The premiere of Parallel Exit’s evening-length comic ballet, I ♥ BOB: The Amazing Adventures of an Ordinary Guy, marks the close of Joyce SoHo’s 2011-2012 performance season. Joyce SoHo intern Elmes Gomez spoke with Artistic Director Mark Lonegran about I ♥ BOB, which was supported by a planning residency provided by The Joyce Theater Foundation with major support from The Rockefeller Foundation’s NYC Cultural Innovation Fund.
Elmes Gomez (EG): Tell me about the origins of your company and the inspiration for its name.
Mark Lonergan (ML): Parallel Exit began in Toronto, where I’m from originally. It grew out of a desire to create physical theater. I was very interested in exploring how to use the body to tell a story – not just movement for movement’s sake, but to create characters, relationships, and narrative without text. The great “aha” moment was when a friend gave me some Chaplin films to watch – a revelation. Chaplin is the master of non-verbal comic storytelling, and this inspiration really launched the direction of the company.
The name Parallel Exit came from a brainstorming session, in which we threw a bunch of random words on the floor. I thought the two words sounded intriguing, and reflected the physical nature of the work. A caveat – I was a carefree artist in my early 20’s when the name was chosen, so long-term “branding” was not my priority.
(EG): You mention Chaplin as an inspiration. I understand his film, City of Lights and Gene Kelly’s An American In Paris provided fodder for I ♥ BOB. Can you tell us more about how you came to use these two films?
(ML): I mention these two films for specific reasons. City Lights is perhaps the greatest silent film ever made – a masterpiece that blends comedy and pathos in an incredibly poignant way. We were inspired by the story of two innocents falling in love in the midst of a teeming, heartless metropolis. The challenge of matching Chaplin’s masterful storytelling is translating it to the theater; he had all the advantages of film (close-ups, locations, editing), while we are working in real time with live performers. This is a constant challenge for Parallel Exit, as we aim for absolute clarity on a tiny budget, not relying on production values or a huge number of captions to get our story across.
An American In Paris has one of the greatest extended dance sequences ever captured on film. Gene Kelly was a master storyteller, and we aspire to match his incredible ability to convey character, emotions, and comedy through his dancing. The challenge is not only to reach that level of genius, but to ensure our performers execute our choreography while fully playing the scene – both are vital to communicating the story to the audience.
(EG): From which other sources do you draw inspiration?
(ML): When I first moved to New York City, a friend told me to take a look at the work of Bill Irwin. Just as I had been inspired by Chaplin, seeing Bill Irwin was an incredibly eye-opening experience. Here was a man who was doing exactly what I was attempting – playing character, comedy, and story in a non-verbal comic environment. One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had was when Bill came to see our show TIME STEP; having him in the audience, seeing what we had created, and hearing the audience respond was an absolute joy.
I’ve also been inspired by the work of a wide range of performing artists: the striking visuals of Robert Wilson, the smart and funny work of David Neumann, and the brilliant physical theater of Complicite and Improbable Theatre.
(EG): Clearly, comedy is a vital component to your work. What are your thoughts on the relationship between comedy and dance and performance art today?
(ML): A great question. I think comedy in our culture is at a strange crossroads. In popular culture, comedy has been predominately represented by the television sitcom for decades; it’s perhaps the worst example of the form in our history. Thankfully, a renaissance of sorts has come about with some brilliant comic performers (Sacha Baron Cohen, Zach Galafianakis, Louis C.K.) who are genuinely funny and who care about the state of the form. In theater, comedy has just had a very good year with James Corden and Christian Borle both winning the Tony for performances that are love letters to the art of physical comedy. In dance, I am happy to say comedy is still alive and well; Jerome Robbins would be proud. New York actually has a Comedy in Dance Festival at Triskelion Arts every year, and many leading choreographers and companies incorporate comedy into their work: Susan Stroman and Casey Nicolaw on Broadway, Mark Morris, Pilobolus, and MOMIX in modern dance.
(EG): When and where can audiences next experience Parallel Exit?
(ML): In addition to the performances at Joyce SoHo this month, Parallel Exit will appear in SummerStage Kids, with free performances in Manhattan and the Bronx. Our next indoor appearance in New York will be at Symphony Space in the fall. We are presenting our family vaudeville revue EXIT STAGE LEFT , a show that incorporates physical comedy, tap, and live music. It’s a tribute to the golden age of variety entertainment and it’s an absolute blast for audiences of all ages.
Purchase tickets to see Parallel Exit at Joyce SoHo July 20-22 and 26-29 here.