'TAL: Beyond Imagination' Explores Creativity, Imagination with Humor and High-Flying Theatrics

The Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre all-ages circus production runs June 27 - July 28 in the studio theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.

By: Sarah Jae Leiber '19  Monday, June 18, 2018 10:00 AM

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Last summer Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre produced its first-ever circus performance: “Wild,” a magical tale of getting lost in the woods. The show featured not a word of dialog, just clowning, aerial acrobatics and some virtuoso juggling—and it broke box office records.

This summer, MSMT will team up again with the Atlas Circus Company to present “Tal: Beyond Imagination,” another world-premiere modern circus production, with a message that will resonate with children and adults alike, according to Shantell Cruz, who plays the title character.

“‘TAL’ is a magical show, entirely full of fun," Cruz says. "It’s about someone who rediscovers her passions and finds the courage to follow her dreams."

Audience members are invited to stay after the show to meet the cast, and then participate in a free 45-minute activity workshop, featuring creative play, storytelling, and circus skills.

A cast of colorful characters tells the story of Tal, a young woman who finds herself getting bored with her life, and who rediscovers her creativity through her dreams.

“It was taking the concept of having too many ideas, too many images, and kind of melding them together,” says Noah Dach, the show’s creator and director. “How do you do that? In a dream. A dream doesn’t exactly make sense, but makes complete sense. It’s where different images can mash together and become something new.”

Dach says his cast and creative team have been working hard to create this dream world onstage.

“This show is unique in its technical demands,” Dach says. “There’s aerial in almost every single piece. It also has aspects that are ethereal and abstract and enticing to the creative mind and the impossible.”

This goal has presented particular challenges for the show’s scenic and lighting designer, Brian Pacelli.

“It’s happening in this dreamlike state, so it’s a very fluid space that can defined or loose, depending on the moment in the show,” Pacelli says. “It’s worth seeing just to see something so enormous and physical happening in a black box space.”

“TAL” is the latest work from Atlas Circus Company, a Muhlenberg-born contemporary circus ensemble currently making waves in New York City. The company works with talented performers, designers, and other creative artists to reinvent the circus and challenge audience expectations, Dach says.

Atlas has produced several other modern circus pieces—most recently “The Optimist,” presented this spring at The People’s Improv Theater in New York City. The New York Post has called the company “the new Ringling Brothers.”

“TAL” features a cast of ten performers who clown, act, and perform aerial acrobatics throughout the show. All of them are veterans of Muhlenberg’s dance and theater programs.

Cruz, who also performed in “Wild” last summer, is excited to bring a universal circus story back to Muhlenberg.

“The character of Tal is extremely relatable,” says Cruz. “Making the choice between a job that pays the bills and one that fuels your passion is something many young people face—including me.”

“It’s a children’s show with messages that will benefit everyone,” says Pacelli. “At the end of the day, it tells us life should be fun and should not be taken too seriously.”

Dach thinks that these lessons, combined with the show’s technical majesty, will create a unique and special experience for audiences.

“I think audiences will be completely wowed,” he says. “They’ll have to pull their jaws off the floor. Each scene, each image is so satisfying. ‘TAL’ allows us to breathe, I think, in a time we all really need a second to breathe.”

“TAL: Beyond Imagination” plays June 27 – July 28. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The only show on July 4 and 28 will be 10 a.m.

All tickets for the first four days of the run are $11. For remaining performances, tickets are $13. Groups of 15+ are $8 per person, $6 per person for nonprofit groups.

“TAL” is recommended for adults and children ages 4 and up.

Participation in Activity Workshops is limited, and advance registration is suggested. Evening workshops will focus more on circus skills, including aerial and juggling, and all ages are welcome.

Tickets can be purchased at muhlenberg.edu/smt or 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Studio Theatre in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Now in its 38th season, Charles Richter, Curtis Dretsch and Jeremy Slavin founded Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre in 1980 with the mission of offering Broadway-quality professional theater productions for the greater Lehigh Valley community, at affordable ticket prices. The annual festival will present its 83rd mainstage production this summer on the campus of Muhlenberg College.

Muhlenberg offers bachelor of arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.

Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences as well as selected pre-professional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.