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This Mime Has No Box: Tottering Biped Theatre’s “Air” in Hamilton Fringe

DARTCritics saw a preview of Air during In The Soil, and now the full production is set to premiere at Hamilton Fringe. With the festival just around the corner, DARTCritics Nick and Alex called Tottering Biped Theatre’s Artistic Director, Trevor Copp, to discuss his work on the production.

NICK: We saw The Stag Hunter in the RHIZOMES at In the Soil, and I understand that’s a small part of Air, is that correct?

TREVOR: Yes. Air is an umbrella term I’m using to describe a short story series told through physical theatre. The Stag Hunter is one of the eight piece that’s happening at the Hamilton Fringe. There is a historical precedent for this, this is how it’s done; physical theatre doesn’t tend to sustain 30-40 minute long pieces, it sustains short stories. So, The Stag Hunter is one story I cooked up in January.

I’ve gone back to my roots as a performer; I studied at the Marcel Marceau School in Paris. I took that training and I’ve gone a lot of different directions with it: it informed my work in dance, and it informed my work with text in the theatre. This is the first time I’ve gone back to the pure form, back to physical theatre, to see what I can bring to it.

NICK: You’ve gone back to your roots as a performer then?


Alex: What obstacles do you face when you create this type of physical theatre?

TREVOR: I have an audience that is mime illiterate. As close to 20 or 30 years ago there were short hands that a performer could use and the audience would recognize. I’m trying to curate an audience that has never seen anything like this. I end up with a double edged sword; I have a split audience. Last summer for Hamilton Fringe I did a 20 minute version of Air. I had two reviews come in, and they were hilarious. They were both extremely positive. One was Gary Smith of the Hamilton Spectator, long time reviewer, who said: “this brings me back to when I use to watch the great mimes of Canada.” This other review from the View Magazine goes on and on because the reviewer really liked it, but there was something off about the review. Then at the end she says “In short, Trevor has created a fusion of acting and modern dance.” So, she had never seen mime and thought I invented the whole form.

ALEX: You should take that and run with it.

TREVOR: Yes! I’m like… sure! I’ve got a split audience: an older audience who remembers the previous work, and I’ve got a young audience who thinks I make it up.

I’m working with Robin Patterson, she’s directing the piece. She’s put so much in front of audiences; she’s got an eye for what works and what doesn’t work. I’m also working with Harrow Moscow, he was one of the top physical theatre performers in Canada for decades. He was a soloist for the National Mime Theatre Company, when it was a company. They use to tour the world with the stuff they did. He was kind enough to come in and teach me one of his pieces, and I’m doing it as part of Air. He said, “don’t just recreate the piece, take what inspires you and leave what doesn’t; you’re a new generation so reinvent it.” [Air] has an interesting blend: I’ve got some pieces that are totally original, some pieces that I’ve taken and reworked, and I even have a piece that a student in my class did.

NICK: Seems like you’re pulling from all kinds of inspirations for Air.

TREVOR: This is one of the struggles I’ve been going through now: how can I update mime? I bring a total intensity to these pieces, that’s important to me. I bring a lot of social justice and spiritual questions to my work. The stakes that I bring to my mime work are higher than the mime work that I’ve seen in the 70’s. What I’m going after here is to ask: can we talk about what happens to you after you die, using mime?

ALEX: Sounds like you’re exploring some powerful content.

TREVOR: My goal at Hamilton Fringe is to workshop the material. I have a few really strong pieces from last year’s festival, and I know they work, so I am not doing them. [Fringe] is about trying new things. I challenge myself to take out the successful material and focus on trying new things.

NICK: Do you think the Hamilton Fringe is a good opportunity to experiment like that?

TREVOR: I know from running a theatre company, producing is a HUGE chunk of energy, but at Hamilton Fringe they take a lot of that energy out of the equation. It’s a great workshop place, and a lot people don’t use [Hamilton] Fringe to their advantage as much as they should. You see a lot of good ideas at [Hamilton] Fringe that aren’t ready yet, and I wish people would keep working with it, but they drop the work. I’m just trying to take my own advice.

NICK: One more question to wrap it up, you mentioned that Robin is directing you, so what’s that process like? I know she has a lot of experience and you have a lot of experience…

TREVOR My experience is not to the caliber of hers at all. She was studying Lecoq and she was there when mime was a national phenomena. There were even Canadian Mime festivals with a dozen companies in them; mime was a huge form internationally! Robin was there when there was a world of mime, and I never got to be a part of that world.

NICK: What happened to that world? Where did it go?

TREVOR: In the late 70’s to early 80’s there was a massive arts funding cut in Canada. The mimes took the hit. Somehow the text-based theatres managed to hold on, but all of the mimes lost their jobs over night. The only ones that survived became YPT (Young People’s Theatre) companies, because there was a faster, more readily available source of income than doing work for adults. The reason why a lot theatre for young audiences in Toronto is highly physical is because of that heritage.

Tons of insights to think about before seeing Air at Hamilton Fringe, opening on July 16th at the The Players’ Guild venue.

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