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Performance Wed Jul 01 2015

Physical Festival Chicago Is Coming July 7-12: Interview with the Creators


Photo by Alex Brenner.

Physical Festival Chicago will hold its second annual event at Links Hall July 7-12. The festival has hit the mark with Chicago's theater-hungry audiences, serving as a refreshing throw-back to the roots of drama and comedy. In addition to shows from various countries including Spain, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the US (Chicago's own Walkabout Theater Company), there are daily master classes being taught at Columbia College during the festival for the curious and would-be students of this rekindling art form.

This year, the performances will feature a one-man show A Little Business at the Big Top that recreates the world of circus; Popol is Gone, described as "a journey through madness, revolution and solitude" that is conveyed as a dialogue with the audience; The Wild based partly on the words of playwright Charles Mee; and the Buster Keaton-inspired tragicomedy Crazy Glue, which explores the progress of love from its first blush to the tribulations of marriage.

The festival founders--Alice da Cunha (half-Brazilian and half-Portuguese) and Chicagoan Marc Frost--both studied at the London International School of Performing Arts. While there, they saw a lot of professional physical theater from around the world and felt that it was the most cutting-edge, contemporary work happening in theater today.

After graduating, they started a devised, physical theater company called Theater Unspeakable, which after five years of development is now touring original works around the country. While they were bringing their work to the rest of the country, Alice and Marc wanted to bring national and international physical theater companies to Chicago. So, they started Physical Festival Chicago in 2014 and are now making it an annual celebration of local, national and international physical theater.

I had a chance to interview them about the upcoming festival and why they think it is so important for Chicago to experience physical theater.

What do you want people who are new to physical theater to know about it?
People who are new to physical theater should know that it is extremely accessible. It can be fun, visual and exciting. It pushes theater to reach its most imaginative heights by combining movement, playfulness and wonder. At the same time, it can grapple with big ideas and important stories. Most of all, by giving focus to the performer's body and the space around it, physical theater emphasizes the unique experience of live performance.

Physical theater comes from the need to renew the live experience for a modern audience. Audiences today embrace it because it combines the best of so many art forms: the drama of theater with the comedy of improv, the dynamism of dance with the poetry of text, the spectacle of visual art with the atmospherics of live music. I guess my larger point is simply that like any art form, there are always going to be "game changers" and in the theater world and that in the 20th century, many of them were physical theater practitioners.

Why is this tradition important to maintain? What are its modern connotations?
Physical theater tends to look backwards in order to look forward. It is important to remember that theater is a very old art form, and thus has experienced many different styles over the centuries ranging from Greek tragedy to American realism to musical theater and on and on. Contemporary physical theater looks back to older forms such as circus clown, 19th century melodrama, etc., and tries to remix them into hybrid styles that speak to today's cultural moment.

Some of the biggest international touring companies are mixing old styles to create new ones--Cirque du Soleil, Complicite, James and Aurelia Thieree, to name a few. Even here in Chicago we have had some big companies doing the same thing, such as Plasticene, 500 Clown, Redmoon and Lookingglass.

Since it started in the streets, did you make a conscious effort to connect with that in the festival?
We have talked about doing street shows in the future as the festival continues to expand towards a multi-venue festival.

Why did you want to start a physical theater festival in Chicago?

Chicago is one of the world's great theater cities because its audiences are passionate about seeing new work. We thought the audiences here would embrace this cutting-edge aesthetic and so far it seems to be the case.

Physical Festival events will take place July 7-12 at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western. Individual tickets range in price from $5 to $16, with special full pass options.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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