Child’s play for adults

The Dominion Post - - Front Page -

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.’’

Ice age: Wolfe Bowart in a scene from his one man show The Man the Sea Saw. ‘‘It’s a comedic romp with magic and ac­ro­bat­ics. But there’s also [some] un­der­ly­ing soul-search­ing for him.’’

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