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

www.imagotheatre.com/mishima.html

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.

Jerry

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.

“Splat” Interview #2

Posted in Uncategorized on May 12th, 2011 by carol

Jerry interviews Carol about Splat

Jerry -Splat turned out to be a music-theater caper con piece.  Did you ever intend to end with that?

Carol - I intended Splat to be some sort of musical. I like songs because lyrics can have an emotional state that spoken words can’t. I didn’t start with a caper con piece. I started with something dark like noir but it just morphed into comedy noir.

Jerry - Your writing process for this show was a bit different.  You began with a rather non-sensical piece that eventually become more and more linear.  Can you talk about the process you went through?

Carol - I do like to write dialogue and try to fit it into the story and I guess that’s why sometimes my shows seem non-sensical because it doesn’t always fit, but real life is always going off topic. And to tell the truth, I do try to have an understandable story. Sometimes I just get caught up in the sound of the dialogue that sends me astray. And again I try to keep in within the frame of the original story line, but again it depends on my straying off topic because of those light blub ideas that flash in my head, I just can’t control them. Or I just don’t like where the story is going. I like to have some fun with the audience.

Jerry - Like your previous plays, maybe more for this one, some of the lines were in place even before the actual story was in place.  What makes you write a line to begin with?

Carol - That’s not completely true.  I did have a slim frame of a story. But it’s true I do write dialogue sometimes just for the fun it and hope that it can work out in a play. It’s funny how people talk to each other and how situations are sometimes universal. You can hear the same lines in a dramatic play or a comedy.

Jerry - When you write a line, are you listening for its rhythm, its tone, its meaning, its humor, what is most important for you?

Carol - I think all those are important. You’re starting to sound too smart for me. I do think of all those things but I don’t have guidelines to write by.

Jerry - When writing, how do you know what should become a song?

Carol - When I write a song, I think of the words musically.  When I write dialogue, I think the way people just talk to each other. And then I re-write and edit about ten or more times.

—-

Splat plays from May 19 to June 4 at Imago Theatre

“Splat” creator interviewed

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26th, 2011 by carol

Jerry Mouawad interviews Carol Triffle about her show “Splat”

Jerry:

You designed the set as you have with all your recent productions, can you talk about what you are trying to achieve and how it ties into the play?

Carol:

The set is a 1980’s suburban ranch style home. I designed the set to ground the play and the main character Cinder. Since sometimes the script jumps around in time at least the place remains constant. I want Cinder to seem to be an ordinary homemaker but in reality she is not.  She is a con artist out to steal and doublecross even her collegues. On the surface she is innocent by-stander but in reality she is the mastermind of the whole hoax.

Jerry:

This is your most accessible play to date.  Did you intend this? And if so, is this a new direction for you?

Carol:

I used to try to turn things around.  Now I let that happen naturally and not intentionally. This show is like watching old movies and TV shows.  It has a little of sit-com,  Jerry Lewis, the Honeymooners, Film Noir and Westerns. I think when you access your history with these it gives the writing more substance so then it’s feels more accessible and understandable.

Jerry:

What part of the process are in at the moment?  Seems like you are still trimming a few lines here and there, but generally the script is in place and the actors are starting to find some shape to their characters - talk about where you are in the show from a director view point.

Carol

Lines give information but are also like music. If they don’t sound right it is like playing a bad note.  Get rid of it. I believe your character happens without words and words begin to make sense when the character state is developed. Sometimes I can sense that when actors are having a hard time saying the lines. It’s usually because they haven’t developed their character state.  Sometimes they just need time to physically envelope that state and then the mental will just kick in.

Splat opens May 19 and plays to June 4

imagotheatre.com

Starting at the end. Ending at the beginning.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 2nd, 2010 by jerry

Imago Theatre has billed Stage Left Lost as an Othello that takes place onstage and off the stage – but that is just marketing, a way to catch the show in a phrase to sell tickets. Stage Left Lost is not Othello. It began as an exploration of an Othello but it has become its own thing. What is that thing is something about shifting perspectives, endings becoming beginnings and beginnings that are endings.

It’s difficult for me to say why Stage Left Lost is sort of a puzzle that shouldn’t fit together yet it does. It’s the kind of intellectual toy that you know shouldn’t make sense but it does. It reminds me of paintings by Magritte but it is not surrealism.

Frankly, I don’t know what this play is. I can tell you how I began with an ending and tried to find a beginning.

An actor friend was working on an original show and we would cross paths during rehearsals. As all director/writers we were both struggling with our work. He was having a difficult time finding an ending, and my problem was the opposite. I knew where  I was ending but did not know how to get there.

Stage Left Lost begins with the death of an actress accidentally or intentionally killed by her co-lead. I return to this same scene at the end of the play. The end is both a flash back and a flash forward. In looking at the play it seems like the end scene took place before the beginning and the beginning scene took place before the end. In a linear world this impossible – yet in the world of theatre it becomes not only possible but a reality.

Stage Left Lost opens Nov 4.

STAGE LEFT LOST A Misfit Puzzle

Posted in Uncategorized on October 17th, 2010 by jerry

With each of my recent  Opera Beyond Words productions, I began not with concept, not with narrative but with place. In Apis, or theTaste of Honey I chose a military brig. In Tick Tack Type it was a typing school. When I began Stage Left Lost I chose the setting of theatre itself.

As I worked on the production, George Cukor’s A Double Life immediately came to mind. In the film, an actor playing Othello is obsessed with jealousy when he suspects his wife of an affair. The jealousy consumes his life onstage and off. I was intrigued by the layers of possibilities but was ultimately disappointed that the film did not deliver all possiblilities.

There are three different realities I see in this concept – the stage, the off-stage and the world outside the theatre.  As the form began to reveal itself to me I discovered that I could fashion a piece that would travel in several worlds - actors playing actors, actors playing characters, actors playing characters who are playing other characters. Layers upon layers.

If you like film about theatre or theatre about theatre, I encourage you to take in Stage Left Lost. It’s a play within a play within a play. It’s a puzzle that fits together but shouldn’t.  - Opens Nov 4.

Finding Logic in the Non-logical

Posted in Uncategorized on March 5th, 2010 by jerry

Yesterday I blogged that I tried to dismantle any meaning when meaning began to arise in a scene in Tick Tack Type. I wrote that doing this was to free the play and not have it land in a didactic world. Today I will contradict my thinking saying that for every action in the play (or for most) I tried to find meaning in it.

Is this a contradiction? Yes and no. I think it’s a fine balance between an abstract work that has no means of a handle and an abstract works that resonates for audiences. I am not interested in pure abstraction, if I was, I would imbed the work in pure movement and dance and not try to create theatre of it.

So to get back to my opening statement, for every action I tried to find meaning yet at the same time dismantle it. (I hope this blog makes sense to someone, cause writing about movement is not easy, if it was easy, then I would assume the movement theatre has little merit.) In its simplest terms, when I had a character execute an action I tried to find one level or several of dramaturgical importance.

I assume this blog is vague since I am not divulging any of the action of Tick Tack Type. I apologize for this, but I am doing this for your sake (that is if you plan to see the work.) By discussing the action I am robbing you of the experience of it. What I see in an action may not be what you see. I can say this about Tick Tack Type, in many way it’s about “seeing” or “not seeing.”

Tick Tack Type plays March 11 to 14. All tickets are free. Go to www.imagotheatre.com for info.