Director as Designer

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19th, 2014 by jerry

I find myself once again designing the scenic element for another Pinter production – The Homecoming. It’s not that Imago can’t afford designers. Carol Triffle (Artistic Co-director) and have always or usually decide to design one of the elements when we direct a production. We have always have been director/designers. There is something different in the approach when a director is one of the key designers. Robert Wilson was most noted for this. (Not to say it does save money and time as well, but not always.)

In this scenic design I’m seeking to find that wonder of space itself.

I mused one day what a phenomena it is to be human. An upright creature with mobility, not attached to the earth, with the capability of artistic expression. Since then I’ve been intrigued by how many ways humans can move and interact physically with one another on stage.

In “The Homecoming” I intend to create what I would call “kinetic tension.” It’s simple to explain but perhaps difficult to execute and to also keep the audience tuned in for 90 plus minutes if I suppress the movement as I may do. What I mean by “kinetic tension” is to keep the actors highly economic in their movement, almost suppressed, then at key moments have them release that energy with say – a crucial cross across the living room, or – a swift sit down on the couch beside their nemesis.

I think this kind of staging is fitting with Pinter. He seems to take you on erratic rides with language but then slaps you with action. What happens if the erratic ride of language is still, almost paralyzed and then the action is ferocious?

In knowing a directorial artistic muse for the staging I then would tend to give the room some breath, space – a place for a “kinetic” event. An openness that allows the characters to move across for that dramatic ‘sit’, for that dramatic cross.

On October 10, Imago opens Harold Pinter’s “The Homecoming” – the playwright’s most ambitious work.

My Journey of Movement and Words

Posted in Uncategorized on May 8th, 2014 by jerry

My artistic life has been traveling between the worlds of non-verbal theater and very verbal theater.

Perhaps, it’s my beginnings of working in mask theater (non-verbal) for over a decade before I started to go crazy being silent that began Imago’s path to create plays with lots and lots of words.

With words, different things happen. With silence, or lack of words (music and movement), different things happen. In other words, there is vastness in the non-verbal genres of theater,  and,  the verbal genres of theater. Big worlds.

Beginning in 2009 I began a series of silent plays that I called “Opera Beyond Words”. Little did I know that that series was leading me back to plays with language. I followed up with “The Black Lizard” and two Pinter productions, “The Lover” and “The Caretaker.”

Now, I’m completing that journey in “Pimento & Pullman” I was reflecting on the “Opera Beyond Words” series which included - Apis, Cuban Missile Tango, Tick Tack Type, Stage Left Lost, and Zugzwang, and I wanted to return to directing/choreographing more of that world but in a new way. Thus the return of words. Call this new series “Opera with Words”?

Wilder’s “Pullman Car Hiawatha” is a perfect vehicle for my experimentation. To make the evening even more unusual. I have coupled it with a bit of naughtiness (Since Wilder’s piece is a bit sweet) with a clown piece for adults called “Pimento”

“Pimento & Pullman” opens June 12 at Imago.

How Far To Impose on a Work

Posted in Uncategorized on February 3rd, 2014 by jerry

I’ve been asked if I’m going to have a certain take on The Caretaker. By take - meaning a certain approach or way of looking at it that makes it idiosyncratic to Imago’s work.

I’m into my third week of rehearsal (opens Feb 27) and out of budget limitation or perhaps out of desire I find myself as scenic designer (Jeff Forbes light design, Sumi Wu costume design.)

As director and designer I think spacially and visually– I’m sensing the potential of the space, which informs the design.  Yes, there are vaudevillian Beckett-like moments, - I am giving actors a bit of our Lecoq methodalogy, but for this production I don’t think I am imposing a conceit on the production as I have done with other scenic designs– why not? It doesn’t want it, desire it, or need it.

As a director I sometimes feel like cooking without a recipe. I am known as an amateur gourmet cook but I always have a recipe, or I at least begin with one. For this production, I have a recipe, that recipe is Pinter –his world is populated with multiple interpretations, metaphors, and symbolism.  In Pinter’s world – the action  “to sit” can become epic.  What do I impose on a production when the action of sitting becomes epic? The answer is to allow the epic to unfold – let sitting happen.

In contrast, in 1998 Imago opened No Exit, by Jean Paul Sartre . As director/designer I was able to impose on the piece a unique set design (an ever moving stage, causing balance and imbalance with each turn of the play.)  In No Exit – I pushed the scenic design to be forefront and center with the text.

No Exit worked (at least for many) because I think the text/play was lacking. In No Exit the text/play is not as strong as Pinter’s The Caretaker (forgive me Mr Sartre and all his followers.)  I don’t think No Exit is a great play, a great concept yes, but not a great play.  For this reason, I was able push the space of the play further – in other words the text left room for it.

In Pinter’s work – his realism has done exactly what I think Sartre’s realism did not do. In the immediacy of every moment Pinter has place the possibility of everything.  He seems to write in a way that anything he writes is about everything all the time, yet it is still about the immediate – this room now.

So to answer the question– As a director, I have no take on Pinter, I am only trying to do justice to his masterful writing.

I hope you can attend, it opens on Feb 27 at Imago.

Unraveling a Pinter Love Puzzle

Posted in Uncategorized on November 7th, 2013 by jerry

Notes from director Jerry Mouawad on the first rehearsals of Harold Pinter’s The Lover opening at Imago in December.

SPOILER ALERT: This blog post reveals twist and turns of The Lover playing at Imago in December (in repertoire with FROGZ.)

The title of this blog is the way I felt after we spent our first four hours rehearsing for Harold Pinters “The Lover” opening at Imago in December (in rep with FROGZ.)

With the lead actors Anne Sorce and Jeffrey Gilpin I began my early explorations of the play. When first reading the play one could simply interpret it as a kinky couple role playing their lives in order to keep their marriage exciting. Each having a lover (that is actually their spouse.) However, I was suprised to come away from the first rehearsal with something very far from my earlier impression and one much richer.

Mind you, I was blessed with two actors who agreed to use their own sweat equity to be off book (know all their lines) by the first rehearsal. Granted they were somewhat fortunate that it’s a short play (a lengthy one act) but still what a great benefit to a director! I was pleased to sit down at a table and within 5 minutes of chit chat ‘how you been?” Anne and Jeffrey delivered their lines and I watched a rehearsal that was a first performance of two actors that had spent a month learning their lines but more importantly mining the play.

By the end of the rehearsal what I had conjured in my mind was an interpretation of the play in which Pinter’s is celebrating love, sex and the ambiguity of identity with the dangers and cliffs falls of relationships. The Lover is not a play about a failing or challenged marriage or a marriage in need of kinky games to keep love alive, but the opposite. Two courageous, intellectual and passionate people who have made a marriage pact that their love would be celebrated, lived, challenged and in continual surprise with the introduction of personalities that become archetypical of male and female love identities and their paradoxes– and most importantly to always change, surprise one another and celebrate flexibility of identity. A different kind of marriage and a startling one. This play may have been written in the early sixties when sexual awakening of the 60’s was beginning to awaken but its intellectual and romantic forays are far more advanced than the ideology of free love.

It is yet early in the process of our rehearsals and if these early impression of the play holds steady I will be surprised – this piece has many possible interpretations.

The Lover plays Dec 5 to 21st at Imago Theatre, 17 SE 8th

Working from the Inside Out

Posted in Uncategorized on April 30th, 2013 by carol

Carol Triffle

I end up in unexpected multiple territories when I write a play, and perhaps that is why I sometimes might throw an audience member in a bit of a confusion.  But that’s okay.  Life appears to have a logical progression, but clearly it doesn’t nor can it.  How can we ask a bug to walk a straight line? Why would the bug want to walk a straight line?

Usually I conjure a slim story not knowing exactly where it will go.  This time it was about three women who get together every year under the guise of an art club started in collage. I write lines that come to me, it could be from something that passed by me in my life, or it could be something I make up.

I start to see characters saying the lines, but I don’t know who they are.  I give them names.  Very thin plot lines start to emerge, I wouldn’t even call them plot lines but repeating situations.

And many times, that’s where I leave them - odd and hopefully amusing runs of situations.

Of recent, beginning with Splat and now more so with Beaux Arts Club, narrative has been infused and the characters/situations are defined in a concrete realistic environment.

Working towards a narrative from the inside out leads to familiar ground that is unfamiliar - to actions and events that I didn’t anticipate would come about.  It’s like a puzzle you build without knowing anything about it, except that it’s a mystery.

Beaux Arts Club opens May 24

Damn That Mime

Posted in Uncategorized on August 15th, 2012 by jerry

Imago has just announced an audition for a new movement dance company.  What does that mean?  Since I am co-author of the announcement I should know, but really I am bit in the dark.  I am however holding one of the flashlights looking.

Carol Triffle, Artistic co-director and I will ultimately be answering that question over time (over three year’s time.)

But for now here’s some thoughts…

Remember the 70’s? Okay, you weren’t born then.  If you were lucid at that time there was a weak damaging force and a strong renaissance in the movement arts in the US and other parts of the world over a simple four letter word  - mime.  By weak force I mean thousands of white faced amateurs (maybe even hundreds of thousands) that sprouted up in imitation of Marcel Marceau (do you think Marceau ever felt any responsibility for stirring up such a damaging force? I met Marceau. I don’t think he thought himself as the ambassador of such bad work or at least responsible for it.)   By the time the eighties hit, mimes were the ridicule of all stand-up comedians and the scorn of the general public.  I can’t think of another art form so hated.

At the time your 19 year old neighbor was pulling lycra pants over his skinny legs and smearing white make-up in a tight face circle capped by a black beret,  while other movement artists and companies were forging a new movement.  One excellent enterprise was a group out of Montreal called Mime Omnibus.  I won’t try to describe their work except to say like all great theatre it did not adhere to one classification. It was difficult to categorize, difficult to describe and certainly did not reduce mime to a wordless mundane narrative.

What would have been the state of mime in this country if the white-faced umbrella carriers had not ruled the street corners and craft markets for over a decade? What if the American public had recognized the shallowness of imaginary walls and refused to ordain this seemingly new order of mime?

The answer can not be found unless we turn the clock back and pull Marcel off that stage so he can not influence back yard rehearsals of imaginary walks and blowing up invisible balloons. For the record I was a big fan of Marceau and do not view his work as a reduction of life in Pantomime Blanche (as Jacques Lecoq would call it) to an idiot presentation.

I am interested in attempting to bring  to the stage  a form that never matured in the 20th century in America.  A theatre marked by sweeping movements,  comedic falls and high dives.   Of works that reflect, mimics, and becomes what it sees –  which mirrors life like no other art form.   Is it too late to resurrect mime back to the status of art?  No, not with the help of its related cousin – dance.

PS. I must confess,  I too was holding invisible umbrellas in the streets, but my interest of it faded fast.  I am also to blame.

PSS My intent in this blog entry was in no way to insult those artist that performed Pantomime Blanche with integrity (there were a few.)

Theater is a Prank

Posted in Uncategorized on April 4th, 2012 by jerry

Jerry Mouawad, director of Imago’s upcoming “The Black Lizard”

I have always been drawn to Japanese forms.  I think I am Japanese. Wait, I’m Lebanese. At any rate, watching Kurosawa’s Seventh Samurai there’s something in the way he sweeps his chorus into action, something in the way an old peasant weeps, something in the austere fight scenes.  I feel a great affinity with to his work. Perhaps there’s a Japanese in all of us. Seems that way.  East influences West.  West influences East. It’s a wonderful circle.

Perhaps that’s why I feel an affinity to Yukio Mishima’s work.   In his wonderful sexy, mysterious piece “The Black Lizard” the playwright has become a prankster.

Prank – “a mischievous trick played on someone”

What is theater but a prank? We go to theatre and hope we are tricked, swept away into some other world, into some great story, some strange universe.  We know it’s not real and yet we succumb to it.

I’m going to make an assumption that most directors do not want the audience to know that they are pulling a prank - at least some realists do not.  Realists want to see their work as a beautiful  illusion.  (I am not criticizing realism just pointing out the difference.  As a side note, I’m a big fan of realism.) Back to the topic - realist usually don’t want to see their work as cheap or false, like a prank.

“I am a lie who always speaks the truth” Jean Cocteau

My theatre pranks are not hiding themselves. My intent is - “this is a prank, but don’t you like it?” And while I am pranking, let’s hope I find a small truth.  Only a small one is necessary, if I look for very large ones – well it becomes too grand a task.  Not the job of a cheap prankster.

In Mishima’s “The Black Lizard” I’m attempting to pull off a trick delivered to us from the East .  The lead character believes that we may all stay young and beautiful forever, an impossible dream – the prank of all prank

“The Black Lizard” opens May 11.

Contains nudity. Recommended for adults.

Click below to read about the show

Stitching the Giant Quilt

Posted in Uncategorized on February 12th, 2012 by jerry

Last night I had a dream that my late father-in-law George Smith was sewing a giant quilt that was half complete. In the dream I was surprised that he could undertake such a large project while I was attempting to complete a much smaller task.  I can’t remember what I was fumbling about with, but I remember thinking to myself – “look at George with that big needle and thread and that enormous quilt!” The dream lingered in my thoughts the next morning as I tried to understand George and his life with me.

It was 1979, when I met George and his wife Virginia after I had been dating their daughter Carol, one of their 12 children.  George and Virginia welcomed me into their home and family at first sight - an openness and warmth that was unconditional.  Over the course of our three decades together - in all our weekends,  all our meals, all our outings there was never a raised voice, never a heated debate, never any conflict – seriously never.  How can these be? I can honestly say I have never had that kind of relationship with anyone.

George and Virginia lived a life of acceptance.  There was seldom a point of view they would not at least consider.  There was always a serious desire to discuss and explore “ideas.”  Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying  Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.” George hardly discussed people, rarely discussed events, and always discussed ideas (granted with anyone that would listen, and no matter age or what language.)   George’s views were never about small things – but always about the big picture -  always about our spiritual life in the universe. He wanted to know understand our social mission as a humans and uncover what was beneath the interwoven fabric of all living beings.   For years, as he bid farewell, hugging me he would utter “keep the faith.”  I thought he was referring to religion, but only after he turned 90 did I ask him what he meant.  He pointed to his heart and explained that what he meant was to keep the faith within yourself – to be true to yourself.

When I first met George and Virginia they had departed from the Catholic Church and were exploring Eastern forms of religion. I was in my early twenties hanging onto post 1960’s idealism while struggling with growing conservatism the world would soon envelope in the 1980’s.   Meeting them as a young adult I cherished them as my mentors for spiritual quests and voyages into the world of ideas.

So back to the dream. .. I am an agnostic and it’s hard for me to embrace an after-life where I see George in some heavenly place stitching on the fabric of time, and yet again, I must admit that if anyone is be there – it would be George.  George is, has, and always will stich on a giant quilt and what that quilt is I know not.  But watching him that night in my dream was all I ever wanted to do life – to watch him work away, carve away at the mystery of life.  So I say “Stitch on Sir George, stitch for us all!”

In fond memory, I’ll miss you dearly.


P.S. George died in his home 3 days before his 91st Birthday on February 2, 2012.  Many Imago fans will recognize his wonderful illustrations in  “The Cowboy” one of the features in “FROGZ.”  Working with George on that project, with Virginia standing behind him correcting his every mistake (as she always did) is a collaboration I shall cherish forever.

Scrambling with “Cats”

Posted in Uncategorized on November 3rd, 2011 by jerry

Okay, we’re at it again.  After 30 years of creating creature-theater haven’t we had enough?  Apparently not.  This holiday season we open “Cats.”  No, it’s not your Andrew Lloyd Webber version – far from it.

In Imago’s ZooZoo we’re not trying to recreate the animal world.  We’re looking at the human condition and the animal is our vehicle.  This is not anything really new to our culture – Disney and Pixar have been doing it for decades.  What makes Imago stand out is the minimal style we bring to the stage and the use of mask theatre.

We have created over 30 original productions.   They have ranged in scale from massive multimedia to mixed forms with giant budgets and ones with small budgets for one-person plays, however nothing compares to the difficulty of creating the short form.   By short form, we mean a piece that last 3 to 5 minutes with the intent of capturing a universal slice of life.  It is painstaking and difficult work.  It is no wonder that our basement at Imago Theatre is stuffed with over half million dollars of creatures - our editing room floor.  Those creatures, however wonderful never quite found their place on the Imago stage.  A giant 25’ caterpillar that transformed into gigantic butterflies, however spectacular, couldn’t compete with a simple creature like the “Larvabatic” a worm that performs incredible acrobatic feats.

Let’s hope the “cats” find their place in the Imago world.  Only hours and weeks and months of trial (which began last spring) will determine that.   Or we might get lucky as we have with a few pieces.  The “Larvabatic” which took six months in design to create, only took three hours in rehearsal before it stole the show.

ZooZoo opens (with “Cats”) on December 8.

Gambles in the Abstract World

Posted in Uncategorized on September 12th, 2011 by jerry

When I walk into a museum and find an abstract work with elements of realism I enjoy it on two levels. The first is a purely abstract one. I open my eyes wide to let the form, color, and textures invade me. It fills me with something I have not experienced. I sense from the artist a view, an attitude, an emotion that is not communicable in other way.

The other way I look at abstract work is by trying to determine from where it was abstracted. I take the word abstract to mean the art was abstracted from life. It began with something in the real world: a landscape, a still life, a portrait, an emotion, an event.

In my upcoming production Zugzwang I work in both these realms. I have in the back of my mind a very simple story – a man’s battle with life, and at the same time I am working on abstractions from this story.

Years ago, I was sitting in an office of a very famous artist director in a large theatre in the United States. He was criticizing me very harshly for my lack of concrete vision in the production I was staging at his theater. In one scene I had an actor raise his arm to a 45 degree angle. It was purely an abstract gesture. The artistic director said to me, “What the **** does that mean!?!?” At the time I was unsettled by his anger and the confrontation and didn’t know how to respond. In retrospect I could have given him about three reasons (metaphors in the theme of the play) for why the abstract gesture was included. But looking back on the conversation, the correct answer was simply: “because it’s the right thing to do”

So much of my theater work in abstract form is that. You build content, conflict, resolution – but the bits and pieces, the looks and gesture, the moves and dances are included simply “because it’s the right thing to do.”

Zugzwang plays from Sept 29 to Oct 22nd.