Kyle Whalen is a Chicago writer and theatremaker. He has written for PerformInk and Chicago Stage Standard. He is a company member of Commission Theatre Co. Follow him on Instagram/Twitter @whalenschmalen.
Photo: Frank Wurzinger in The Confetti Maker
By Kyle Whalen
The Fourth Annual International Physical Theater Festival, or simply Physical Festival, kicked off last night at Stage 773 with two performances: Theatre de l’Ange Fou’s Memory of Dust and Frank Wurzinger’s The Confetti Maker. The festival is a showcase of five pieces—four presented by international groups, one by a Chicago-based company—scheduled from June 2-10. Monday through Friday feature workshops during the daytime taught by the different companies in attendance, and more performances at night.
I have the privilege of writing about the festival in its entirety, as a kind of resident blogger. I’ll be keeping you updated periodically throughout the week. Last night was a wonderful way to begin: Everyone delighted to be there, united in a mutual appreciation for, of course, physical theater.
Memory of Dust
Theatre de l’Ange Fou opened the festival with Memory of Dust, “a modernist fable on the enduring connection” between “a poet and his muse,” which draws from the French writer Robert Desnos, the Parisian surrealist movement, and the Second World War. Steven Wasson and Corinne Soum embody the poet and the muse, respectively—though, I think they trade throughout.
As the first show, Memory of Dust primed me for the coming festival, relearning my brain to engage a mostly wordless show. Wasson and Soum practice corporeal mime, which they studied in France with its primary developer, Etienne Decroux. Corporeal mime can be understood, in layman’s terms, as “abstract” mime. Whereas pantomime uses movement and gesture to suggest a concrete thing—a box, an escalator, an umbrella—Wasson and Soum mime concepts: despair, love, loneliness, inspiration. They use mime to access metaphor, an internal struggle within the body to express something that has no shorthand image.
Memory of Dust left me with questions: what can the body express better than other media? What is silent in a sentence or song that the body can make audible? Wasson and Soum’s movement grammar involves darting and flurrying their arms, tracing their own heads, arms, and torsos—sometimes violently, sometimes lyrically, sometimes into recognizable poses, sometimes like watching a marionette try to untangle itself. I wrestled internally in some moments not to literalize the story, because their movements intimated so much.
There are moments watching Wasson when you realize the way people grip a rifle and a shovel is the same. Or Soum shows that sitting in a taxicab is maybe like laying in a hammock is maybe like being pulled out to sea. In one wonderful moment, Wasson nervously offers Soum a bouquet of white flowers. The two together repurpose their otherworldly flutter vocabulary to mime the ordinary delight of interacting with someone you love.
Memory of Dust is meditative, esoteric, and pretty sad. It’s very good. It’s a great example of how two people can agree on a language, and then teach it to an audience. It operates on the perfect level of opacity: enough of a challenge to satisfy the movement-initiated, but accessible enough for someone who’s never seen anything like this. I thought I was a movement-initiated theatergoer when I sat in my seat—Theatre de l’Ange Fou made clear there is much more for me to learn.
The Confetti Maker
Counterbalancing Memory of Dust’s mood and style is Frank Wurzinger’s The Confetti Maker, a spectacular clown performance about a confetti factory employee who spends his whole day cutting paper—either with a small orange hole-punch or a manual paper-shredder.
The story swerves into hilarities unrelated to work (eating a croissant, disc-jockeying, virtuosic plate juggling), careens into absurdities entertained to avoid work (hiding whole rolls of paper in boxes, or exploring all the ways confetti can accentuate Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy), and finally finds its protagonist creating a confetti family for himself—replete with baby made of shredded paper—to temper his loneliness.
I left Confetti Maker with chewy questions, too: does clowning reinforce or critique “efficiency?” Or both? Do our jobs cast shadows on the remaining parts of our lives? Or do our interior, fantasy lives seep into our workplaces? How would my life be different if I respected objects around me more?
The true joy of The Confetti Maker, of course, is Wurzinger himself. He stammers and sheepishly grins sharing every moment with a plaintive glance or in shy conversational English. Everything in his world is delightful or deeply troubling. Nothing that happens goes unnoticed—he is completely present, and guides you to be more present, too. And he might get confetti on you.
The play ends with a startling, lovely ukulele cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” It’s an interesting song to reference, especially since the other major reference is Hamlet. Both consider transience—as does Confetti Maker. But Wurzinger demonstrates that though time races past us, it’s possible to be available to each other in every passing moment. That’s all I ever want from a clown performance—or any other kind. Whether you’re a seasoned clown viewer, or new to the form, The Confetti Maker is a piece you can access: a heartfelt, haunting love letter to your imagination.