There is a newcomer to the Twin Cities theater scene: physical devised theater group Animal Engine Theatre Company, which recently relocated from New York to Minneapolis earlier this year.
What is physical devised theater, you might ask? It’s two theater concepts combined together. Devised theater is the process of coming up with an idea and creating a theater piece as a group, rather than a single writer. The group makes the story up as they go, with the initial steps being similar to improvisation, and that becomes the script. Physical theater is fairly self-explanatory, using physical movement over dialogue. As Animal Engine’s Karim Muasher describes it, “storytelling is told through the body as opposed to text.”
The company, whose name refers to the idea that actors are the animals that fuel the motor of the theater, is driven by two artistic directors: Muasher, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with, and his wife, Carrie Brown, who is a professional clown. The two met at the London International School of Performing Arts and now perform together across the United States. Their background and experiences from perpetual travel give them a unique foundation for providing imaginative theater performances—there is an artistic exchange that happens through performing outside of their home base that gives the couple an advantage in diversity. Animal Engine’s theater performances are creative and use minimal cast, crew, and props.
In addition to performances, Animal Engine offers educational workshops. Muasher believes that education is an important element to theater and therefore provides a variety of sessions to inspire artists of all types. Look for an Intro to Rhythm and Space coming April 2017.
Since 2011, they have created and performed five major works. The Vindlevoss Family Circus Spectacular, a zombie circus story, won the Frigid New York Participant Pick Award. Age of the Android was a historically inaccurate telling of Thomas Edison’s greatest invention. Petunia and Chicken, a love story inspired by Willa Cather utilizing only a hat, a scarf, and a song, won the Cincinnati Fringe Artists’ Pick Award, the League of Cincinnati Theatres Best Overall Award, and the Frigid New York Festival Favorite Award. And Dog Show was animal ingenuity in a French farce.
Their first show in their new home of Minneapolis, Darlings, featured in last year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival. Darlings is the story of Peter-Pan—kind of. It’s the classic J. M. Barrie story but told from the perspective of Mr. and Mrs. Darling after their three children, Wendy, John, and Michael, go missing. The play explores the Darlings’ relationship and their shared agony as they desperately try to console themselves over their loss.
Darlings, with direction by Melinda Jean Ferraraccio and staged in collaboration with Katie Hartman and Nick Ryan of the Coldharts, returns to Minneapolis this week, March 30–April 1, with performances at the Southern Theater. The show has received numerous positive reviews, and I look forward to experiencing it myself. If you, too, want to check out the performance, you can buy tickets via the Southern Theater website. (Get $10 tickets with the promo code PETERPAN, tweeted out by the theater!)