ZooZoo is a madcap revue of illusion, comedy and fun. The show combines two previous Imago shows, FROGZ and Biglittlethings, in a delightfully whimsical, terrifically silly and incredibly funny performance for the whole family. The ingenious masks, mesmerizing movement, outlandish costumes, and original music score create a carnival of the absurd.
Imago (rhymes with Chicago) company members are trained in the renowned Lecoq approach to mime theater, contemporary dance, physical comedy and traditional mask styles and add their own inventive variations. The anthropomorphic humor and physical flair of Imago is enhanced with a diverse soundtrack, including folk music from Bali, Italy and Indonesia; movies scores; and rock and roll tunes. Is Imago theatre, mime, comedy, dance, special effects or illusion? It’s all of the above as part of a provocative journey into the familiar through a charmingly unusual lens.
Imago brings to the stage playful polar bears, insomniac hippos, and other animals that move in recognizable ways but participate in unexpected activities. There’s an anteater in a restaurant and rabbits who drive cars, and all created through the masterful puppetry and mime of Imago Theatre.
With Imago Theatre, founders and artistic directors Carol Triffle and Jerry Mouawad have created one of the most innovative theatre companies in the U.S. Imago began in 1979, exclusively performing mask theatre in small communities around the Northwest. The company has progressed toward creating and staging experimental works, original text works, and contemporary adaptations of classics.
Triffle and Mouawad trained in the methods of dramatic movement master Jacques Lecoq. Imago's productions have journeyed to some exciting, unusual, and fantastic universes under the influence of Lecoq theatre methods, all enhanced with an American flair. The ensemble's ingenuity has manifested itself in innovative stage pieces, including a tilting stage in Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit; underground projections in Carol Triffle's Buffo; a giant 14-foot metallic wheel in Richard Foreman's Symphony of Rats; underwater soliloquies in Triffle's Oh Lost Weekend; and a matrix puzzle of a set in Mouawad's House Taken Over. These productions and others have earned Imago consistent recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as numerous Drammy awards, the theatre awards in Imago’s home base of Portland, Oregon.
Imago's work has been seen on television and on several continents during the company’s extensive tours to Europe, Asia, and throughout North America. In 2001 Imago's FROGZ completed a two-week run on Broadway.
L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq
Jacques Lecoq founded L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq, professional mime and movement academy, in 1956. The international, Paris-based academy focuses the first year of study on the observation of real-world movement dynamics; the second year explores the performance of melodrama, buffoon, tragedy and commedia dell’arte clowning. Imago founders and artistic directors Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle are both students of the Lecoq method; other Lecoq students include actor Geoffrey Rush and filmmaker/Broadway director Julie Taymor.
A Brief History of Masks
The English word mask developed from the French masque, the Italian maschera, and the Spanish máscara. The word also has links to ancient words in Latin (mascus and masca, which means “ghost”) and Hebrew (masecha for “mask”). Arabic has several words that, when translated, allude to many dimensions of a mask’s use, including maskharah, which can mean “jester” or “man in masquerade”; maskhara for “he ridiculed, he mocked”; and masakha which translates as “he transformed.”
Historically, primitive and ancient mask makers were highly respected, as masks often took months to complete. Faces represented in masks were diverse representations of animals (real or imaginary), ancestors, deities and spirits. Masks were used ritualistically for rites of passage and the curing of diseases, as well as for entertainment and story telling.
The use of masks in both ritual and theatrical realms has overlapped since the Ancient Greeks, whose classical masks of Comedy and Tragedy have become a universal symbol of theater. The Greeks introduced the mask to theater as a way to represent human characters and differentiate them from spirits or supernatural beings. Roman masks were grotesque and exaggerated to emphasize the traits of a character. In Medieval Europe masks were incorporated into religious plays, festivals and pageants.
Intricate theatrical masks have been produced in the Orient for thousands of years and continue to be used to depict gods, demons and ghosts. Kwakiutl Indians of the Pacific Northwest have unique ceremonial masks; a single mask is multi-layered, and what appears to be a bullhead opens to reveal a raven’s face, which then uncovers a stylized mask of a human face.
“To Carry a Mask” by Imago Artistic Director Carol Triffle
Since 1979, Jerry [Mouawad, Imago co-founder and co-creator] and I have been exploring masks. Almost 30 years of experience has reinforced one important realization – the mystery of the mask is evasive. How does a mask come to life? When I attended the Lecoq school in the ‘80s and ‘90s, students were asked to watch when the actor falls away and all that is left is the mask persona. We would watch intensely as a single actor performed on a bare stage. We leaned forward as instructed by M. Lecoq and opened our eyes looking for a single moment when the mask came to life. We were watching like theatre archeologists for a moment that is not so easily defined by inexperienced eyes. The moment when the actor’s cleverness, inventiveness, and talents fall away and what remains is the mask. That moment is rare. I only saw that moment a few times.
In our works ZooZoo, FROGZ, and Biglittlethings, we work with actors to find the truth of the mask. As choreography, timing, special effects and the entire event of theatre takes place, it is difficult for the actor to stay focused on mask theatre – the very thing the actor is there to do. Many times we give actors notes reminding them that they are not performing alone, but rather they are in partnership with the mask, that in order for the mask to come alive they need to let the mask share the stage. Lecoq used the phrase “to carry a mask.” I think this phrase to carry signifies that an actor must support the mask; much the same way a supporting actor supports the lead. The actor cannot take the lead or the mask will have no life.