How Imago Jumpstarted Its International Acclaim

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.

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