong.”
Eventually Dowell got Venice to reach her lifelong goal to be an actor onstage, and after hearing the reception from Venice’s friends, she realized there was a need for a disabled persons acting troupe.
”Last night we invited guests and someone said, ‘My daughter is doing this,’” she said. ”They see it and they know they can do it. Anyone can join, it’s free, but you have to be disabled.”
Hilgendorf, 51, has been part of Creative Chaos for two shows. He said being an actor means that he goes out to perform and have a good time.
”We all have fun and do our thing,” he said.
Miller, 25, has also been with Creative Chaos for two years and enjoys acting.
”We’re here to entertain people here in Cottage Grove and make them laugh,” he said. ”Not at us, but with us. We do our best to make everyone in Cottage Grove happy and laugh.”
Although some of the actors are verbal and some are non-verbal, Dowell said that everyone has a part to play in the show.
”I truly feel like we need to come together as a society, and for people with disabilities to feel as equals,” she said. ”That’s what I’m trying to do.”
”Under the big top” is playing at the Opal Center for Arts and Education on Main Street in Cottage Grove. The show runs Sept. 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 16, and tickets are available at for $10.



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