Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Always Comedy: Le Petomane's Season Opens.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal for Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble's original comedy 5 THINGS. If you've picked up the September issue of The Paper, you'll see the article that came out of that afternoon. Unfortunately, that article isn't online yet and 5 THINGS opens today at the Bard's Town Theater. So, I asked the lovely The Paper folks if I could reprint an excerpt here. This is the short version... the version in The Paper is twice as long...
5 Things is being put together with butcher paper and duct tape on a peeling plaster wall. There will be a script, eventually. There’s always a script, eventually. But right now it’s just Sharpie on butcher paper.
Abigail Maupin, co-founder and Artistic Co-Director of Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble says the process is a bit like “magnetic poetry,” and it’s an apt analogy. The storyboard, if you can call it that, is taped over and rearranged a half dozen times in the two hours I spend in Le Petomane’s rehearsal space.
Before they start rehearsal for the three-member show, Abigail Maupin, Greg Maupin, and Kyle Ware give me a rundown on the plot. 5 Things is about three retail workers-- one each from a bookstore, a record store, and a video store-- who’ve been marooned on an island. As you might guess from the title, it’s a riff on the “Desert Island Discs” party game. Each character has been allowed to bring “5 things” to the island. Over the course of the play, they explain and justify their choices. But how did they get there? Is it a voluntary marooning (after all, “5 things” implies some planning)? Greg smiles and says, “You’re asking all the right questions.” And then he doesn’t answer them.
Rehearsal isn't rehearsal so much as a brainstorming session. All three members have already explained the ensemble's "group think" or "hive mind," and now here it is at work. Sentences are rarely completed (at least by the person who started the sentence). The actors often seem to be speaking in code.
Two hours of focused artistic imagination. Almost no side trips or digressions-- how often does that happen when you put three smart people in a room and light a fire under their creative process? At the end of the rehearsal, when they say that they hope I’ll come see the play, I respond: “Are you kidding me? Of course, I’m going. I’m dying to know what this play is really about!”
Abigail and Greg Maupin founded Le Petomane in 2004. “I think I was there for Le Petomane's first show in Louisville, back when the ensemble numbered two: Greg and Abigail themselves,” says David J. Loehr, artist-in-residence at the Riverrun Theatre in Madison, IN and purveyor of the website 2AMtheatre.com. “That show began with nearly 20 minutes of near silence, except for the audience's laughter.”
Le Petomane has since grown to six members, and productions feature varying combinations of performers. In the course of a Le Petomane season, cast members change, venues change, styles change. There’s one thing that doesn’t change. “Always comedy,” says Abigail.
“As the ensemble has grown, it's been exciting to watch them develop their aesthetic,” says Loehr. “It's more than just ‘new wave dell'arte,’ whether it's an original, experimental ‘tango noir’ like Ban: An Appeal or a wildly inventive adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream for a cast of six, multiplied by the clever use of masks. They maintain a balance, designing shows for modern sensibilities with classical underpinnings.”
Loehr adds, “They also played ukuleles before ukuleles were cool again.”
The only instrument better-suited to a desert island than a ukulele is, of course, a lobster claw harmonica (“I got it in Maine!” says Greg, as though that explains... anything). Based on only two hours spent watching Le Petomane’s creative process, I cannot confirm that either will make it into the final product. But based on only two hours, I’m reasonably certain that the final product will be some strange kind of genius.
5 Things is the first show in Le Petomane’s 2011-2012 four-show season and will be the first show they’ve launched at the Bard’s Town Theater. Performances are September 7-12 and 14-17 at 7:30pm. Tickets are on a pay-as-you-can sliding scale, $8-$20. For tickets, visit: thebardstown.com or call 502-749-5275. For more information on Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble and their upcoming season, visit their website at lepetomane.org