In days gone by, the Spiegeltent would arrive in European towns packed onto draft horses and carried in drays. These days, it takes two huge 40-foot shipping containers to bring the magic that creates a tent full of drama, dazzle and theatrical daring.
While the Spiegeltent’s design is almost unvaried from its origins – the name comes from a German word for mirrors – the tent that’s currently parked in Canberra is actually Dutch, says Jess Rankin who is a producer for Strut & Fret, which manages the tent’s Australian productions and touring schedule.
“She’s called Fortuna, and we’ve been working with the family who own it for about 20 years,” Jess explains. “We’ve brought over two specialist builders from Holland to work with locals, and we need to bring in engineers and building surveyors to get approvals for the tent because it’s completely unlike anything else we have in the country.”
The Spiegeltent was originally used as a travelling dance hall and Rankin says that’s influenced the kind of acts that perform there to this day. “There would be a big dance night wherever the tent stopped and a travelling gypsy band. It was seen as a sort of travelling circus, and the idea was that the Spiegeltent was a morale booster, especially for areas that didn’t usually get access to theatrical performances.”
Rankin says that in some ways, that’s still the case, although in places like Canberra which have a well-established theatre, there’s also huge value in providing a medium-sized venue that enables intimate performances to happen.
“There’s a quality to the performances that can’t be achieved in a standard venue,” Rankin says. “Artists adore the magic of working in the Spiegel tent. The drawcard for performers is that most of them want to see the responses of the audience, to perform with an audience. They got into the industry in the first place to feel the warmth and the response, and that happens here in spades.”
There are currently three Spiegeltents on tour in Australia and Rankin says that enables the development of a Spiegeltent tour for performers. The likes of comedian Peter Helliar and Archie Roach are on the Spiegeltent program this season, in addition to Mojo Juju, Mick Harvey, Carlotta, Elixir feat. Katie Noonan, Paul McDermott & Steven Gates, Séayoncé, Djuki Mala, Osher Gunsberg and Craig Hill.
The Spiegeltent’s headline event is Life: the Show, with Strut & Fret Production’s trademark mix of sizzle, sex, scandal, and edge-of-your-seat spectacle, running until 21 April. Fresh from sell-out shows at Adelaide Fringe and Brisbane Festival, it’s attracted significant local attention for its extravagant circus-inspired themes.
The Spiegeltent is in Civic Square until 21 April. For tickets, the full program, and more information, click here.