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'Underwater Bubble Show' comes to college

Mike Easterling
measterling@daily-times.com

FARMINGTON — Enrico Pezzolli is Italian, but his wife and artistic partner is Latvian, and the two took up residence in her native country 20 years ago when they got married and began putting together a theater company.

The "Underwater Bubble Show" will be performed Tuesday, Oct. 25 at San Juan College.

After a dozen years of that, Pezzolli and his wife developed an idea for another show, an unusual concept that incorporated elements of magic, plenty of visual effects and bubbles, as the setting for the show is underwater.

That was the origin of the “Underwater Bubble Show,” which comes to San Juan College on Tuesday, Oct. 25. And even though there was really no comparable show out there that Pezzolli could use to help describe his vision, he had little trouble identifying and recruiting performers for the show from his adopted country.

“Latvia is a very small country,” Pezzolli, the show’s artistic director, said during a telephone interview last week from California, where the show had just begun an American tour. “I compare it to Virginia, which I am told has about 2 million people.”

His years of running a theater company in Latvia had acquainted him well with the talents of the relatively small number of performers there, and Pezzolli was able to tailor the show to the abilities of the people he was interested in hiring.

That makes the “Underwater Bubble Show” a family-like enterprise, he said. The production is now in its sixth year — having been performed hundreds of times in locales as diverse as Europe, China, Russia and all over the United States — and the cast and crew has remained remarkably stable, seeing only two departures in that time.

The "Underwater Bubble Show" features a variety of characters such as mermaids, starfish and dragon fish.

Pezzolli said the entire company is comprised of 12 people, with seven performers and a technician appearing on stage. The onstage technician is necessary, given the large number of props and sets that are constantly being changed.

The original concept for the production – that of a variety show – changed almost immediately, Pezzolli said. He quickly realized that the free-form format needed to be modified to one featuring a coherent story, albeit one that easily could be grasped by anyone in the show’s diverse target audience – children and adults of various nationalities.

The show’s lead character is Mr. B, a gray-suited, buttoned-down businessman overwhelmed by the complexities, demands and distractions of modern life. But his life changes one day when he reaches into his briefcase, pulls out a fishbowl, peers inside and is amazed by what he sees.

The perspective, and setting, of the production changes at that instant to an underwater world called Bubblelandia featuring elaborate characters, costumes, settings and visual effects, all backed up by a 380-square-foot LED screen. The seahorses, starfish, mermaids and dragon fish that populate Bubbleandia are supported by lasers, fog machines, snow cannons, smoke-filled soap bubble machines and soap bubble tornadoes.

The equipment required to produce that kind of show is considerable, and Pezzolli said that limits how many times a year the production can be performed. The company mounts three tours a year — one in Europe, one in Russia and China, and one in North America — and all that equipment must be shipped from continent to continent by sea, a process that takes between one and two months, he said.

Fog, lasers, smoke and, of course, plenty of bubbles are the hallmark of the "Underwater Bubble Show."

That down time between tours leaves plenty of time to ponder what routines or effects the audience really responds to and what doesn’t work, Pezzolli said. He estimated that the show’s content changes 50 to 60 percent from year to year.

“We add new material or elements as we come to understand what people like,” he said. “I’ve changed it season to season. But each time, we premiere the new show in Latvia, then start a new tour.”

Pezzolli said the show has included many elements in the past that looked spectacular in a modest setting before an intimate audience. But many of those did not translate well to a larger setting in a theater or special events center, particularly when they were cast against other elements that constantly compete for the viewer's attention.

“Some effects are just too small,” he said. “They might get a very good reaction from a few people, but when you’re on a large stage, people get confused because there are just too many effects, and they lose their impact.”

The "Underwater Bubble Show" has been performed hundreds of times around the world, including in Russia and China.

In those cases, Pezzolli said he’s had to learn to eliminate elements, no matter how much he likes them. That’s all part of understanding what it takes to make sure the show appeals to everyone, not just a handful of people.

The production includes dance, drama, puppetry, contortionists, juggling, sand art and magic, but one thing it doesn’t feature is dialogue — a necessary concession to make it an international show. Nevertheless, the cast interacts freely with the audience, Pezzolli said, and the production leaves plenty of room for interpretation by members of the crowd.

The message behind the production, one that the harried Mr. B finally grasps, is the wisdom of letting yourself go and not being afraid to daydream. Pezzolli said he realized he had truly put together a show that was not hampered by any cultural barriers when it was enthusiastically received by crowds in its first tour of China.

“The message got through,” he said.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

The "Underwater Bubble Show" features no dialogue, relying instead of visual effects to convey its message.

If you go

What: The Underwater Bubble Show

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25

Where: The Henderson Fine Arts Center Performance Center on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

Tickets: $22 for adults, $18 for students, $15 for seniors and $12 for children 12 and younger online at sanjuancollege.edu/silhouette

For more information: 505-566-3430