Skin,” a new production of short plays by award-winning theater company Broken Box Mime Theater (BKBX), will make its world premiere at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres in New York City. The show runs from January 18th through February 3rd. Performed to original music, the collaborative pieces are created and performed by the resident company through a new and hip interpretation of mime.

Tickets are between $25 and $30.

Told with both humor and heart, without a single spoken word, “Skin” features stories both lighthearted and timely—from sitcom stars and bearded Brooklynites to those facing the consequences of their actions in the #MeToo era. BXBX has received three New York Innovative Theater Awards.

Performer and Artistic Director Becky Baumwoll granted an exclusive interview on January 9, 2019, where she discussed her theatrical career.

Theater, one-acts, and artistic directing

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into the theater and what was it about mime that most intrigued you?

Becky Baumwoll (BB): I fell in love with theater when I saw “Crazy for You” on Broadway as a small child; after the performance, I kept repeating "Rewind! Rewind!" hoping that my Mom could start it over, like my “Free to Be You and Me” video. That ephemeral nature of theater is what attracts me to this day: it exists in the absolute present and is entirely unique at every performance.

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It is perfectly and terribly human. Mime, as BKBX performs it, supersizes that here-and-now quality in a way no other art form has done for me. Our audience is the "final playwright," filling in each invisible space or environment of our stories with a mix of their own imaginings and memories, and in turn, our connection with the audience buzzes. They lean forward in their seats, and we feel the communicative impact of every gesture and breath.

MM: Tell me about the Broken Box Mime Theater (BKBX) and the challenges of being an artistic director?

BB: I began the company in 2011 in the image of our beloved college student club at Tufts University, HYPE! Mime Troupe. The work we did there taught me how to be a writer, collaborator, problem-solver, editor. It taught me how to replace envy with admiration. I learned how to be an actor who was responsible for transporting the audience without a word, prop, or costume piece.

It deliciously situates between left-brain and right-brain, and there was (and still is!) nothing like it.

Being an Artistic Director of a collaborative ensemble means creating a culture of mutual respect that can sustainably innovate. Over the years I've improved at learning what support my artists need and receiving criticism without feeling like a failure. I've never ridden a Segway, but I imagine it to be sensitive like my role: lean forward and I'll crush the thing, lean back, and we won't move forward.

My job means leaning my weight and adjusting to the weather, the road, the recent politics, my own mental health, the developments of a conversation, the ever-changing equation of balance between business and art.

MM: What is it like to create theatrical world that includes no dialogue?

BB: It's awesome. We (the royal one) are all reading body language daily, trying to understand what we are seeing from our boss, partner, mother, subway neighbor, and translating it into information. In BKBX we call upon our audiences to use that same language, and it's our job to craft complex, artful narratives that benefit from being told in that language. Our performances use empty space much like a poem does, or an architect, or a novelist. The empty space leaves room for the audience, and sometimes they fill in the words better than we could ever write them.

MM: How would you describe the segments in “Skin”—do they all play like one-acts?

BB: The segments are individual narratives that could stand alone with a unique title, story-line, and tone, but that thematically and sequentially riff with each other during the 90-minute performance. Each one is 2-10 minutes long and set to music. It's sort of like a theater version of the New Yorker - a poem, then short fiction, then an interview, then a cartoon.

MM: How did you write the pieces; were they developed in-house or did someone come to you with them?

BB: We begin our development period with a summer residency, which this year took place at Mohican Outdoor Center on the Appalachian Trail. During those five unplugged days, we work through an ever-changing set of exercises to generate ideas, stories, and imagery with our bodies. We then zoom out to take a look at what they all have in common and start orbiting around a singular theme. After a few weeks of exploratory rehearsals, our company members prepare written pitches that we then share in a set of long proposal days. We work together to cull down the story ideas and come up with which will comprise our show, as well as which gaps we want to leave open to fill as the process develops. We had three dozen proposals this year and chose roughly a dozen works for this show.

Plays, music, and audiences

MM: Do you have a favorite segment in “Skin” and, if so, which one and why?

BB: I love one image we're using in a montage of Planet Earth imagery: one actor molts from another, fully stepping out of his previous skin into a new body. It's creepy, funny, and provocative. This show is really diversifying our interpretation of narrative, and I think this short picture is evidence of that new maturity, confidence, and experimentation in our writing.

Further than that is like picking between my children. We have a pretty fantastic fragmented memory play called “Fall From Grace,” in which a young man who tracks back through time and (literally) wrestles with his father, reviving memories of his misogynistic father in an era of #MeToo. Untitled features to actors in a more abstracted dance about consent and intimacy. In another story that's structured like a Rubik's cube, we introduce the audience to the destructive power of their own imaginations by presenting a story that uses social, racial, and sexual signifiers in a potentially dangerous way. I love how each one interprets “Skin” in a unique way with a strong physical language.

MM: Who creates the music and what are the challenges of pairing the soundtrack with the actions?

BB: We use a mix of pre-recorded music and songs written for our show by collaborating musicians who will be announced as the next few weeks unfold. The right piece of music brings the narrative to life; a range of styles keeps the audience on their toes. In a collage of a story about what parents sacrifice for their children, we must fit the performance to a song just over three minutes long. We rehearsed that one today; we have some editing to do!

MM: What do you hope audience like most about this show and do you have other theatrical projects coming up that you would like to discuss?

BB: I hope that the audience likes the way that they feel about their own mind. When they leave, I hope they say, "how did I see that?" I hope they realize that it was their imagination and feel delighted. I hope it gives them a reservoir of courage and confidence. I hope it makes them notice their own creation.

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