Supporting creative work by women
Becky Baumwoll is the Artistic Director of Broken Box Mime Theater (BKBX)–the multi-New York Innovative Theatre award-winning company. She is also an actor, who has appeared in TACT‘s Three Men on a Horse, The Pearl Theatre Co.‘s Figaro, and People’s Light‘s Pride and Prejudice. BKBX’s latest show SEE REVERSE will be on stage in New York City February 17 through March 5.
Becky spoke with Works by Women about when she fell in love with mime, why her parents are her heroes and how she sees herself in the current world.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What was your first experience with mime? When/how did you know that you needed to practice this art and start a company in New York?
BECKY BAUMWOLL: I first saw mime live while a freshman at Tufts University. There was (and still is!) a group there called HYPE! Mime Troupe, founded by a student in the mid-nineties and carried on as a student club in all the years since then. For HYPE! shows, title cards are held before each piece in a singular spotlight. Though the show I saw was fantastic, sweeping, and completely surprising, what stuck with me when auditions were announced was that sign-hold. The mime that holds the sign has just 5 seconds to make an expression that will set up the audience for the tone of the piece, or give a little clue. I fell in love with those five seconds. After joining HYPE! and collaborating with that group for the next three years, starting a company in its image was a no-brainer. No one is doing work like this in New York, and it was the best artistic home I’d ever had.
WBW: Tell me about SEE REVERSE. What are the themes of the piece?
BB: SEE REVERSE is a carefully curated group of ten original shorts each dealing with “perspective.” None of the pieces have any words, which–incredibly–allows them to blossom as complex, well-articulated narratives that transport our audiences. We have an imagistic piece about sacred spaces, a story of an elderly woman and her aide who are both stuck in the past and must pull themselves into the present, a retelling of the entire history of the universe, and a film noir whodunnit, to name a few. Each piece in Act I’s lineup has a counterpart in Act II, yet ordered inversely, so the whole thing is formatted like a Rorschach. By looking in more than one direction (in front/in back, in future/in past, from my perspective/from yours) we are able to better understand what is true.
WBW: How does Broken Box Mime develop its work? What is your process?
BB: We start with exploratory rehearsals to drum up fresh ideas, and then move into a writing period where we give each piece a beginning, middle, and end. All of that work culminates in a proposal day, where we each pitch ideas to the group and whittle the list down to a setlist for our show. After that, each piece is assigned a cast and director (based on interest and at the discretion of our Artistic and Creative directors), and we get to work rehearsing. The process is extremely collaborative. Like “how in the heck do we get all this done with so many cooks in the kitchen, this is a veritable miracle” collaborative.
WBW: What kind of training goes into mime work?
BB: Mime is an age-old tradition carried out by artists as diverse as any other field. For Broken Box, training means several things, all worked on during weekly ongoing rehearsals and then as applied to the pieces in a show. Without words, props, costumes, or sets, we must establish objects, characters, relationship, environment, and conversation. We need to know physical techniques that can communicate the passage of time, the passing of focus, slow and fast motion technique, reverse technique, and other transformations. Beyond that, we must train as collaborators and writers, figuring out how best to physically stage ideas that we’ve worked on as an ensemble, how to articulate our goals with these ideas, how to breathe life into a physical blocking that is sometimes rigidly defined (when every movement is like the line of a script, loose improvisation can convolute a story), and how to edit our narratives so as to best suit them to mime.
WBW: Who inspires you?
BB: I’m inspired by my parents, who are fantastic communicators. I see how communication takes bravery and vulnerability, and how it can, when it’s really good, create human connection. I try to do this onstage; I’ve found that mime is among my favorite ways to communicate as an artist.
WBW: What’s on your mind right now as an artist?
BB: What my role is (and will be) in a society that is facing a lot of its demons, and how to manage my role with that of others–some of whom are brand new to the darkness in our society and others who have been fighting it for decades.
WBW: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
BB: Expectation is different from hope. Hope is what sustains you, but expectation won’t get you far.
Broken Box Mime Theater’s SEE REVERSE will be at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at A.R.T./New York Theatres February 17 through March 5. For information and tickets, visit HERE.
Photos courtesy of Becky Baumwoll and Broken Box Mime Theater.