How Imago Jumpstarted Its International Acclaim

Posted in Uncategorized on November 23rd, 2015 by jerry

Blog #4
A blog series on the closing of Imago’s ZooZoo and Frogz

I established Imago Theatre with my wife and partner Carol Triffle in 1979, but just prior to that I had finished the Hayes Marshall School of Theatre Arts, based in Portland. It was my glory youth days and prior to meeting Carol, a strange artistic thing happened to me. It was during a workshop in June 1979, when this strange thing happened as I watched Richard Hayes Marshall, who later became my mentor, perform a mask on the back of his head for about 30 seconds. I was immediately transfixed – I had been transported to the other side of life – the one that only can exist in the imagination. Richard had taken me there. Before me, a reality that was not real - appeared. This backward creature was living and seeing the same world I was seeing. He was not real, but was very much alive. Richard turned around and took off the mask and continued his lecture. In me, I was forever changed. I had witnessed puppet shows before, but never modern mask theatre. I had glimpsed into an art form that would carry me on its great waves for thirty more years.

After I graduated that school, I had only one desire – to be in a company of performers. Little did I know that Carol and I would begin touring internationally within five years. Right after I finished the school, I remember thinking about an offer made to us - “wow they want to pay us $600!” A small theatre had offered us this amount to bring a show to the Oregon coast. We barely had any material. I think we turned it down.

I had made a dozen or so masks and Carol was a wiz at fabric. A collaboration between us stole a show by creating a creature called the “Kuguro” which was an underworld dog that had a nose that glowed. Why did his nose glow? I think for some strange reason in the script.

Our collaboration led to more creatures and soon we had enough material that by 1985 we produced a show for a somewhat tricky but worthy reason. This special show had only one purpose - to lure a big time agent. We gave away 200 tickets for this show at the World Trade Center by placing one ad in the Willamette Week that read “Free Show!”. The audience was crazy and overly enthusiastic because of two reasons #1 The tickets were free, and #2 we weren’t so bad. The agent, Mr Arthur Shafman, who had represented performing giants such as Red Skeleton and Burl Ives signed us that night at dinner after the show “Do people always react this way?” he asked. We both silently nodded as we signed. The following season, Imago toured to Germany and throughout the United States, and has been touring internationally ever since. Sadly Mr. Shafman passed away in 2014. We miss you Arthur.

ZooZoo, Triffle and Mouawad’s collaboration of 30 years closes this December.

To read about ZooZoo go here:

For hi rez photos on ZooZoo go here:

PS The first mask I made was one little frog, I think, I can’t remember, but I do think it was the very first frog. The paper mache technique was weak, and now the mask is falling apart. It’s probably somewhere in our basement. I better go stash it before one of our company members reads this blog and takes it as a souvenir of Imago’s early days.

End Days

Posted in Uncategorized on November 19th, 2015 by jerry

>A blog series on the closing of Imago’s FROGZ and ZooZoo.

Okay, I’ll admit it. When one works on the same work for over three decades there’s joy in letting it go. Hard to say that when you’re also the marketing director.

However, the lessons I’ve learned working in such a minimal form such as mask theatre has enabled me to direct a large body of work unrelated to mask theatre.

I don’t believe in rules. However, there are two guidelines that are very difficult to ignore.

1. If it’s complicated, it most likely won’t work. (Now I’m very scared, because Imago next big thing La Belle is anything but complicated. Yikes!)

2. If there’s narrative in it, especially for non-verbal theatre, it probably won’t work. This is a good lesson for anyone thinking of dropping into this form. There are many ways to do theatre. Many have come to believe that plays are stories. Anything that does not have story is not theatre but rather performance art or other catch phrase. I disagree. The same as you would throw the notion out that tension must exist in theatre, so too, you can throw out that notion that story must be part of theatre. So what must be there? I don’t know exactly. What I do know is that something needs to be in that place held for story/tension in order for the audience to keep watching. Here’s what currently drives the pieces in ZooZoo:

Bugeyes – our enchantment for the night when we were kids.

Hippos – almost everyone’s universal nemesis – insomnia

Anteaters – cheap tricks with a party toy through the mouth of an anteater

Paper Bag – illusion, how is this being done?

Frogs –empathy for the underdog that is not keeping “up” with the Joneses

Polar Bears – from nature to circus and back to nature, the story of our species

Cats – man’s second best friend

Larvabatic – illusion, how is this being done?

Windbags – a family of accordions play it up

Penguins – the deadpan quality of a penguin

Paper – the unveiling of the artist

ZooZoo has its farewell run in Portland this December.

Details go to:

Odd Bloopers after 30 Plus Years

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28th, 2015 by jerry

Blog #2 on the Closing of Imago’s infamous shows.

2016 will mark 30 years of international touring by Imago Theatre. “FROGZ” and “ZooZoo” are seeing final days come to a close this season. “FROGZ” closed last season, and “ZooZoo”, a spin-off of “FROGZ” closes this season.

Here’s some bloopers on Imago’s history with these shows.

On the way to Broadway in 2000, to play at The New Victory Theatre, Imago had a “Penguin” problem. The newly created piece was not going well. In three days we would be playing at the legendary Shubert Theatre in New Haven, a place where in the good ole days Broadway-bound shows would reveal their upcoming success or failure. After three days of brainstorming rehearsals that took place in the Yale University gym (with lots of athletes looking in with astonishment) the “Penguin” problem was solved. In The Shubert performance the Penguins stole the show. Imago arrived at the New Victory assured they had fixed the “Penguin” problem.

An Orb (one of Imago’s creatures) chewed on Jerry Lewis’s leg during his infamous MDA Telethon in the early 90’s. It was 5 AM but the cast was excited to be on live national TV with the legendary comic, even though they were chewing on his leg from within a giant costume. Ha!

When touring through Los Angeles, in the mid 80’s, the company was asked to come to Roger Corman’s studio to shoot sequences of our mask work which would later end up on the cutting room floor of the film “Frankenstein Unbound.”

If you look into the first Imago masks made out of paper mache you can still see fragments of the Oregonian of 1979.

Imago was “inches” away from appearing on the Jay Leno show in 2000 after appearing at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway.

The first presentation of mask theatre by Imago took place in Scottsdale Arizona in 1979. It was to be 30 minute performance. However, the troupe only had 10 minutes of material! Solution? Write, rehearse and create work in highway rest areas on the drive on the way there!

One of the first important reviews came from The San Francisco Chronicle in 1981. We played an 800 seat theatre in the Mission district. There were only 8 people in the audience, and because of bad front of house policies, the 8 audience members were seated in the back of the theatre! The reviewer was seated amongst them – yikes!

In the early 90’s, right before going onstage to play Sloth Circus in a show of all masks, Imago performers backstage at Northwestern University realized that the masks for the piece were left in Portland. We had no masks for one of the most crucial parts of this all-mask show. What to do? Go on with without masks! In a review of the show, Sloth Circus was considered one of the highlights that night! Go figure.

In the last two seasons Imago played Jordan and Egypt, bringing our wordless wonder to people of the Middle East. This added another continent to the globe trotting group – North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

ZooZoo plays it’s last run in Portland from Dec 11 – Jan 3

Farewell to Imago’s Fame

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21st, 2015 by jerry

A blog series on the closing of Imago’s acclaimed productions ZooZoo and Frogz.

Part One – Why a Simple Puppet can Outweigh the Goliath of Technology.

When Carol Triffle and I began exploring mask theatre it was 1979. It was certainly a different world. With very little money and with a few tools of the trade - plaster of Paris, paper mache, some clay, and a good foundation of the teachings of Jacques Lecoq (our mentor) Imago Theatre was born. We had no studio, we had no bookings, no one knew what mask theatre was. Well that’s not exactly true, Mummenschanz had opened on Broadway, and having the same mentor as this acclaimed company, gave us a leg up. However, for the most part, the general public had not experienced contemporary mask theatre. So, with a bit of talent and some luck, within seven years Imago was touring internationally. We had created a show that revealed a side of American contemporary mask theatre that resonated with our audiences. We were thrilled that in our mid-20’s we were thrust into international limelight. No young artist dabbling in the physical theatre arts, at the time, could have been more excited.

Let’s jump ahead almost 34 years to today. Recently I heard the great director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) label our times “The Age of Decadence” and I think I understand what he means. With technology giving us access to any form of entertainment, we do live, at least in the west, in a culture of decadence. It’s a marvel that our little shows ZooZoo and FROGZ continue to capture a live audience. Why? I don’t think it’s that difficult to understand.

Despite the fact that we have at our disposal a torrent of video games, social media, and unlimited movies and TV shows– we have become  a youtube culture always hungry for more.  We as humans, since our cognitive awareness began, have been transfixed by the magic of a sorcery, the incantations of the shaman and the magic of a secular performance. Each exhibited their presentation in the light of cave fire with a prop, a doll, a puppet or a mask. The only thing at their disposal was the play of light in the darkness or maybe a hidden string. It is this desire to enter a transformational world that can not easily be explained by knowledge (some would say not easily explained by science) that is one of our strongest cultural desires. We seek a transformation created by a human hand, and by a human hand alone. Despite the fact that we may be in the age of decadence, we hunger for the true heart of wonder. Over the last decade or more, film goers quickly became acclimated to the effects of the digital age, and now any special effect that Hollywood pumps out is primarily welcomed with a yawn (with some exceptions of course. ) I am sure the boundaries will continue to be pushed of what is possible with film effects, but I don’t think that particular industry will ever overcome the awe created by the human hand alone.

If a single performer with the ancient tools of stagecraft can transform our world to something other than what we think it to be, then we have been transformed. When I watch a good movie, I am changed, but when I watch a great live performance, my soul has been nourished and I feel something more than a simple change, I feel I’ve been rejuvenated.

It is this experience of theatre that will never be challenged by technology. We know that it is art not science that is the soul’s transformational force. It is our imaginations, and not our eyes, that are the true windows into our hearts. It is something so common - this innate understanding of the true wonder of things – that you can have this discussion with a seven year old and both the adult and the child will ultimately agree – true magic does not live in a device but perhaps in the corner of the room where a seemingly inanimate object is waiting to take on life.

ZooZoo’s final shows in Portland - Dec 11 to Jan 3

Jerry Mouawad

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.)