Theater Grottesco was founded in 1983 in Paris, France, by John Flax and Didier Maucort, former members of Minneapolis’ Theatre de la Jeune Lune and graduates of France’s Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Joined shortly thereafter by Elizabeth Wiseman, another Lecoq graduate, the company has worked with an evolving ensemble with a tremendous range of theatrical expertise.
Together they have created 18 full-length plays and over 50 shorter pieces, performed in 8 countries, 31 states, most major U.S. cities and hundreds of smaller communities
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DIFFERENT is a structured improvisation. The company has been working for a year on ensemble, the foundation of Greek Chorus and Tragedy. They will recount an adaption of the story of Joan of Arc but without memorized text or choreography. Who tells each step of the story, how the details are added, and how the powerful Grottesco physicality weaves it into something that might be considered a musical composition is something that will be different every night and can only be experienced live.
This is a bold form of theatrical storytelling that most have never seen before. Longtime collaborator, Patrick Mehaffy, has delivered an adaptation of the Joan of Arc story with surprising twists and redemption. The ensemble has twisted it further.
Strange and unexpected connections to our lives and times leap from the stage in daring bursts, as the Grottesco performers fly without the net of memorized text and rehearsed choreography.
PIE is a layman’s exploration of what happens when you don't know what to do next, inspired by the Carl Sagan quote, "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe..." and the Kate Tempest poem Brand New Ancients, "Yes, the gods are on the park bench, the gods are on the bus, / The gods are all here, the gods are in us."
Grottesco’s take on these two brilliant fragments is a deeply relevant and moving journey across the universe, down the Grand Canyon and into a world of questions about societal pressures, identity, hopelessness, greed, and the toxic muddy trickle at the end of a once raging river. Grottesco uses its broad stylistic palette to create surprise and wonder as it holds up a mirror to the current state of the planet and its people while sneaking up on life’s great questions.
THE MOMENT OF YES! is a theatrical event about communication, creating common culture, the many propositions we receive each day, and the humor and humanity of the journey. How might two women and two men, devoid of any shared culture, negotiate the creation of society? Theater Grottesco’s poetic answer is an original devised work utilizing dance, theater, music, and twists on ancient theatrical styles woven together into a unique physical performance; relishing complicity and tracing the cracks along the way that reveal our flaws and ultimately, our shared humanity.
They live in a hidden world beneath the streets of a city in decay: outcasts, the deformed and disowned. For them the rumble of trucks and echoing sirens are the sounds of distant storms and forgotten times. A homeless man sleeps on a sewer grate. Warmth and the sound of voices lure him, and one day he finds his way into THE ANGELS' CRADLE.
This is a BUFFOON spectacle. Grottesco's modern incarnation is a poetic, raw and wild celebration of humanity; a cultural clash like no other. These BUFFOONS expose a sensitive nerve, a strange and hauntingly familiar spirit that is both tender and ferocious. Seen Off-Broadway in 1998.
Grottesco’s 12th Night deconstructs Shakespeare’s famous romantic comedy, slicing scenes and subplots, constructing new ones and transforming this beloved piece into a social comedy and then into a comic tragedy – a nation house adrift on a sea of decadence.
A dark clowning is the foundational style. Emotions are heightened with gestural dance, often times telling the truth on a text or character too frightened to face it. Shakespeare has the Duke pining with his head and heart, the love of the lower classes rocks the scenery.
Storm is an elaborate structured improvisational collaboration with Out of Context, a conduction orchestra. The project is a journey into the social paradigm that prevents the world (particularly the United States) from taking environmental action. Rather than shouting answers, Storm offers a glimpse of the chaos once experienced locally but now experienced globally. The production, created 10 years ago, includes a dozen musicians, 4 projectors, 15 writers and 2 actors portraying 6 characters.
Created by the company and performed in a farcical, slapstick style, The Richest Deadman Alive! is the story of an average middle-class couple that accidentally discovers the road to riches. This hilarious, timely, and fast-paced comedy pokes fun at the universal human foible of Greed, and the extent to which people will exploit each other for cash.
FORTUNE: THE RISE AND FALL OF A SMALL FORTUNE COOKIE FACTORY
Set in San Francisco in the 1930's, Fortune is the story of a small family-owned
cookie factory on the brink of bankruptcy. A destitute novelist applies for the job of fortune writer, is hired, and becomes the quintessential producer of the single line and a media myth. His efforts reverse the fortunes of the company. Performed by a cast of seven, the story unfolds as the conflict between greed and distribution erodes the fragile links holding the factory and its workers together. A fantastic blend of styles and imagery make Fortune an unforgettable tour de force. Working without set, the actors manipulate poles and disks to become the moving images and percussion of a working factory. Scenes of dance/theater are offset with silent masked characters. And when the factory owner counts his riches, he becomes Commedia Dell'Arte's 20th Century Pantalone. With humor, imagery and dance, Fortune resonates with astonishing clarity and universal humanity.
Set sometime in the future, when an undetermined environmental disaster or series of disasters has left an arid planet spotted with scant oases, WENOMADMEN (as in “We are nomad men”, “We are not mad men”, “We know mad men”), is a sci-fi reflection of our current environmental choices. The survivors spend their lives building sand ships out of scrap that might one day skim into the desert to find water and establish new settlements. Or maybe they are simply being built to keep people busy. One day, however, the sirens sound and 30 ships leave the city. On ship number 24, the voyagers are ill-equipped and ill-suited for the voyage.
WENOMADMEN was created in 1989 and toured nationally for two years. It is the third in Theater Grottesco’s “American Trilogy Project”, which includes FORTUNE and THE RICHEST DEADMAN ALIVE! Each play reflects a theme, or cultural state of being that became particularly virulent during the 1980’s. “Every man for himself” (FORTUNE), “Greed” (DEADMAN) and “Where does this all lead” (WENOMADMEN)
1984. A couple in the middle of the night, combining an invented
language with the styles of clown and commedia dell’arte.
1983. An economic unraveling of Defoe’s famous novel. Theater Grottesco’s
CONSIDER THIS... is a 60 minute romp through the pre-history of Western theater, from Greek Tragedy to Commedia dell’Arte, Clown, Buffoon, masks and more – theatrical styles rediscovered and developed by the celebrated Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Grottesco takes over where Lecoq leaves off, showcasing modern styles in the continuous development of the oldest art form on the planet.
The Translator begins with lecturer John Flax and his Spanish-language translator, Gonzalo Carreño. A comedic lecture-performance ensues, taking audiences on a journey through theatrical styles, pointing out that new styles emerge in response to the social and political climates of their time. Soon the once obedient translator, inspired by the flexibility and power of theater, goes rogue transforming the lecture-performance into a moving and humorous conversation about current issues for Latin American immigrants in New Mexico. The Translator calls for theater to resume its role as a mirror of contemporary culture and a continuously evolving creative art form.
In Action at a Distance, the actors take various roles in six different short ‘plays’ as they ‘pivot’ from one play to the next mid stream, and at different times from one another. Each actor must imagine the actions and speech of the imaginary characters with whom their own character is interacting in whichever play they happen to be in at the time. Simultaneously, each actor must NOT show awareness of those actors who are NOT in the same play as they are in at the moment, and who are likewise pivoting from one play to the next. Sometimes, actors are in the same play at the same time; most of the time they are not.
The Santa Fe Survey is an absurdist vision of social media’s iconic information gathering tool. Laced with New Mexican history, Theater Grottesco places the questions and answers in the hands of a post-modern Greek chorus for a biting physical performance.
In 2019, Theater Grottesco launched an exploration into the Greek Chorus. The artists imagined a chorus defined by its physicality that could move as one entity without blocking or choreography, create its own movement, and is as interesting to watch as the words are to hear. The ensemble developed a palate of physical and vocal “prompts”, giving each performer the tools to “propose” the next step in what they came to describe as a musical composition. While the rest of the ensemble would immediately understand the proposition and be able to support and develop it.
After the long pandemic pause, the artists came together to develop another chorus: a modern adaptation using original haiku poetry contributed by audience members to explore grief, fear and guilt, along with the concepts of the living, the dead and the in-between, inspired by the global pandemic. Where the Greek Chorus speaks to the Gods, the Buffoon Chorus speaks directly to the audience, the Haiku Chorus speaks to the ethereal and the absurdist chorus speaks to our funny bones.
One of Commedia Dell’Arte’s stock characters was the doctor. Italy, at the time, was developing Universities and graduating their first doctors. Different from today, an 18 th century doctor was an expert on many things, maybe everything!
Jim Caldwell is a modern expert. He has found a place as a spokesman for politicians and businessmen, using outrageous logic to explain their actions and exposing their greed. Instead of playing the vain haughty doctor of the 18th century, he has perfected a homey personality designed to draw you in so that you like him as he lies to you. John Flax’s Caldwell has spoken about both Iraqi wars, water and land based oil spills, fracking, pipelines, shady real estate developments, miss-managed ground water projects, immigration and probably some others we can't remember.
Paul Herwig, an early Grottesco company member made the Jim Caldwell mask and was the first to play it.
Using a remarkable range of theatrical styles, SHORTS 5 is the theatrical equivalent of a collection of short stories or arias. It allows this award-winning company to work larger than normal, exploring characters and styles in a tremendously exciting format. This is the 5th collection of short works the company has presented since its founding in Paris 40 years ago.
This latest version of new works is anchored by two pieces: a deeper exploration into the physical Greek Chorus Grottesco introduced in 2019’s DIFFERENT. Susan Skeele leads this piece, creating a modern adaptation of the chorus and using original haiku poetry, contributed by audience members, to explore the place between life and death. The other anchor piece is the third chapter of Grottesco’s buffoon fairy tale, The King Without a Kingdom. Additional pieces are created by Danielle Reddick, John Flax and Koppany Pusztai.
In Grottesco’s world of physical theatre, ensemble is where the actors create moving imagery, like a dynamic painting. They come to know their fellow performers so well that the audience can witness the artistic equivalent of basketball’s no-look pass, an antidote for the age of individualism, and a reminder of the magical possibilities of working together and of live theatre.