Wolfe Bowart: Charming the young, and young at heart, through "old school" techniques
Today, chances are our children enjoy clown theatre, puppetry and comedy through digital media, and only a small percentage of them will be lucky enough to see a live performance instead of watching it on iPads.
The KL International Arts Festival (KLIAF) seeks to challenge this new norm by presenting the Malaysian premiere of Letter's End, the acclaimed theatre production from playwright/performer Wolfe Bowart that enchants the young - and young at heart - through a method of story-telling that is becoming rare.
In a similar vein to Bowart's luminous La La Luna, which delighted audiences at last year's Festival, Letter's End is a visual composition that weaves together clown theatre and circus skill, stage illusion, puppetry, and physical comedy. The unique productions have charmed audiences of all ages in countries around the world.
In an interview with Bowart recently, he shared the reason he chose these elements, instead of the usual spoken word, to tell the story.
"Although the character in Letter's End doesn't speak, he communicates with his body, and through music, a little voiceover and the magic of technical theatre, the audience understands what the actor is going through. The word "mime"has traditionally been used to describe the art of creating the illusion of objects and space - a man stuck in an invisible box or eating an imaginary apple. In Letter's End the boxes are real and I really eat an apple. Letter's End is filled with shadow puppets, film interaction, magic and circus acts – and it's funny and heart-warming at the same time. This makes it a unique theatrical experience, and because the story is told using stage illusion and circus skills, I'm often asked, 'How did you do that?'"
The Helpmann Award nominee believes that nothing beats a live act to captivate and delight children, compared to watching a story unfold on a digital screen. At one point during the performance, Bowart even invites a young audience member to participate onstage. As one reviewer wrote "This is a charming moment - the young volunteer being given a hard hat and put immediately to work - and has the effect of including the audience on a deeper level."
In Letter's End, a man is tasked to burn lost packages and letters in a furnace, a job he carries out meticulously, until an old brown teddy bear falls out of a torn parcel. A memory is stirred. Soon, the man begins to open other packages and letters, and a whole wondrous world unfolds. Letter's End is a memorable piece steeped in charm and the joy of human interaction. Something we are in danger of forgetting in our reliance on technology to cultivate the sense of wonder, adventure and creativity in children.
Bowart shared, "I've always enjoyed performing for people; making people laugh. All children are naturally playful. I have an old 8mm film of me pretending to be a surgeon. I was six years old. It's very funny and makes me laugh to this day."
Using the power of imagination, Bowart seeks to evoke a range of emotions and responses from his audience, in particular, laughter. He truly feels that it is important to have a big laugh as it's good for a person's overall wellbeing. "Last year, I brought La La Luna to Malaysia and found out that Malaysian audiences love to laugh and have a good time! The feedback after the show was inspirational."
It is hard to imagine getting bored spending time with this talented man as humor seems to be central to his person, both off-stage and on-stage. In sharing his daily routine, he tells us in jest that apart from waking at 5 a.m. for a five-mile run, "I meditate for two hours after which I volunteer at a local community centre and teach retired magicians' bunnies to remember how to hop."
Now how can one resist seeing this acclaimed playwright perform for us again in the Malaysian premiere of Letter's End? For 75 minutes, we can put down our digital devices and enjoy a great "time-out"with our loved ones, laugh out loud and maybe shed a tear or two at this live performance designed for all ages.
Letter's End was honoured with a Helpmann Award nomination, the Australian equivalent of the Olivier Awards, in the category of Best Touring Production, following a national tour that touched down in more than 70 metropolitan and rural venues across the country. The UK premiere of Letter's End took place at London's Southbank Centre as part of the London International Mime Festival, the leading festival for contemporary visual theatre.The London premiere led to a national tour of France, where he performed Letter's End alongside works by physical theatre contemporaries Philippe Genty and James Thierree at the Festival Effervescence. Letter's End will be staged at the Auditorium DBKL on 30 September and 1 October. For more information about tickets and the Festival, visit www.DiverseCity.my or email firstname.lastname@example.org