Mime Magnified

Theatrical Mime Theater, with a series of showsnext week, has designs on 'something really big'

The "wanted" posters are going up all over town. Two sepia-toned desperados are shown firing their ... five-shooters?

Wait a minute--they're pointing their fingers like guns. Turns out, according to the poster, that they're wanted for "silent subversion of the peace." Well, they're obviously not violating any sound ordinances; they're Rick Wamer and Lorie Heald of Tucson's Theatrical Mime Theatre.

"I want to give something substantial in my work that speaks to my perspective on life during this short time I have on this planet," says Wamer.

So that means doing a Spaghetti Western spoof? "Well," he says, "I have to be careful about the flow of the program. People can't handle 75 minutes of black theater, but they should come away with something that's challenged them to think about their position in the world.

"They loved 'Old West' in China," he continues. Last November, he and Heald joined their colleagues from Alithea Mime Theater in Wichita, Kan., for performances at a big international arts festival in Shanghai. "'Old West' somehow captured the Chinese audience's conception of America. Oh, yeah," he says, rolling his eyes, "that's exactly what I wanted to happen."

"Old West" will be only one of several diverse works presented in Theatrical Mime Theatre's spring performances next week, April 22-24, at Zuzi's Theatre. Among the attractions: Heald giving the local premiere of a work choreographed for her by Ohio State University's Jeanine Thompson. "Images of Woman" is what Wamer calls "a beautiful, reflective, universal piece about coming into womanhood." Quite a contrast with Heald's rootin' tootin' participation in "Old West."

Wamer is particularly excited about two large-scale mime works involving students from the University of Arizona dance department, where he's pursuing an M.F.A., and students from his private mime class. (Wamer notes that dance departments tend to be more comfortable places for mimes than drama departments, although he emphasizes acting, not just movement, in his work.)

"I've been wanting to say something about how easy it is for us to not look at the struggle or pain that people experience in most of the rest of the world," he says of the large pieces. "So I've done 'We the People: Sleeping.' It's a rather dark piece that deals with the violence and dehumanization going on in the world. As Americans, we're lulled into not looking at it--sleeping--because we're taken care of pretty damn well in this country.

"I've recruited 11 dance undergraduates who learned the whole new language of this art form in a very short time. They've bled for this piece."

"We the People: Sleeping" won't be performed during the April 24 shows, which are lighter programs given, in the afternoon, as a benefit for UNICEF, the United Nations children's aid program, and in the evening as a benefit for Opening Minds Through the Arts, an arts integration program for kids in Tucson Unified School District.

These Sunday performances are family-oriented shows featuring slightly shorter, more-comical works. One is something Wamer calls simply a "mime balloon piece," and another is "Ties," in which one (human) marionette pulls the strings of another, who pulls the strings of a third.

Musicians John Snavely and Michael Martinez will accompany these and other works. Unlike Theatrical Mime Theatre's show about a year ago, which included extensive musical interludes, this one will restrict the live music to accompanying mime performances, and covering costume and set changes.

The shows will also include members of the company's local mime class. Between that group and the UA's dance students, Wamer is gradually assembling the sort of troupe that can do ambitious, large-scale ensemble mime productions, which has been his goal since he began producing mime shows in Tucson last season.

"You usually see only one or two or maybe three mimes on a stage," he notes. "It's rare that anyone in the United States sees 11 mimes in a piece at a single time, like we're doing in parts of these shows. This is only our fourth production in Tucson, and the support has been very strong already. I think it won't be long until we're ready to try something really big."