“ANIMO embraces the imagination of its audience like no other. You will never see anything quite like this.” —Time Out, London
A newspaper morphs into a swan, a bristle brush becomes a swamp creature, and a slew of characters are born before your very eyes during ANIMO: UK/Minneapolis, Improbable Theatre’s spot-on, on-the-spot evening of improvised “chaos magic,” Thursday–Saturday, April 19–21, at 8 pm in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater. A special “Family ANIMO” will be presented on Saturday, April 21, at 2 pm. Improbable Theatre (Shockheaded Peter, 70 Hill Lane, Spirit, and The Hanging Man) transforms the everyday into the sublime. Founders Phelim McDermott, Lee Simpson, and Julian Crouch team up with local artists Lindsay McCaw, Barbra Berlovitz, Julian McFaul, Michael Sommers, and Aaron Barnell to create a special Minneapolis version of their ever-inventive, object-theater experiment ANIMO.
Eschewing a script, set, or any such formal structure, the company, along with local artists, animates a range of everyday materials and found objects during an hour of completely unique improvised theater. Note for the audience from the founders: come along excited at the prospect of experiment, and be aware that the show might fall flat on its face as often as it soars into the stratosphere.
Supported in part by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes a great nation deserves great art.
Phelim McDermott, Julian Crouch, Lee Simpson, and producer Nick Sweeting founded Improbable Theatre in 1996. Since then, the 11 shows the company has created—70 Hill Lane, ANIMO, Lifegame, Cinderella, Coma, Spirit, Sticky, The Hanging Man, Theatre Of Blood, Stars Are Out Tonight, and The Wolves In The Walls—have established an international reputation for innovative, exciting, accessible theater.
Improbable Theatre’s work has been seen in the U.K., Egypt, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium, Germany, the U.S., Greece, Canada, Lebanon, Ireland, Syria, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, Switzerland, and Holland. 70 Hill Lane has won several major awards, including an OBIE for Outstanding Achievement in Off Broadway Theatre, the 1997 Time Out Award for Best Off West End Production, Best Performance at The Cairo International Theatre for Experimental Theatre, and The Manchester Evening News Award for Best Fringe Production.
The company states: “Our shows have grown out of a way of working that means being prepared to create work by the seat of your pants and the skin of your teeth, stepping onstage before you are ready, and allowing the audience to have an integral part in the creation of a show. We still believe that one day a big red-faced man brandishing a stick will appear at the back of the theatre and shout, ‘Oi you bloody kids! Get out of it! Go on, clear off!’ and we will be found out and have to run away.”
This April, members of Improbable who collaborated with the English National Opera will present the London stage premiere of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha. As India marks her 60th year of independence, this visually stunning new production based on Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa explores how the spiritual leader developed non-violent protest into a powerful force for change.
Improbable Theatre is funded by Arts Council England, London.
Julian is a director, designer, writer, and teacher whose career has spanned theater, opera, film, and television. Initially a mask and puppet maker, he co-designed Charivari for Trickster Theatre Company, a company he toured the world with from 1985 to 1986. In the following years, he specialized in site-specific design, including 17 productions for Welfare State International. In 1992 he began a successful creative partnership with Phelim McDermott, for whom he designed Dr. Faustus, Improbable Tales, The Servant Of Two Masters, and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (which earned him a TMA nomination for Best Designer of the Year). They also co-directed and designed The Quest For Don Quixote which received a Best Design Nomination in the London Fringe Awards and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (TMA Best Touring Production Award) for the English Shakespeare Company. Along with Lee Simpson and Nick Sweeting, Crouch and McDermott formed Improbable in 1996. Their productions of ANIMO, 70 Hill Lane, Lifegame, Coma, Spirit, Sticky, Angela Carter’s Cinderella, The Hanging Man (winner Best Design 2003 TMA award), Stars Are Out Tonight with Amici Dance Theatre Company, and The Wolves In The Walls (winner Best Show for children and young people 2006 TMA award) have gained far-reaching national and international recognition, winning several major awards. The pair’s most enduring collaboration to date has been Shockheaded Peter for Cultural Industry (Olivier Awards – Best Entertainment, also nominated for Best Direction and Best Design, TMA Best Director Award, Critics Society Best Designer Award and a South Bank Show Theatre Award Nomination). This production, based on the Struwwelpeter book, has returned to the West End after four years of record-breaking international touring. In 2000 they produced a German version, Struwwelpeter, for the Deutches Shauspielhaus, Hamburg. They returned in 2002 to mount Ein Sommernachtstraum. In 2000 Crouch collaborated with Balinese puppeteers and musicians in The Theft of Sita for the Adelaide Festival, which appeared in London as part of LIFT.
More recently Crouch was designer on the multi award-winning Jerry Springer – The Opera (Best Musical – Evening Standard awards, Olivier Award, Critics Circle), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum for the National Theatre, and The Magic Flute for the Welsh National Opera. He is a current recipient of a NESTA fellowship.
Phelim McDermott has been directing and performing since 1984. He co-founded dereck dereck Productions with Julia Bardsley, and productions include Cupboard Man, as solo performer (Fringe First); Gaudete, as co-director and performer (Time Out Director’s Award); and The Vinegar Works, The Glass Hill, and The Sweet Shop Owner, all as director. Other directing includes The Ghost Downstairs at Leicester Haymarket; Dr Faustus, and Improbable Tales (an entirely improvised two-hour play) at Nottingham Playhouse; The Servant of Two Masters, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Government Inspector for West Yorkshire Playhouse; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the English Shakespeare Company in 1996/97 (TMA Award for Best Touring Production). He co-wrote with Lee Simpson and appeared in Get off My Foot. He directed Shockheaded Peter (a junk opera collaboration with The Tiger Lilies for Cultural Industry) in London and at the Little Schubert Theatre, Off Broadway, with Julian Crouch.
Productions with Improbable include the multi award-winning 70 Hill Lane, Lifegame, ANIMO, Coma, Spirit, Sticky, Cinderella, The Hanging Man, and Theatre of Blood, a collaboration with The National Theatre. He is currently directing Philip Glass’ Satyagraha, in collaboration with the English National Opera.
A regular improvising guest with the Comedy Store Players, McDermott has also worked as an actor in radio, film, TV, and theater, including Too Clever By Half, A Flea in Her Ear, and The Illusion (Old Vic, also assistant director). His film credits include Robin Hood, Peter Greenaway’s The Baby of Macon, Tomorrow La Scala!, and Home Road Movies (BAFTA winner). His radio credits include The Masterson Inheritance, an improvised series co-created with Lee Simpson.
In 2003, he was awarded a NESTA fellowship to research new ways of rehearsing and creating theater using improvisation and process-oriented conflict facilitation techniques. As part of this work, he recently facilitated the second Open Space Technology event called “Devoted and Disgruntled: What are we going to do about theatre?” for the theater community.
Lee Simpson grew up in Great Yarmouth by the sea, where he worked cooking burgers in a Wimpy, as a croupier in a casino, and as a cinema projectionist. Unable to get steady work in entertainment, he became an improviser. Apart from his work with Improbable, he’s become a member of the Comedy Store Players, written plays, appeared in sit-coms, acted in television dramas and films, performed at the London Palladium, and spent six months as a Breakfast Show DJ.
The Animo Project: The bastard child of improvisation and puppetry
(NOTE: THIS EVENT IS SOLD OUT)
Friday–Sunday, April 13–15, 11am–5 pm
Encounter the quiet, delicately risky world of ANIMO, where actors improvise, puppets improvise, animated found objects improvise, and then find out what happens when we put them all together. It might be funny sometimes, but it might equally be serious, emotional, dramatic, awkward, or bemusing.
This three-day workshop will introduce participants to the basic building blocks of the Improbable way of approaching an improvised performance. It will create a space to experience the paradoxes of making-it-up on stage, and how to hold—rather than attempt to resolve—those paradoxes: How can you act on impulse and also take your time? How can you let it be funny and let it be serious? How can you be at ease and highly emotional? How can you be brave about how scared you are? Improvising through puppetry, movement, music, and acting, the workshop seeks to awaken the participants’ awareness of their impulses and to support those fragile, unimpressive, gentle impulses that can sometimes get squished the moment we step on to the stage. Developing this awareness can take us beyond skill or technique, to create performers (both human and animated) that are truly present. Limited to 14 participants.
Tickets to Improbable Theatre’s ANIMO: UK/Minneapolis are $18 ($14 Walker members) for Thursday–Saturday evenings, April 19–21; and $12 ($10) for the ANIMO Family Matinee Performance on Saturday, April 21, and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.