Thursday, August 28, 2014

At First Sight (and Other Stories)

At First Sight (and Other Stories)
By the Broken Box Mime Theater Ensemble
Directed by Becky Baumwoll
Produced by: Broken Box Mime Theater

Nominations: The Ensemble (Becky Baumwoll, Dinah Berkeley, Seikai Ishizuka, David Jenkins, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Tasha Milkman, Marissa Molnar, Dan Reckart, Joe Tuttle, Leah Wagner) is nominated for Outstanding Ensemble;
At First Sight (and Other Stories) is nominated for Outstanding Performance Art Production

         Photos by Bjorn Bolinder

About this Production

At First Sight (and Other Stories) is an evening of twelve pieces told only with lights, music, and mime. Born from a desire to achieve both riveting storytelling and exploration of complex themes the audience is taken on a whirlwind journey that will leave each audience member with a different set of memories—a different dining room wallpaper, a different color horse, a different costume on the villain—but all with the same question: How did I just see all that? Pieces include: Fifth Wheel, an uproarious sitcom that begins when an uninvited guest crashes what would have been a lovely double-date, Reservoir, a thought-provoking illustration of the process of depression and recovery, and Some Day, the story of an old man who is transported to the past by putting on his favorite record. The record player becomes a woman on a street corner, and the two of them carry us to an unexpected romance in the rain—the power of a moment. Between these we weave a Wild West complete with horses, trains, and revenge, a bizarre comedy in which a mugger gets quite carried away, and a thoughtful look at PTSD as it affects a family welcoming home a Veteran.

Becky Baumwoll, Joe Tuttle, Tasha Milkman, Marissa Molnar, Seikai Ishizuka, and Meera Rohit Kumbhani talk about the challenges of communicating complex tales through mime.


What attracted you to this project?

Becky: Broken Box Mime Theater is the passion project of its 14 current members and beloved designers. We were not drawn together because of a particular penchant for mime, per se, but a desire to celebrate and explore what we love most: Moving theater. Mime allows us to approach theater with an incredibly limited palette, and we find that it's this limitation that allows us to emphasize the art form and bring a new and enriched experience to the stage. There is nothing to hide behind in mime, and we are able to work on whatever we want as co-creators of our shows. As professional actors, it is our pleasure to expand upon our own understanding of our bodies as instruments, and as collaborators, it is our joy to share ownership over some of the best work we've ever written and performed.

As a professional (speaking!) actor, BKBX gives me the opportunity to make my own work, whether it reflects my nutty humor or allows me to explore deeper feelings or questions I'm experiencing in the safety and support system of a group of trusted collaborators. When I'm working with the mimes I feel the magic of all being focused on the same goal, of mutual support mixed with high standards for our art. It is so incredibly unusual to have a community of artists to come home to, and BKBX provides just that, while all the while staying focused on the goal of creating moving theater. I am a better writer, director, collaborator, and actor because of Broken Box, and At First Sight (and Other Stories) was a huge step for us, showing a new level of sophistication, of collaboration, and a restructured writing process that helped us to grow. When I get hired as an actor outside of BKBX, I am constantly enacting what I've learned about working with others, a high level of body awareness, and a keen attention to storytelling.

Joe: I've been performing mime and physical theatre since I was in high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And I was a company member of the Chicago Mime Company for several years before moving to New York City. So, being a part of another mime company sort of just comes naturally to me. I have been a part of every show Broken Box has produced since the beginning. It's family. So, of course I was going to be part of this show. Who wouldn't want to work with all these amazing, talented, smart, funny people?

Tasha: Broken Box Mime Theater breathes new and vibrant life in to the often under-appreciated art of mime. I am honored to surprise audiences at how deeply they find themselves invested in a story told without words, costumes, sets, or props.

Marissa: This was my third show as a company member with BKBX, and we really reached for new levels on this one. I love telling stories without using words, props, or costumes-- using people as a blank canvas for story creates so many opportunities for the audience to make wild imaginative leaps, and that is thrilling and deeply satisfying.

Meera Rohi: Broken Box Mime Theater is my artistic home. The people I share this company with are family and I would not be who I am without the work we create together.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Becky: As the AD and Founder of BKBX, this production brought me particular joy because of how it proved that our collaborative process had reached the next level. We pushed ourselves farther than ever before and that is incredibly important. I’m so proud that we created a safe, inspiring, and demanding rehearsal room.

I loved seeing the show come together into such a diverse group of stories. We had an incredibly moving piece about PTSD, an exploration of relationships through gestural movements, a slapstick comedy about an annoying fifth wheel on a double date, a sisterhood story in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, a heartbreaking look at self-destruction through our actors becoming burning walls of a beloved home - it all came together to create such a varied and vibrant evening.

Joe: I was thrilled by the ridiculous and incredible solutions we came up with in solving certain story or clarity problems. In mime, we have to constantly ask ourselves, "will the audience understand what is actually happening in this moment right now on stage?" And if the answer is, "no," the audience will be lost and lose interest in the story. So, finding creative solutions is my favorite part of creating in mime.

Tasha: Our show was developed entirely by the ensemble of performers. I was honored to work with such a talented, generous, and thoughtful group of artists.

Marissa: I had a lot of fun writing The Double with Dan Reckart, but I think my favorite part of a process like this overall is figuring out how to clearly stage difficult scenes that require mime effects. Finding a way without using props to show things like a high-speed stagecoach robbery on horseback or a burning house -- that's my favorite kind of challenge.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Becky: Writing a dozen new short plays and performing them in mime less than two months later is a huge feat - but working with a group of artists as diverse and passionate as BKBX is particularly challenging. Our greatest strength is our greatest challenge, but the work is the better because of it.

The hardest part was knowing what edits or notes would make the piece sing, and which would slow down the momentum of creating our show. This is always a balancing act.

Joe: The most challenging part of this show was making sure everyone's voice was heard in the rehearsal room. Since our creative process is a total collaboration, pretty much everyone is in the room working on something at the same time. This can provide for some amazing ideas, but also can get us stuck on something for an inordinate amount of time with too many opinions on how to solve it. But, in this ensemble-driven environment we have always found equitable and creative solutions.

Marissa: We decided to do a western-style piece as our long episodic piece in this show, but when we got into working on it we realized there would only be three men in this particular cast -- and six women. How do you write a western-style genre piece without words with female protagonists without making the women prostitutes in some way and without copying any other plot that's already out there?! It was tough, and that plot changed dramatically up until the very last minute about a thousand times, mostly centering around which characters did or did not get killed off at the end.

Seikai: It is very challenging to compose music for mime. The music should support the story, but not tell the story. The music should be dynamic and structured but not so specific as to distract from the movement or give away too much. I wrote the music through improvised interplay. There were some beautiful moments where I would hear the performers pulse and feel their energy and play the music to support the nuances of their work. Finding the balance of being an integrated part of the ensemble was the most challenging part and favorite part of working on this production.

What was the most the most exciting or surprising part of the production for you?

Becky: A mime show with a group of hip young artists guarantees the unexpected! This was our first foray into live music, and our collaborator Seikai Ishizuka wrote beautiful accompaniment to several of our pieces. We had our students from 52nd Street Project come on our Opening Night, which was fantastic. We had a mime who had just had a baby taking time off to perform. And, though each show features work whose ownership is inevitably shared by all collaborators, each piece comes from a single original writer, and this time all of our members had pieces they originated in the final show, something that's very unusual for us.

Incredibly, when one of our wildly talented performers got injured after the second piece and went to the hospital, the rest of the group banded together not only to do the rest of the show without her (remember - nothing has lines, so it's hard to fill in for someone else without rehearsing!), but to create an ALTERNATE ENDING to the show that included a call-back to our piece about a zombie apocalypse. It was hysterical, and perfectly topped-off by that same actress coming back and giving heartfelt performances for every night thereafter, despite stitches over her eyebrow. Go, Marissa!

Joe: We used live music to accompany several of our pieces, which we have never done before. We also, had a piece that "broke the fourth wall" with some audience interaction, which we've never done before.

Marissa: During a blackout near the beginning of the show right after opening night, a couple of us moved just a beat too soon and collided really hard in the dark. I ran backstage and my face was covered in blood-- I had to go to the emergency room. But the show must go on! The cast did it without me-- they stepped in and played my roles, edited on the fly, and completely rewrote the ending of the show backstage. They were amazing!! And when I came back the next night with a helluva shiner and 3 stitches in my browbone, we all realized the great thing about mime makeup -- it covers everything!

What do you want the audience to come away with after watching your production?

Becky: We hope each audience member leaves feeling that their imagination is a powerful thing, and that communication through live theater can be a truly transcendent experience. We want them to have felt deep joy and deep sadness, laughed with us and gasped with us, to have gone on the journey with us and been surprised that they could have ever felt that way after a mime show. Time and time again we shock people by our ability to create such intimacy through what seems to be an antiquated art form - but in fact the intimacy comes from their own willingness to experience each story. Simple storytelling can be deeply moving and wildly inspiring.

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