For Bostonians, it's not too hard to imagine winter lasting all year long, despite our rather mild winter thus far. The characters in local theater company Imaginary Beasts’ new panto production, The Half-Baked and Hard-to-Swallow History of Humpty Dumpty or, One Egg is Enough!, aren't too pleased with that prospect becoming a reality, but Old King Icicle seems hell-bent on freezing the kingdom.
“Panto is a traditional form of winter entertainment in the United Kingdom," said Kiki Samko, Imaginary Beasts' company manager, "that sprung out of ‘pantomime’ because only certain groups in the queen’s favor were allowed to perform certain plays.” All other troupes had to perform these plays without words, resulting in exaggerated movements and expressions and paving the way for vaudeville theater. While panto productions have since evolved to include spoken lines and music that accompanies the lively action, the shows are still plenty silly: Humpty Dumpty offers plenty of local and pop culture references, gender-bending characters, and a talking dog.
In the spirit of their earlier counterparts, movement is really important to Imaginary Beasts. Troupe members are fans of Jo-ha-kyu, a Japanese artistic concept in which every moment in a show is broken down and studied. "[We prefer to] focus on how the body can tell a story, how bodies together in a space can tell a story," said Samko, "so that if you take away the text from what we do, you are left with a ballet of sorts that tells the story." That idea of a whimsical dance certainly lends itself to panto, though the wacky story behind Humpty Dumpty also promises another type of whimsy, in the form of an innumerable amount of laugh-inducing lines.
And like onions -- or ogres -- pantos have layers! Though billed as a family-friendly show thanks to its ripped-from-a-storybook plotline and characters, Samko likened watching Humpty Dumpty to “re-watching cartoons that you loved as a kid and realizing there’s adult humor you completely missed back then.” If you happen upon a performance without children in the audience, you may be treated to a special adults-only version of the show; if not, at the very least, all kids-at-heart will be able to relate to the comical cast of beloved Mother Goose characters undertaking a good-versus-evil quest to return their kingdom to normal.
The idea for Humpty Dumpty sprang from the mind of Imaginary Beasts’ artistic director Matthew Woods and grew from the cast's active involvement in the performance. "We really engage everyone in the entire process," said Samko. "It’s not just Matthew directing a show and telling actors where to stand and how to deliver lines."
Since its founding by Woods in 2007, Imaginary Beasts has been one of only five companies in the U.S. to perform a panto show each winter (Boston's anglophiles and hipsters alike will certainly want to jump on this trend!), but this year's show is the first to take place within city limits. Previously based on the North Shore, Imaginary Beasts has moved their headquarters to the South End for the next four and a half years, thanks to a recent partnership with the Boston Center for the Arts. Additionally, as part of the BCA's Emerging Theatre Company Program, Imaginary Beasts will expand their offering of unique shows; past performances have included a pastiche of readings from the works of Gertrude Stein and a repertory project remixing Shakespeare’s tragedies, the latter of which was a collaborative effort with Whistler in the Dark.
Imaginary Beasts’ future creative endeavors will include more collaborations and imaginative spins on popular works. Their spring show, opening during Pride Week, will be a double feature of works by Harry Kondoleon and Federico Garcia Lorca, two prominent gay playwrights who lived in drastically different time periods. Woods, a playwright himself, also hopes to launch a project called "The Incubator," which would allow Imaginary Beasts to take inspiration from the community -- say, the artwork of area schoolchildren -- and develop pieces from the ground up.
“We’re not sure what we’re doing yet -- that’s what our first year [at the BCA] is about!," said Samko. "We’re figuring out what we want the company to be; we’re hammering out our goals and finding our final destination.”
Interested in local theater? Check out our feature on Fresh Ink Theatre, and check back to TNGG Boston as we continue to shine a spotlight on up-and-coming companies.
About Bethany -- I graduated from Northeastern not too long ago and decided to stick around Boston, but I'd like to continue traveling the world. In the meantime, I'll be checking out local bars, markets, and festivals. My expertise lies in Trader Joe's products and MBTA survival skills, among other things. Plaid catches my eye, French catches my ear, and videos of baby animals capture my heart. Twitter: @bethopolis
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