‘Zoo Zoo’ is a balancing act
Imagine a frog that feels bad because he can’t jump as well as his friends, or think of anteaters that become waiters and serve espresso.
Then think of the chaos that would ensue when two hippos suffered from insomnia.
These are some of the creatures Imago Theatre will embody when it performs "Zoo Zoo" at the Eccles Center on Nov. 3.
The performance is a blend of acting, mime, dance, music and comedy, said Jerry Mouawad, during a phone interview from his office in Chicago, Ill.
Mouawad, along with Carol Triffle, co-directs the Imago Theatre.
"We aren’t trying to bring these animals to life in a realistic way," Mouawad explained. "We’re not trying to be National Geographic, but we do try to bring out different aspects of the animal."
The goals of the actors who don the costumes are to convey how fast the animals are, or how well they see or how intelligent they are.
"In doing this, we also apply these attributes to the human condition in the most economic level through humor," Mouawad said. "So when we perform as a frog, we don’t just do a lot of jumping around. We perform as a frog that has an inferiority complex because he isn’t able to jump as well as the others."
The idea is to get in touch with the universal aspect that reaches across ages and cultures, he said.
"It’s like how everyone feels a little uncomfortable when sits too close to you on a public park bench in the city," Mouawad said. "You start to wonder if you should move and offend the person or stay put and feel uncomfortable."
The idea of "Zoo Zoo," which is appropriate for ages 3 to adult, reaches back to the training Mouawad and Triffle received through the late Jacques Lecoq in France.
"We were taught to explore the physical world and to look closely at things like the way a tree moves in the wind," Mouawad said. "It’s a very dynamic thing that happens, because the branches and the leaves are moving together like a symphony."
The exercise clincher was to have the actors accurately embody the movements.
"To try to recreate that with your body sounds simple, but performing something like that on stage, and getting the audience to recognize what you have become, gets you to recognize the depth of the concept," Mouawad said. "That’s what we do with the animals in ‘Zoo Zoo.’ We examine the movements of an animal and try to embody it."
The challenge for the performers is to use humor and acting to maintain the animals, without having them slip into actual characters.
"As directors, we need to know when to pull the actors back before the piece becomes too narrative and gets a little more psychologically complex," Mouawad said. "We don’t want to go down that road, because if we do, we get into conflict and deeper storytelling, which is not the same thing as inching away from someone who sat too close to you on a park bench."
Mouawad formed the Imago Theatre with Triffle when they began dating in 1979.
"Nine months after we started seeing each other, I got involved in a production and collaborated with Carol on a segment in the show that tried to transform the human body into something else," Mouawad said. "Although it was a small part of a bigger production, it stole the show and helped the two of us realize that we probably could do something together on our own."
The duo began creating little feature-performances and began touring.
"A year later we found ourselves performing in half of the country, and a half a year later, we began touring internationally," Mouawad said. "While we weren’t really in what you would call the spotlight, it was a bit shocking for us as young artists."
In 2000, the two were invited to perform their new work "Frogz" at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway.
"I really do think it took all those years, from 1979 to 2000, for us to kind of understand what we were trying to do with our short-form performances," Mouawad said.
"Zoo Zoo" is a continuation of the "Frogz" concept, and throughout the years, the two co-directors have perfected these two shows.
In fact, Mouawad and Triffle have a storage room that is filled with creatures and fabrications that made it to the stage, but were eventually cut from the performances.
"When we were younger, we would sometimes go in the wrong direction just because we were excited about what we were doing," Mouawad said. "As we got older, we became more pragmatic about our excitement. We are now able to step back and ask whether or not it is mere excitement that is carrying us down a road, or if there is something deeper.
"I do think what happens in theater and the arts is all about decision making," he said. "I don’t think there are wrong choices, but there are bad ones."
The Park City Institute will present Imago Theatre’s "Zoo Zoo" on Sunday, Nov. 3, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Curtain is 6 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30 and are available by calling (435) 655-3114 or by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org .
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