Words with a Mime: Interviewing Rebecca Baumwoll

by Cecilia Kim on August 31, 2011

in Interviews


The theatre is empty and the sterile fluorescent lights reveal an ordinary scuffed stage; it’s difficult to believe that an entire show had occurred on that very stage only minutes ago, transforming the entire theatre into world of possibilities. The Broken Box Mime Theatre has brought its latest creation, Words Don’t Work, to the Fringe Festival and I was fortunate enough to catch a word or two with the artistic director of Broken Box Mime Theatre after the show.

H5R: So how did this troupe get started, Broken Box Theatre?

RB: I went to Tufts University with a bunch of other people who are now in the troupe and we were part of a mime troupe there called HYPE! Mime Troupe and it was totally student run. When I graduated last year in 2010, I moved to the city to be an actress and knew that this should be part of my life so I organized this company and got in touch with Brian, who’s our producer. He graduated three years before me, Brian Smith, and is now a professional producer in the city. He had also had in mind to continue the work of HYPE! Mime Troupe, so we decided to get going on it. He learned about the Fringe application, I gathered up the people from HYPE! who’d be interested in continuing the work—and everything just snowballed from there.

H5R: So what would say was the easiest part, getting this all together, and the hardest part?

RB: The easiest part of getting it together is finding people who are passionate about this work. It’s so unusual and so bizarre and so fun—and it allows the actor to work on whatever we want. Like, if I’m in the mood to be in a Spanish soap opera, let’s just write it, you know, it’s that kind of thing. So people were really excited to be a part of it and I think that more people after seeing the show—we have a lot of people interested in auditioning. So that was the easiest part. The hardest part is figuring out how to take this step for me, personally, to learn how to make it a business. And we’re still just learning—Brian has been my mentor in that because he’s been in the professional industry much longer than I have. But those are just the small things—who’s gonna take care of this, who’s gonna take care of that, what’s who’s responsibility and how do we go forward in a professional way, and to be able to keep our creative voice alive, keep it a creative company through and through.

H5R: Would you say that that would be the mission statement of your troupe?

RB: The mission statement of the group is that we’re reminding the audience of the power of simple storytelling. That’s like the key base. When you go to a big Broadway show and there are bells and whistles every which way, what the audience is actually responding to is stage presence and great story. Sometimes it’s in the simplicity that will strike you. Especially when we’re in white face and totally no costume that the audience will project whatever they feel and their history onto what we’re doing, so it’s much more emotional for the audience, in fact, then having a fully blown set and costume and everything.

H5R: What would you say your position of artistic director—what is it exactly?

RB: To make sure we don’t stray from our mission statement is one big thing. I end being sort of the stage manager in rehearsals; I organize when we’re going to have rehearsals, who’s gonna be there, and if people have conflicts or issues with the group they talk to me. I make the final decision on what’s in the show and I also assert myself as the leader in rehearsals and say, you know, this is what we’re planning to do today in rehearsal and let’s go back on track. So it’s kind of the—it’s sort of a traditional director kind of position. However, when we get down to each skit, choosing how each skit looks becomes much more collaborative when we get down to the nitty-gritty.

H5R: So what was it like being part of Fringe?

RB: Wonderful. The people are wonderful and very, very nice—it’s interesting four days off in between shows, that’s a little bit crazy especially when we’re doing something that’s so physical. To take days off and come back into these little moments is difficult but it is such great exposure. And not in the way you want to get famous, ASAP [laughs]. It’s like—it’s more like exposure, like Tasha said in the talkback, the audience is here, that completes the puzzle. Audiences, when we’re such a brand-new company, like months-old, is a huge treat.

H5R: Would you do this again? This sort of thing?

RB: Yeah, yeah, a hundred percent. I think—this is something—being the artistic director of this group is something that I see happening for a very long time in the future, it’s something I want to keep in my life. Everyone in the group is a professional actor, so people are going to have jobs here and there, but right now the feeling is when people are here and in town, they want to work on these shows. It keeps you thinking, it makes actors better actors, it makes dancers better dancers, it makes clowns better clowns, because you’re looking at the work—when you direct yourself and each other, your eye just starts to be so much more critical and honed in on what you’re doing, and I think it makes us all better performers.

H5R: Why did  you choose the sketch format [for the show]? Why not one of the longer pieces?

RB: That’s what I was trained in, that’s what we did at Tufts. It’s wonderful because for each show, everyone will have a favorite in the show—the actors, the company, everyone has a favorite in the show. So everyone comes in really excited to do the show, as opposed to having one story, maybe it’s someone’s favorite and someone’s not favorite moments—in this one, everyone’s featured at a different place, each one has a very different style and tone so it’s sort of like as a company, as actors, it’s so exciting to do because you now you’ll be flipping into different genres and styles as you go along. Also for the audience, it’s great to show the range of what is possible in mind. If we did one piece, most likely—when I think of it now, we haven’t done it yet—will probably be in one style, one genre. This, when we’re jumping around to different ones, it shows the possibility of your imagination and that’s the basis for this show really, the storytelling. When we show all different kinds of stories, it really sells our—our mission statement.

H5R: What really drew you to mime?

RB: How simple it is, I think. I think, when you see a great painting, the artist knows exactly how to use oil paints to the weaknesses and the strengths in oils, they use it to the best advantage. Someone’s an electronic musician, the best electronic musician; they use their craft, their media—the best possible [way]. But this, there are so many limitations, so to think what you could do within those limitations—like a puzzle and a challenge and that what really draws me to it.

H5R: Not regular acting, this is what–?

RB: Oh, that’s the other joy, when I’m out there in “Duet” and I’m out there with Joe, and I’m having this emotional moment, I can really stretch my acting skills. It makes me a better actor when I’m speaking because I don’t have—I know how much I can tell in just a hand gesture. And that is something that is so valuable when you’re on stage. I love that we’re writing our own stuff. Whatever I’m in the mood to work on, we can make it happen. It’s empowering for us as performers.

H5R: So this troupe is basically new work?

RB: Everything we show, we just wrote in the last two months.

H5R: Wow, that’s incredible. So what’s next for you and this troupe?

RB: We’re working on some viral videos, getting on YouTube and doing funny stuff because mimes are just so bizarre anyway, that it’s really fun to poke at the craft and do stuff like that and have publicity. We’re gonna have auditions in September and get a couple of more people. Like I’ve said I have a feeling with the glory of the talent that we have, people are going to be doing jobs, so having a bigger core will be useful. And also, we know that we’re going to want to go into schools, do probably a sister group to Broken Box, or not necessarily called Broken Box Mime Theatre; kind of a small group of us that will do a side project which will go into schools, do workshops and teach miming. Because really, it gives you body awareness, it’s fun and it’s and exciting way to use your imagination.

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