David Pierce of Cirque du Horror

A few weeks ago we told you about Cirque du Horror, the Halloween-themed production occuring during this year's Day of the Dead Festival on Saturday, October 29th. Recently, we got to throw a few questions at David Pierce, the mastermind of the whole thing, about his inspiration and the past and present of the DotD Festival. 

WDDI: Tell us about the inspiration behind Cirque du Horror and the Day of the Dead Festival.

David: Two years ago, I was spinning my creative wheels and not coming up with much for my own writing. I have a very creative uncle who sent me a list of about 50 topics that he thought would be good ideas for writing and composing music. Two were dark, more sinister and macabre ideas—some lines of poetry—and those ideas spoke to me the most out of all the many others. I thought, “Why don’t I do a Halloween show?” I mean, it was literally that leap—from seeing those few lines of poetry, to thinking how about a Halloween talent show. So those two ideas from my uncle have evolved now into this festival. I was also considering how much I love this time of the year, that a fall festival didn’t really exist in Denton, and that this sort of a show—one that is edgy enough for adults, but kind enough for kids— would bring the best of both worlds and seemed like, if anything, it could reenergize the Halloween I remember having as a kid. Not just a church harvest fest, and not just a haunted house off the side of the road. It’s that missing link.

WDDI: Growing up, did you consider Halloween to be one of your favorite celebrations?

David: In many ways, yes. I tie it to the memories of my childhood of the paper cutout scarecrows and pumpkins my mom would put all over the house as a symbol to the holiday time of year. Halloween is nice because it’s the relaxed holiday- you don’t stress about it- you just make or buy a costume and have some fun and party.

WDDI: Where do you draw the inspiration for your stories?

David: The first year, I took a few short lines of poetry my uncle gave me and created bigger songs with them-- created songs with visual imagery along with them. I read a poem about a demon type creature that had a softer side to him and took it made this funny ballad where a demon is singing about why he doesn’t have any friends. So a lot of it was feeding off of my uncle’s ideas. The second year, as the show evolved, I thought I would create a circus. I thought about a traveller who pops into different circus tents, and in each one there’s a different story.

This year has been more of an evolution into a truer sense of music theatre. The show has always been kind of vaudeville in that every number has been very different and it’s been one or two people acting or pantomiming with a band playing, or it’s been a band playing with some dancers. This year we integrated a lot more choreography. Visually, it’s a lot slicker and there’s a lot more eye candy.

WDDI: Do you write different stories each year?

David: So, the first year, we had this once batch of music and performance and the second year was completely different. This year, since we’re taking it to such a bigger stage, I thought I would mix and match my favorites from year 1 and 2. I added 2-3 new acts, but the goal for each year to come is to keep it new. It’s never the same from year to year. I know that if any of the set designers and artists hear this, they’re going to cringe. But changing it up is a big motivator, and it would be a big success to me to be able to write something that’s this fun and actually be successful enough to have it provide income so I can write something new each year. I hope at some point I’ll be able to license the shows to community theatres and schools. I constantly want to do something new.

WDDI: Why do you call it the Day of the Dead Festival?

David: Good question. Matter of fact- it’s almost the jokingly controversial question of this whole thing. I have always been very aware of what Day of the Dead is. I mean, I grew up in a Hispanic household-- my mother’s Hispanic-- and I grew up in south Texas in a predominantly Hispanic town,  but I’ve had that question asked a lot.

I think a lot of the reason I called it that is because Denton’s Day of the Dead rolled off the tongue very well. It sounded neat. In my mind, I always wanted it to be about everything- the fall harvest, about Halloween, and about el Dia de los Muertos. I wanted it to be all of that.

I had spoken to a couple different professors and UNT specifically in Mexican Culture that had put on their own Dia de los Muertos festivals, celebrations, and parades.  I want to have a section of the festival dedicated to the alteros and the Dia cultural event so there’s a true homage for that, and that it doesn’t seem like I’m trying to hang on the coattails of that title, but to actually tribute the dead. I want everyone to be aware of that. I think in a lot of ways that Denton is a big cultural mixing pot for artists – it’s a different vibe up here and I think a festival like this makes a lot more sense to do here than anywhere else. For next year I want a legit parade for the festival. I mean, we’re well on our way: Mariachi Quetzal will be playing this year in calavera makeup.

For the production last year, my uncle wrote a piece specifically about Dia and he ran with it, wrote a beautiful piece called “Must I Go?” and it was a big dance number so we have a bunch of sugar skulls and lots of dancers. We made a special tribute to it.

WDDI: What has changed over last 3 years of Cirque du Horror?

David: It’s bigger and better. That first year was duct tape and chewing gum and a lot of prayers- extremely low budget. So we went from that to the second year, moderately low budget, to now this year, where we have something of a substantial budget to work with. The first year we had maybe 5 dancers. This year we have a troupe of 13 from Karen’s Green Space and 10 others from a friend of mine’s studio in Ft. Worth. At times, they’ll all be on stage, so visually, it’s just huge.

WDDI: What do you see for the future of Cirque and the Day of the Dead Festival?

David: Definitely keeping the big night and the big production here in Denton and specifically at that location, what has now become such a hub of Denton- that Industrial/Hickory block. It’s like a corridor.  My vision is big, like the circus comes to town-- a big tent right in the middle of Industrial street and with a stage inside so whatever happens with the weather, people can always see the show. I’d like for it to expand to Hickory, to multiple days, to start on Friday night and carry throughout the weekend. I want it to become a legit fall festival for Denton.

You know how nostalgic the holiday lighting is: whether its 20 degrees out, everyone’s going to come out and they’re going to love it. This is a time of year here you would want to come out whether it’s for the entertainment or not, just because it’s a beautiful time of year. So I think it’d be fun to decorate the street to be as old-worldly as possible with lots of décor. Imagine lanterns strung from building to building- the bigger the better.

All the people in the guild have the same sort of day-dreamer vision; I got pretty lucky with that- there are not may areas where you could go to a bunch of businessmen and they’d be behind you 100% like it has been here. It’s amazing, and Denton is in such a wonderful time right now. Denton’s always had this nucleus of talent- and it’s a huge inspiration. It’s easy to get excited to do a production like this.

(NOTE: David is still looking for craft and food vendors for the festival, so if you’re interested, click here to get registered:)

Can’t make it to the free Saturday night performances of this year’s Cirque du Horror? Or maybe you loved the Saturday night performances so much that you want to see it again? Either way, there’s a Sunday matinee at Dan’s. This performance will be $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and kids. Tickets are on sale now at Dansilverleaf.com or cirqueduhorror.com. There will be reserved seating for children and seniors, but space is limited.


Saturday, October 29, 2011 from 11 am to 11 pm

Special Matinee Performance of Cirque du Horror

on Sunday, October 30, 2011 from 4-6 pm


103 Industrial St. 

Denton, TX 76201