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'An unforgettable evening.' Teatro ZinZanni celebrates 25 years in Seattle with a nod to its past

caption: Elayne Kramer in Teatro ZinZanni Residency at Lotte Hotel Seattle.
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Elayne Kramer in Teatro ZinZanni Residency at Lotte Hotel Seattle.
Nate Watters

Teatro ZinZanni, a landmark cabaret and comedy show, known for its famous circus tent, is set to return for a second run of post-pandemic performances. And this time, in celebration of Teatro's 25th anniversary, they are bringing back a crucial element of what made them Seattle favorites more than two decades ago.

In 1998, Teatro’s founder, Norm Langill, who also founded Seattle's arts group One Reel back in 1972, purchased Teatro ZinZanni’s trademark tent.

“We found the tent in Barcelona when we were commissioned for a musical to be part of the Olympics in Barcelona,” Langill said. “Somebody took me to see the spiegeltent, which was on Las Ramblas, the famous tourist street, and I went in and I was transformed.”

Langill discovered the mystique of the tent. Even before the performers entered, he recalled the audience being on their feet and the feeling that everyone under the tent was part of the show. The unique characteristic of this type of tent, besides being 29 feet tall, are the mirrored walls on the interior. The performances inside take place all around the audience, and because of the mirrors, audiences see the performance happening in every direction they look.

The spiegaltent owned by Teatro, which Langill purchased from a family in Belgium who had been crafting the tents for five generations, is 65 feet in diameter and has room for about 300 people inside. Langill said people felt like they were transported into another world when they entered it. The tent itself first appeared in Seattle on Mercer Street, near the Seattle Center, back in 1998.

Teatro remained under the tent, even after moving away from the Mercer Street location, until 2020 when the show was postponed for the pandemic. The tent was packed up and moved to Granite Falls, Washington, for storage and has not been seen in Seattle since. Until now.

For its 25th anniversary run, which begins this weekend, the Teatro ZinZanni show will not be back under the tent in entirety. The show will take place in the Grand Ballroom of the Lotte Hotel downtown.

But half of the tent will make an appearance, the wood and mirrors from the bottom half will line the walls of the ballroom. So even while the show itself will be inside a luxurious hotel ballroom, which was originally constructed in 1910 as a church, the audience will have the feel of being back in the tent.

caption: Teatro ZinZanni Residency at Lotte Hotel Seattle.
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Teatro ZinZanni Residency at Lotte Hotel Seattle.
Nate Watters

Aerialist Elena Gatilova, a former world class gymnast from Ukraine, who performed more than 2,500 shows in Las Vegas with Cirque du Soleil before joining Teatro in 2011, says audiences are in for a treat.

“I think everybody's very excited to see how the very airy and bright building with the 70-feet tall dome will transform into a cabaret and circus,” Gatilova said. “Almost everybody who comes to see the show participates or is a potential participant. The stage is not like a traditional theater. The stage will be in the center, so we are actually performing 360 degrees to the audience.”

Gatilova describes Teatro as a fusion of comedy, live music, acrobatics, cabaret, and audience participation. At the show’s run last fall in the SODO Park building, audiences were dazzled by a performance that seemed to include everyone in attendance. In one moment, a waiter would be at a table serving food and drinks, and in the next that waiter would be 30 feet above the audience swinging from a trapeze. While performers mingled in the crowd, and waitstaff often broke off into choreographed dance routines, individual audience members became part of the show, and in the finale everyone in the room danced with a partner.

“I always say, and of course maybe I'm biased, it's an unforgettable evening,” Gatilova said. “People feel that they are part of the show. It's completely different. We interact with people. We make them laugh, we come to their table, we talk to them. We play jokes. That's what’s special about Teatro ZinZanni.”

Teatro ZinZanni will be in residence at the Lotte Hotel until March 2024.

To hear Mike Davis' interview with Elena Gatilova, click audio link.

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