Click photo to enlarge
The gravity-defying trampoline wall is part of the industrial side of the Cirque Mechanics "Birdhouse Factory" (Photo by Darin Basile, courtesy of Cirque Mechanics)
Chris Lashua founded Cirque Mechanics in 2004 after creating the German Wheel for Cirque du Soleil.

The German Wheel is basically a seven-foot circular rim that rolls around on stage, Lashua said during an interview from his home in Las Vegas, Nev., with The Park Record.

"You can do a lot of gymnastic moves on it while it spins around and there is a mechanism that keeps it spinning while in one place," Lashua said. "I performed that act for a number of years and built the machine that the wheel sits on."

That equipment was the beginning of Cirque Mechanics, which will bring its "Birdhouse Factory" performance to the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 2.

"After I build the German Wheel machine, I started to toy with the idea of building other mechanical contraptions that could interact with circus acrobatic apparatuses," Lashua said. "And they became the centerpiece of 'The Birdhouse Factory,' which we developed after I left Cirque du Soleil."

Like Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Mechanics features jugglers, clowns, trampolines, tightrope walkers and other acrobats. But unlike Cirque du Soleil, the story takes place in a factory that could have existed at the end of the 1900s.

"We started to develop these machines for an opportunity to do a stage show in San Francisco a number of years ago, and once that happened, we started to think about ways to expand the show and develop a location we could set the next show in," Lashua said. "We wanted to get away from the nouveau circus-styled thing that was set in the place of dreams and fantasy and set the show in a reality-based environment."

The performance is about building mechanical contraptions and showing off the relationships between the machines and people.

Then Lashua began thinking about how to bring some magic into a dark, smoky factory.

"I had the idea of finding a way for the workers to make birdhouses," he said. "A birdhouse in general is such a contrast to a factory and it was a way to introduce something whimsical and illogical.

"We liked the word Factory because it's crunchy, industrial and has a dark connotation and we liked birdhouse because it was light," he said. "And when you put those two words together, there is something nice about the contrast."

Once the birdhouse idea was set, Lashua began thinking of a story.

"We kind of did things backwards," he said with a laugh. "We thought of what the end product would be and then tried to find a way to get there. However, by deciding on a factory making birdhouses, the idea gave us our narrative and focus of what kind of story we wanted to tell.

"It's about these workers who are making machines and are inspired to change after a bird flies in," Lashua said. "That's when they decide to make something whimsical for nature."

One of the interesting aspects about the show was recruiting a cast.

"We looked at what acts and artists we had access to and once we figured that out, we knew we had adjust the story to utilize all their talent," Lashua said.

Even today Lashua adjusts each performance to fit the cast.

"It's very much a living thing and always changes and morphs as it continues to grow," he said. "Luckily for us, we're not creating a show based on a script. That way if we have an injury, we don't have to cast a specific role. We can just find an artist to fill the spot and give the person who is coming in the freedom to bring new things to the table."

So if an acrobat gets hurt Lashua can change things by putting a dancer in that segment.

"If he or she has amazing ballet abilities, why wouldn't we want to have them show off?" Lashua said.

That is what keeps the creative process flexible, he said.

"We have a show and a storyline and acts, but we are also open to what the possibilities are," Lashua said. "Sure, some has to be in place, but if you have enough flexibility in there, you end up getting best of both worlds.

"That means, we have the stability and history and knowledge of what works, but also have the ability to allow for the magic when new artists come into the project."

The Park City Performing Arts Foundation will present Cirque Mechanics: Birdhouse Factor at the Eccles Center, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 2, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $67 and available by visiting www.ecclescenter.org . For more information, visit www.cirquemechanics.com .