My Gay Toronto - Bellini's 8 1/2

Up close and personal with Empire

by Paul Bellini

Acrobats doing flips, spinning in hoops, descending from bubbles, piling atop each other. If you’ve seen a few Cirque du Soleil shows, you’ve seen it all. But Empire, the crowd-pleasing show from Spiegelworld, does something very different. The stage is tiny, and the audience sits very close. It is so intimate that you can hear the performers breath, watch them struggle to hit their marks, see the strain in their eyes. It’s fascinating in a masochistic kind of way.

The show is peculiar from the get go. It just sort of starts while the lights are still on, as the company roam through the crowd. Clowns tease audience members. I myself got a face full of ass when the acrobat in white pants crawled across our row of chairs in an attempt to reach the stage. Later, the female clown plucked an unsuspecting straight guy on a date from his seat, brought him onstage, and teased him mercilessly, much to the delight of his date. (They gave him a free beer for his troubles, which was nice.)

There were moments when being so close was fun, as when I was watching the three sexy female gymnasts pile on top of each other. The middle one looked like she was just hanging on by a thread. And I loved when the sexy black guy with dreadlocks piled one palm fond atop another until he had built an amazing sculpture, which he rotated above our heads. But I felt truly frightened by the roller skate people, as he spun her around with such velocity that all I could think was, if he lets go, this bitch will go sailing into the audience and take out two or three of us easily.

I laughed throughout the whole show. I was never bored. I could have done with less of the clowns. A routine where they hork bananas into each other’s mouths nauseated me. But it’s hard to complain when performers work so hard to entertain, and the whole show is set up in a way that is truly unique. You may be turned off by the idea of all that audience interaction, but you’d only be cheating yourself out of a really fun evening of theatre.

Empire continues to November 8th at the Spiegeltent, 318 Queens Quay West. Go to for more information