Welcome to the Free Show
Mummenshanz
Categories: Puppetry

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I have admired the Mummenschanz ever since I saw them on The Muppet Show as a little kid. Even at 5 (or was I younger?) I could appreciate the nuances of this strange puppetry. Yes, their name is derived from mummens meaning mimes, but Kermit called them cousins, and I stand firmly that they are more object manipulation than pantomime.

Unaware that the Mummenschanz We’re still active, I was very surprised to find that they toured the Americas every year. However, years have passed since this discovery and I finally went and saw a live performance.

Getting my free admission through HHC Events, I brought along fellow puppeteer Ronny Wasserstrom for what was to be a very exciting evening. After picking up the tickets at the NYU Skirball Center, Ronny graciously bought Chinese meat pastries from Fay Da Bakery on 6th Ave at 3rd Street. we were off to a good start.

Overall I am very happy to have seen them live, yet I walked away disappointed. There was nothing new in the show – almost everything on stage I had seen before televised or mimicked elsewhere. There was a noticeable lack of precision in places where it was necessary to create the illusions. And the bit I looked forward to most, was left out of the lineup.

This is not to say that the show was bad, perhaps just a lesson in managing my expectations. Is it wrong these days to expect professional performance artists to bring their A-game to a show? Is it unreasonable to expect parents to instruct their children on the etiquette of theatre, instead of letting them all throughout what is really not a children’s show? Is it passé to expect artists to explore, experiment, and ultimately expand their repertoire? I hope not.

Many elements of the performance went very well. The silence of the theatre (sans the murmmering questions of unmannered kids) was at first unnerving; every step and movement of the performers echoed drawing focus to the difficult tasks at hand. The audience had a blast with the two interactive moments of the show.

First was a tube topped with a beach ball that eventually launched itself into the crowd; bewildered they chose to keep sending it directly back to the stage without fully allowing themselves to become part of the show.

At about the halfway mark, one performer, armed with duct tape made herself a “suit” but left blank her head box. Approaching the front row, she attempted to get her first “volunteer” to make her a face, but he just continued her suit with frivolous adornments. She then moved to the little girl in the next seat, who smartly figured out what was needed to complete our entertainer.

Puppetry, mime, performance art – whichever it truly is – I am glad the Mummenschanz exist and continue to perform. While some 21st century updates should be welcomed into future productions, their perseverance in arts that are sometimes looked down upon reminds me why it perseveres in the first place; it’s just that good.

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