Per my friend, Wikipedia, “Physical theatre is a genre of theatrical performance that pursues storytelling through primarily physical means. Several performance traditions all describe themselves as "physical theatre", but the unifying aspect is a reliance on physical motion of the performers rather than or combined with speech to convey the story. In basic sense, you talk through hand gestures, body language, use of objects and many more physical features." Mimes, sure, but so much more – puppets, masks, dance, sound effects – components that take “suspension of disbelief” to another sphere.
Last year, my sister-in-law, Norah, and I stumbled on one night of Physical Fest 2015 and were swept away by two performances: a one-man show “A Little Business at the Big Top” that recreates the world of circus and “Popol is Gone,” described as "a journey through madness, revolution and solitude" that is conveyed as a dialogue with the audience. We vowed to return.
And we did, with Festival passes (not quite like Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza passes), and dragged DBH along, though he did not much protest. This year we attended all five productions – and wished we could have attended the workshops. Here’s the lineup with our feedback.
Hominus Brasilis by Cia Manual (Brazil). 6o minutes of non-stop movement and a few words (mostly jibberish) that told the story of Brazil from the creation of the world to Zika virus and the Olympics. You see the size of the “stage” in the photo. And the movement rarely stopped on this lily pad for performance. Magical, definitely a Prince.
How to Find Romania, written and performed by Laura Simms. Simms is a storyteller, and a substitute in this lineup. You would not normally put a verbal performer into this festival. She’s good, sometimes really good. But, her performance is too long, with sections that could have been easily edited out. Score: Toad
The Bag Lady by Malgosia Szkandera, a Spanish artist of Polish descent. Magic with plastic bags, mostly the common white grocery kind. Such amazing physical control of her body to provide movement for her tiny puppets. What imagination! Definitely a Prince.
Sad Songs for Bad People by Rough House Puppet Theater (Chicago). Puppets again, mostly with dark themes and, unfortunately, dark lighting. Instead of regular spots, they used #10 cans on poles wired for lighting. One sequence featured “black light”, but everything was so dim you could not follow the action. Understandably they are attempting to create an atmosphere of amateurism, but they must be a bit more appreciative of the needs of the audience to accomplish this reverse of technique. Some of the sequences were stunning, so very sad. Score: Very dark Prince
Hold Onto Your Butts by Recent Cutbacks (New York). This rocked the house. If you have seen Return to Jurassic Park, picture the whole story told by two men and a Foley (sound effects) artist. Raunchy, punchy, over-the-top athletic with amazing sound-effects and sight-gags. I want to see it again and again… Score: Prince.