Winter Wonderland: Creating a new mythology on Main Street
By Annette Hinkle
HarborFrost is back for its second run in Sag Harbor, and while many of the favorite activities from last year will return again this Saturday — including the Frosty Plunge, ice carving and fireworks, one new offering is designed to bring a folkloric twist to the season and send participants off through the village on a mission to unravel a mystery.
And by the way — there’s a good chance elves, faeries and perhaps even a man-goat or two will be spotted in the village before the night is through.
The magic of a mythical Nordic winter comes to life and Main Street in ZIMA! a poetic scavenger hunt of words and imagery for adults (though children are most welcome to come along for the ride). The brainchild of East Hampton actress and choreographer Kate Mueth, ZIMA! will be performed by members of her theatrical dance troupe Neo-Political Cowgirls. Playing on the notion of myth and fantasy, Mueth is populating the piece with figures from imagination (played by the Cowgirls) who will be stationed throughout the village and will advance the story by helping participants fill in the blanks.
“ZIMA! is a winter theatrical walk,” explains Mueth. “It’s something I devised in the dead of summer when I had fantasy pictures in my head of winter.”
While most people out here do, in fact, live for the summer and the high energy active outdoor pursuits that endlessly long days encourage, for Mueth winter is not a season to simply endure, but one that provides an opportunity for great introspection and quiet reflection.
“I love that thought — it’s simple, quiet, like winter, internal rather than external,” she says. “We don’t reflect enough in theater on the season of winter, and our community revolves so much around the summer people.”
“I love this community and our neighbors, and I wanted to make something that gives back to our community when it’s not about the summer people,” she adds. “This is not for the summer people. It’s for us — our family here.”
ZIMA! will begin at 4:30 p.m. this Saturday when participants are invited to meet at the Main and Madison Street split in Sag Harbor. That’s where they will encounter a traveling journeyman who will share his story before sending participants off to solve his mystery.
“Each person gets a little piece of scroll with a riddle or poem on it and a little help,” explains Mueth. “They have to find particular creatures or characters in different locations throughout the village. The characters will have an object on them or be doing something gesturally related to the riddle to come up with this phrase.”
At each stop, the costumed characters will provide the information needed to fill in a blank on the scroll. Like a word puzzle, those letters will eventually form the solution to the riddle.
“It only lasts an hour, so I can’t make it too difficult,” says Mueth. “It’s not just for adults and not just for kids. It’s definitely not a baby thing — it’s a theatrical thing.”
This is new territory for Mueth and the Neo-Political Cowgirls. While in recent summers, the troupe has garnered much attention with their theatrical dance pieces “Wody Girtch Mama” and “Trojan Women Redux,” both of which addressed political and cultural issues affecting women and girls and society at large, ZIMA! is a very different animal.
Mueth’s goal with this project was to design a program that invites audience participation and captures the spirit of the season in an allegorical manner. A form of street theatre, it may be much different than the Cowgirl’s earlier work, but like those earlier pieces, Mueth feels ZIMA! will offer audiences something unusual and will strike a chord in those who take part in the journey.
“It’s magical, but in a new way — using language and wardrobe to create a world colliding in the realm of imagination,” she explains. “It’s reflective of winter.”
“There is movement involved and some choreography, but it’s subtle,” adds Mueth. “It’s more about these characters in this story.”
Because the characters are so central to defining the mood and mysticism of the piece, Mueth has tapped into the considerable talents of the Cowgirl’s costume designer Yuki Silvera (Silvera also creates the costumes for the Hamptons Ballet Theatre School). Zima is the Polish word for winter, and the mythical characters that populate this world and their costumes have a vaguely northern European sensibility to them.
“Think ‘Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe’ meets a series of magical snow globes,” explains Mueth.
That means sprites, hobos, a fern man, whimsical children and even a white queen could be among the spirits encountered, both inside storefronts and out on the street, throughout the village on Saturday.
While ZIMA! is new territory for the Neo-Political Cowgirls, Mueth is excited about its possibilities as an outdoor theatrical offering. Because storylines can easily be altered to fit specific themes or seasons and presented in a number of public settings — it can be performed without the complications and equipment required in more traditional performances.
“I wanted to introduce it in a tangible way and I didn’t want to overwhelm it with harebrained ideas,” says Mueth of this inaugural ZIMA! performance. “As word gets out, it can grow with more costumes and a few more props. I’m not looking for it to be technical heavy thought — it can go in and out and is clean. It doesn’t effect the environment and is user friendly.”
Though she is closely guarding the secret of the story and the locales where each character will be stationed, Mueth would offer that the traveling journeyman’s tale involves a search for love.
“It’s very symbolic. Not that people will know all the symbolism, but that’s what makes stories good,” she says. “It’s symbols coming in and we’re not consciously aware of them — but in the ancestry of the brain, it means something.”
ZIMA! a winter magic trail walk will be offered from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. this Saturday, February 11, 2012 as part of HarborFrost. The trail begins at the top of Main Street where it meets Madison Street at the triangle. There is a $5 suggested donation and all ages are welcome.
Top: Yuka Silvera’s costume sketches for ZIMA! characters.