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Photos by Tim Van Schmidt 


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Mummenschanz, Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, November 5, 2014.

by Tim Van Schmidt

I’ve had a tough couple of weeks. So, to help myself unwind, I thought I’d treat myself to some live entertainment and chose to attend the Wednesday night Lincoln Center performance of Mummenschanz, the Swiss performing troupe that uses optical illusion and stage-size sight gags to create a humorous and spritely world of its own. Little did I know that the person in the room who most wanted to just disappear for an hour or so would sit right down in the spotlight.

I thought I was very lucky. I arrived at the Lincoln Center just a half hour before show time and scored a front row, aisle seat in the center orchestra section. I looked forward to immersing myself in a show that I knew would be very visual and even otherworldly from seeing Mummenshanz some years ago- with the unusual added luxury of having no one beside me or in front of me for the show.

The show began with a gregarious pair of enormous hands parting the curtain to announce that Mummenschanz was in the house. But before even just a few minutes of the show was under way, a spotlight snapped on and all of a sudden one of those enormous hands was sitting in the seat right across the aisle from me and within seconds more, the hand jumped up and came over to pat me on the head- while the audience was laughing hysterically.

That laughter from the audience was a constant throughout the evening- especially the belly-laughs from young voices in the crowd. Mummenschanz has clearly developed a performance style that resonates strongly with childish joy. As the four-person troupe blasted through bit after bit on stage, the audience showed it wanted to laugh and laugh hardily.

Using outsized, conceptual costuming and well-crafted lighting, Mummenschanz calls themselves “the musicians of silence” and all of the expression in their show is communicated from appearances and motion. It’s much like a street performing mime troupe, but on a big stage, allowing for bigger effects. It’s no matter if the shapes are somewhat abstract- like an ever-shifting blob- or characters more closely resembling people, the result was always the same- a very human perspective.

A lot of the tricks in Mummenschanz’s show were cute indeed. But a couple of the bits went beyond just cute. The pair of characters with bathroom tissue rolls attached to their heads combined cute with a striking creative concept. The pair of characters using modeling clay on their heads truly challenged the idea of what exactly is a face.

When it came to the bit with the character using masking tape to modify its costume, that spotlight in the audience snapped on and I was in trouble again.

The character exited the stage and bee lined straight to me, offering me the masking tape to help complete the decoration job. What are you going to do when you’re in the spotlight, the main performer is right in your face and everyone in the room is watching- and laughing? I good naturedly draped some strands of tape on the character’s arms and apparently played right into the game of spontaneous reaction- I found myself getting wrapped around several times with masking tape, then “taped” to the railing around the orchestra pit.

The character got what it wanted from another audience member- a youngster in the row across the aisle- a new face. I didn’t mind playing along and admiring the accomplishment of the youngster since the character presented the kid’s more appropriate addition to the costume to me while the crowd howled. I just wish the character hadn’t wrapped the masking tape across my hair. When the spotlight finally clicked off again, I removed the masking tape- and some hair- as soon as possible.

I won’t say it was horrible having to participate in the Mummenschanz show, but it was not something I would ever have chosen to do ahead of time. I wanted to escape, not be put on the spot. Still, the experience re-enforced a basic life lesson: you have to roll with the punches even if they are light and humorous. Another life lesson: beware of front row seats.