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Oz the great and powerful

Five reasons why you must see Circus Oz this weekend

CIRCUS OZ: When gritty meets family-friendly awesomeness. press photo

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You know that awesome Australian accent you bust out when barbecuing shrimp in front of friends. Now would be a good time to read with that accent in your head.

Australian Circus Oz is kicking off its. ... I'm serious, turn on the accent. Australian Circus Oz is kicking off its new North American tour with three performances this weekend in Tacoma. Formed in 1978, Oz is a rock and roll, animal-free circus of musicians, acrobats, contortionists and artsy clowns. However, because Oz doesn't have the financial backing of Cirque du Soleil, it only has a dozen or so performers doing all the acts. Whether you've been awaiting its show or have never heard of them before, here are five reasons you should be Circus Oz's new biggest fan.

1. Circus Oz wants to be friends with the Northwest

"We have a strong following in Berkeley and New York and San Francisco," says Circus Oz artistic director Mike Finch. "But then gradually we've been realizing that there's just something really interesting and progressive and fun about the Northwest culture. I don't know what it is. It feels like a good mesh for Australian irreverence."

Bonus, one of their former performers now lives in Seattle and owns Pinky's Kitchen.

2. Circus Oz performers are multi-talented

Unlike Cirque duSoleil, with dozens of cast members per show, Circus Oz has just 10 to 14 performers at any one time. Each performer takes on many skills. Nearly everyone in the all-Australian cast plays an instrument and has some sort of acrobatic madness to perform, too.

"Usually in our audition and recruitment process, we'll watch them over four or five years as they develop their skills," says Finch. "Often we'll meet them and encourage them to learn another skill, so if someone is an acrobat and a juggler and we'll be like - if you master the saxophone, there might be a job for you down the tracks. Likewise when they arrive, they usually have at least three areas of expertise and then we'll start immediately training them in a fourth."

3. Circus Oz is all about social equality and diversity

From the show theme ("From the Ground Up") to the cast to the environmental and social issues the circus supports, Circus Oz is forward-thinking.

"The show is set on a construction site," says Finch. "The actual metaphor is the idea of building from the ground up a civil society of tolerance and diversity. You'll see that on the stage. We have 14 performers on stage and they're multi-skilled, there's an equal mix of men and women, all different body shapes, all different backgrounds."

4. The show is filled with amazing feats

You'll see a bit of everything, including a drummer and drum kit being swung from a rope, pole climbing acts, acrobats and tumblers, aerial artists, music and even an air-guitar jam by performer Ghenoa Ghela, who placed as a state finalist in the Australian Air Guitar Championships. The show looks for skilled acts, but also for performers who bring creativity and their own ideas.

5. Circus Oz embraces the madness

"My favorite moments are usually night by night, when things go comically wrong in the show and the performers recover from it by improvisation," says Finch. "We actually try to avoid that in a way since we're trying to run the show smoothly, but there's actually a lot of joy and delight when a performer starts cracking up on stage or when a little kid in the audience calls out some heckle."

PANTAGES THEATER, CIRCUS OZ, FRIDAY, FEB. 1 7:30 P.M., SATURDAY, FEB. 2 2 AND 7:30 P.M., $39-$129, 901 BROADWAY, TACOMA, 253.591.5894

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