The Dominion Post
ALL AT SEA
Child’s play for adults
AMERICANWolfe Bowart is bringing his latest one-man show The Man the Sea Saw to the city as part of the Capital E National Arts Festival in Wellington.
It involves spectacular sets, visual effects and puppetry courtesy of Bowart’s brother, production designer Wythe Bowart. Like all Bowart’s shows, it is aimed at children while appealing to adults.
It couldn’t be more different from what Bowart was doing 15 years ago when he was a fledging actor and screenwriter. His credits included co-writing episodes of The Net, a television series based on the Sandra Bullock cyber thriller movie, and roles in several shows including The Young Riders.
Bowart says the route from television to children’s theatre ‘‘was a meandering, zig-zag of a path’’, but he was always open to trying different things. He first tried his hand at visual arts, which, like writing, runs in his family. He’s the grandson of abstract expressionist artist Edward Dugmore and his late father, Walter Bowart, founded and edited underground counterculture newspaper The East Village Other.
‘‘I was a visual artist but I had all these great skills. I was really fascinated with magic and, at school, I was creating these theatre pieces and film. I shot a lot on Super 8 film and [did] animation. But I always thought of it as more of an artistic outlet rather than a career choice.’’
At university, Bowart discovered Jacques Lecoq mime, but got most of his acting training from performing in the classics, including Shakespeare. He says he was excited after graduating four years later because he wanted to apply what he had learned about acting to other fields. However, first he went to Hollywood. ‘‘I thought ‘This is the mecca. I’ve got to go do this’. Then I realised I didn’t want to make crime dramas. I want to make people laugh and want to do it live.’’
Bowart says he gravitated to creating children’s theatre works, partly because it could involve different skills, from acting and writing, to the visual arts, film and puppetry. His first show LaLaLuna, which premiered in 2006, was a big hit and was performed in New Zealand in 2010. His second, Letter’s End premiered in the United States in 2009.
Bowart says he conceived of The Man the Sea Saw, as he had with his other works, as one that spoke across generations and could be shown to an international audience. While LaLaLuna and Letter’s End had minimal dialogue, The Man the Sea Saw would have none. ‘‘I was really interested in talking about family and memories. It’s a man on an ice floe that’s shrinking and he takes photographs of different animals. The photographs come out as his family members, so he is going a bit happily mad on the ice floe.
‘‘It’s a comedic romp with magic and acrobatics. But there’s also [some] underlying soulsearching for him.’’
Wythe Bowart, an illustrator, has worked for a variety of stage shows including arena productions for Carrie Underwood and Shania Twain. But, for The Man the Sea Saw, it extended to puppetry, including a polar bear, owl, seal and a whale.
Despite their common artistic background it’s the first time the two brothers have worked together. ‘‘I was doing auditions for puppeteers and I thought ‘How wonderful this would be to have the man who made the sets’. It took a little coercion but it is such a joy to spend time with him. He is so talented,’’ says Wolfe Bowart.
The Man the Sea Saw has been road-tested as Bowart always takes feedback from children seriously. ‘‘The kids often get the levels, get the metaphors and get the character arcs often before an adult will. They are so used to magical worlds and this type of fantastical storyline. Nothing surprises them so their mind goes there perhaps more easily than an adult’s.’’