Performer goes 'Ape' in unique stage showby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
This week, British performer Gary Stevens brings his show "Ape" to three different Minneapolis theaters. The performance is based on a repetition game where three performers play with words, to create a rapid fire series of scenarios. This is the first time Stevens has visited the state, but certain Minnesotans may already be deeply familiar with his work.
Ape works like this: performers come on stage to repeat, respond and adapt what the others are saying.
At one point two of the characters tell each other how much they really love carpet, an exchange which rises in a crescendo, and stops when one announces he hates patterns.
"And so the behavior is intelligible," Stevens said. "You do understand what is going on but it's not human behavior. There's something slightly odd about what they are doing."
There's no real story to "Ape", nor is there a formal script. There's just an agreement between the actors about using certain lines at certain times. By varying the way the performers deliver those lines the actors take on ever changing roles: aggressor and victim, lover and hater. Stevens said, as a performer, he wants to entertain, but as an artist he wants "Ape" to unsettle the audience a little.
"It's rather like some sort of alien who has seen a theater show once and decided to so on and got it wrong," he said.
While Stevens has never visited Minnesota before, his voice has a familiar ring to it.
"A long time ago, I worked with the Teletubbies" he said. Gary Stevens was a consultant in the early days of Teletubbies. He never donned a Teletubby suit, but he did sing the theme. He admits he was surprised when the producers asked him to do it.
"I did it very badly, and went away thinking they will never use that," he said. "But I think they wanted a benign incompetent singing the song and I was a perfect man for that job."
Yet, working on the Teletubbies did allow him to try out some ideas from his background as a visual artist.
"And it seemed to me that, in theory, working in children's television offered this space for being experimental and doing some really interesting things for children without that imperative for a narrative. It seemed to be a space that was kind of rich," he said.
It also allowed him to try out some early thoughts about the power of repetition as a dramatic tool. Over the years Stevens has tried a lot of different things, including large casts of people doing street theater copying each others actions.
Using a cast of three actors for Ape is much easier Stevens said. The show allows audience members to draw their own conclusions he said. He is also delighted that the show will be presented in three different Twin Cities theaters; the Bryant Lake Bowl, the Red Eye Theater and Open Eye Figure Theater. He said each space will slightly change the character of the experience.
"It's a kind of complex, interesting thing and I think it opens up in many different ways and I think if you are interested in human behavior, it should interest anybody, and hopefully it's funny in a really strange way," he said. The three performances this week at the different theater are being presented by the Walker Art Center. They represent Apes U.S. premiere, and Gary Stevens only performances of the show in the United States.
- Morning Edition, 03/18/2009, 6:50 a.m.