According to a handful of praise-saturated national press reviews, Imago Theatre and its touring show Frogz, defy classification. The five performers who make up the troupe have been labeled "magicians, alchemists, physical comedians and theatrical animators," among other things.
Imago co-creator and co-director Jerry Mouawad, who heads the company with business partner Carol Triffle, says the designation "creature theatre" sums up the operation.
"Anything onstage is a creature of some sort," says Mouawad. "[Frogz] is about the oddness of taking animals, objects or abstractions and anthropomorphizing them and seeing the human in them. They all play on human comedy and the human condition."
Much like the blacklight theatre genre popular in Prague, Imago taps into a universally accessible medium of physical humor with Frogz. The show transcends language barriers, age and other demographics.
Mouawad cites the work of Jacques Lecoq, a noted 20th-century French actor, mime and instructor with whom Triffle studied for three years, as a big influence on Imago's style. He also points to cross-cultural and largely unconscious social systems to drive home Imago's aesthetic values.
"We develop our work from the inside out ... like Charlie Chaplin. If he wanted to use an escalator, he worked out all the comedy around it," explains Mouawad. "Then the plot and structure comes out of that ... [We] try to discover what it is that brings some magnetism, then we ask why it should get into the show."
As Mouawad also reveals, embracing this kind of creativity takes time. For the hour-and-a-half that audiences enjoy each performance, Mouawad calculates that more than 300 hours go into its creation.
At one point, the company constructed a gigantic, $20,000 caterpillar that morphed into eight butterflies, then put a tremendous amount of work into staging the creature, only to realize that it was essentially a hollow visual effect in the end.
"It was empty. It had nothing; we couldn't get anything after two years [of working on it]," says Mouawad. "There's always a key or clue to unlock something to make it resonate ... [Ultimately] you don't know until you get it in front of an audience."
(Asked if he truly puts such a strong degree of faith in audience feedback, Mouawad replies, "We have high regard for sixth-grade boys.")
Frogz stands as a culmination of more than 20 years of intermittent development.
The project which includes routines by penguins, a cat and a worm, among other creatures first began in 1979. Triffle and Mouawad performed in the show for nearly a decade.
"When we stepped out, we were able to see everything differently from the outside," Mouawad admits. "The show keeps getting better as it changes."
Dickson Auditorium at
Woodland Park High School, 151 N. Baldwin St.
July 25-29; Tuesday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m., with
Saturday matinee at 2.
Tickets: $12-$45, discounts and package tickets available; visit cfwt.org or call 955-2599.