Performance » Dance

The Undead Will Flip



Life as we know it is over.

A zombie invasion has compromised humanity, sending the remaining survivors into hiding. They've found respite from the terror that surrounds them inside safe areas around the world, but also from an unlikely source.

A circus troupe called Flight is determined to bring a sense of normalcy to their lives as it travels from city to city. However, a security breach during a performance sets off a series of events that puts everyone in danger.

Despite what you think, this isn't an episode of The Walking Dead or an upcoming horror film set against an apocalyptic background.

The Queen of the Dead, Peres, (this year played by Lisa Sangiorgio) commands her Undead Army. - PHOTO BY JUSTIN TOOLEY
  • Photo by Justin Tooley
  • The Queen of the Dead, Peres, (this year played by Lisa Sangiorgio) commands her Undead Army.

It's the storyline for Flight of the Living Dead, a locally produced Cirque-style show created by aerial artists and instructors Mary Brumbaugh and Lisa Sangiorgio of Cirque Indy, an Indianapolis-based aerial circus arts school.

The interactive, sensory-rich production featuring aerialists, dancers, zombies, monsters, lights, silks, hoops and other pageantry runs March 5-7 at the Athenaeum in downtown Indianapolis.

This, however, is not the first time the streets have been overtaken by creatures that lurk in the night. Flight premiered for a two-night run in 2013, and Indianapolis responded.

"We sold out both nights, and had to turn people away that first night," says Brumbaugh. "There were people fighting for tickets outside the door."

Part of the show's draw is the cultlike fascination people have with zombies and the popularity that aerial arts is gaining thanks to performers like Pink (who has incorporated aerial routines into her live performances while singing) and the Quebec-based company Cirque du Soleil.

Brumbaugh and Sangiorgio were pleased with the response from the show's inaugural year, especially considering that the original idea was simply to put on a variety show for students at a local studio where Brumbaugh was teaching classes.

"We thought it would be interesting if we did an event for the studio and gave everybody an opportunity to perform," says Sangiorgio, who was one of Brumbaugh's students at that time. "We really wanted to show off people's skills."

Flight also fulfilled an interactive project assignment for Sangiorgio during her senior year as a design student at Herron School of Art.

"We created a variety show, with a very loose theme and plot," adds Brumbaugh, about the original production. "It was more like separate acts, kind of tied together around a loose theme of monsters in a post-apocalyptic age."

Although the show was a success, they took heed to audience feedback and tweaked the original before deciding to return Flight back to the stage.

"This time, the story has developed a lot. (That) was the biggest feedback that we got from the audience is that they didn't understand what was going on (story-wise)," says Brumbaugh, who has trained at cirque schools from Louisville to Los Angeles. "For this iteration, we worked really hard to build a cohesive storyline so that the audience could come on this journey with us. We've been working with professional actors to flesh out the dialogue and the characters are more developed."

Darcy Townes Flight of the Living Dead. - PHOTO BY JUSTIN TOOLEY
  • Photo by Justin Tooley
  • Darcy Townes Flight of the Living Dead.

Sangiorgio says they've added a backstory about the circus and how it came to be, and beefed up the interaction between the cast and the audience. There also are more than 30 local performers this year, and the show has been moved from a repurposed church sanctuary to a full-fledged stage in a real theater.

"This really is a community production," says Brumbaugh.

She admits that neither she nor Sangiorgio, a graphic designer who began taking aerial classes to shake up her workout routine, had any previous experience putting together a stage production before they wrote, directed and produced Flight.

"It originally was a huge challenge," says Brumbaugh, who was studying engineering at IUPUI before leaving to pursue her love of dance. "We're experienced in choreography but not in production. We've done smaller shows and some variety shows, but this is the first time that we'll be in a lighted theater with a sound tech, an arbour and rigging. Producing is a whole other bear than performing."

The increased size and scale of this year's show also increased the production's budget. In 2013, Brumbaugh and Sangiorgio used their own money to produce Flight. For the 2015 version, they created a Kickstarter campaign and sought sponsorships from local companies to purchase costumes and set pieces.

In addition to being the co-creators and producers of Flight of the LivingDead, Brumbaugh and Sangiorgio have roles in the show.

Brumbaugh plays Marley, "a cheeky little clown (not scary with big shoes, but more acrobat with face/clown paint).  She's kind of saucy and likes to stir up trouble with her fellow clowns," she says.

Sangiorgio plays Peres, who leads an undead infantry as the Queen of the Dead.

Flight of the Living Dead is a huge accomplishment, considering that Cirque Indy is first and foremost an aerial arts school that also offers aerial fitness classes for adults.

Marley, one of Flight’s clowns (played by Mary Brumbaugh), performs on aerial silk. - PHOTO BY JUSTIN TOOLEY
  • Photo by Justin Tooley
  • Marley, one of Flight’s clowns (played by Mary Brumbaugh), performs on aerial silk.

It is Cirque Indy's first full-scale production, but it won't be its last.

Brumbaugh says that all of the instructors at Cirque Indy have a show inside of them that they will eventually produce.

Flight of the Living Dead is Sangiorgio's idea come to life.

"Mine is about going crazy ... losing it," says Brumbaugh.

Although some people might have called her crazy for leaving behind her original plan to become an engineer for dance, she says she has no regrets.

"I love math and I love programming, but it wasn't for me and I was really unhappy pursuing that," says Brumbaugh. "... At some point, I had an epiphany and decided that it's OK to be something else. It's OK to go for the things that I want to do. I might fail but at least I know that I tried.

"(In the end), I don't think that I'm going to have a single regret about starting a circus school and that I performed. It's something that I can tell my grandkids about."

Flight of the Living Dead

When: 8 p.m. March 5, 6, 7. Doors open each night at 7 p.m.

Where: The Athenaeum, 401 E. Michigan St.

Cost: $20 general admission for all ages; $45 for front-row seats.

Info:  For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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