Since 2019, Teatro ZinZanni has gathered together amazing performers from all over the world to create an experience in Chicago under the Spiegeltent in the Cambria Hotel building, 32 W. Randolph St. Over the years, ticket holders have been captivated by a rotating cast of artists ranging from flexible acrobats to basketball jugglers.
Out and proud visionary Carisa Hendrix (she/they) recently joined the cast with her unique persona of Lucy Darling, an award-winning magician who creates illusions while engaging the audience with spontaneous interaction.
Born in Canada, this talented, queer overachiever was destined for greatness while living in Northern Saskatchewan for many years. She left small-town life behind for Calgary and studied avant-garde theater with the troupe One Yellow Rabbit to polish her craft. Hendrix describes herself as "a product of everything I grew up around. Comedy and improv was in the water in Calgary, and it's still the home for the longest-running weekly drag show in Canada called Carly's Angels, which was just two blocks away from my old house!"
This playground of creativity is where Lucy was born. Hendrix recalls, "I had invented several roaming characters for events, but wanted to move into the world of magic. I have always loved Hollywood starlets like Eartha Kitty and Zsa Zsa Gabor, so she is modeled after them. I eventually tried her out when I was in Australia and the show continually sold out. Half the stuff I say onstage I have never said before because it is all improvised!"
Windy City Times: How did you begin your journey with Teatro ZinZanni?
Carisa Hendrix: In 2019 I was doing a residency at the Chicago Magic Lounge and went to see a magician named Voronin perform in it. I spent half of the show crying because it was so incredible. I met the cast after and convinced them to see my show. Everyone knew I wanted to be a part of it, and I was offered this role. I took six months off to do ZinZanni and after I am finished I start touring again in 20 different cities!
WCT: How do you choose an audience member to be onstage with you for ZinZanni?
CH: I can always tell when someone wants to volunteer from eye contact and body posture. I can smell it on them! When the person doesn't want to be picked it sometimes makes them more delicious.
The cast walks around and talks to people at the tables before the show so they are vetting them. People don't realize we are doing this, but we stand backstage and talk about who in the audience will be good as a volunteer right before we start the show. It might depend on where they are from or how fun they are. These interactions help us decide who will receive the gift of being onstage with us.
WCT: I have seen some audience members try to take over the act in the past.
CH: It took me an hour to get ready so they are not going to upstage me! [laughs]
WCT: You picked me out of the crowd for your show at Rhapsody Theater one time and it was fun.
CH: Yes, you did a great job. My goal is to teach the audience early on that no matter what they say I will make it work. After doing it this long, anything they say I can make into a joke and that is freeing for us all. We are playing a game and make jokes together. They set it up and I provide the punchlines. When they receive laughs, I give them credit for it. It can be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for them, and I want them to feel like a winner. All of the admiration and applause is theirs.
WCT: A big rule with improvisation is playing along and having positive responses with the other player. Does that usually happen in these audience participation sequences?
CH: With Lucy, the negatives are positives. It is a game I play where the compliment comes with a dig such as, "You are so brave to wear this outfit!" It is her telling the hard truth but in a polite way.
WCT: I have noticed that Teatro ZinZanni has cultivated a very friendly environment for the LGBTQ+ community over the years.
CH: It feels like a Pride parade, and as soon as people walk in the tent they will see they are outnumbered by gay people. It is how the company hires people and is also the content within the show. Oliver Parkinson is in high heels and it is a highly feminine show with six women and two men.
WCT: My friend who went with me was in love with Oliver.
CH: Everyone is in love with Oliver. He's the queerest straight man that I know! His apartment is full of rainbows and he speaks the same language we do.
WCT: How do you describe Teatro ZinZanni to people who haven't seen it yet?
CH: The show is not a show, but is instead an experience. You sit down and the story grows out of the walls around you. The audience is not separated from the stage. Even if someone is not pulled up onstage, they are still a part of it. Everyone in the tent is a character.
The cast comes in every day and we don't know what the show will be like. It is all about who surrounds us as an audience. There is a power to this social construct and it determines where it will go. We can see them and they can see us. Some people come once a month to be a part of it, so I encourage people to come see it for themselves.
WCT: The food was more elevated the last time I was there.
CH: The company has changed chefs three times since the beginning. What did you have?
WCT: The Apple Cider Braised Pork Shoulder.
CH: The pork and salmon dishes have gone above and beyond. I eat them at least once a week.
WCT: Speaking of eating, you are an expert fire eater?
CH: Yes, but in Chicago they are not going to let me do that [because of] safety regulations. It is one of my favorite things to do because people don't expect Lucy to have skills like that. I play it off like the character doesn't know what she is doing, then impress them with a big fire trick. The crowd usually goes insane. I wish I could include a fire stunt for Teatro ZinZanni, but I can't.
WCT: Would you like to have a Las Vegas residency one day?
CH: The Vegas that is here now is not something I am interested in, but the one that is coming I am interested in being a part of one day. There is more avant-garde and contemporary art moving into the performance spaces.
I was told to dumb down my act when I was shopping it around out there, and it taught me that it's not the time to be there yet. I like having a Shakespeare joke in my act even if only part of the room understands it. I can hear laughter from gay people when I make a gay joke or the young people laugh at the TikTok humor. I want to hear older people enjoying a Mary Tyler Moor reference, but Vegas just wanted the lowest common denominator of comedy. Thankfully that is changing!
Visit ZinZanni.com for tickets to Love, Chaos & Dinner starring Lucy Darling. who is currently contracted through March 31.