After graduating high school, Lauren Hirte took the high road: She started training as an aerialist with the Actors Gymnasium in Evanston. Her aptitude earned her a role in Lookingglass Theatre's circus-savvy Hard Times in 2001, and two years ago, at age 24, she anchored an acrobatic five-member cast in the staggering Lookingglass Alice. The show—complete with stilts and unicycles— returns to Chicago from an East Coast tour this week.
Have you studied different Alice interpretations?
When I got the part, I bought The Annotated Alice. There's a lot to it! I find most people know just the Disney version. We have other characters, plus the whole chessboard aspect from Through the Looking-Glass. It's fun to introduce people to these pieces.
Why does Wonderland cast such a spell over our imaginations?
I don't know. It's crazy. I think everybody feels, at some point, like they've fallen down a rabbit hole. It's that feeling that you don't know exactly where you are or what to do. Especially as a kid, people can make you feel like that, so your imagination takes over.
Are your stunts dangerous?
Some are scary, like Humpty Dumpty's fall—that jolts everyone out of their seats. Or the triple-cloud swing, it's like a rope swing without a seat…I'm very high up for that, but we're very careful. That's not to say there aren't injuries. I [recently] tweaked my back when the White Knight climbed on me…So we're all a little battered and bruised.—Web Behrens