Farewell to Imago’s Fame

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

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