"Mummenschanz is my life," explains Floriana Frassetto, the enthusiastic Italian-American artist who cofounded the Swiss visual theater company forty years ago. The mime-theater troupe's shows consist of short, wordless, sketches that largely feature puppets. Mummenschanz' back-to-basics puppetry on a blank, black stage is a different kind of theater experience than audiences are used to seeing in an age of $70 million musicals. The company's simple charm is what draws audience of all ages. The troupe has travelled all over the world and is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary with a return engagement at the New York University Skirball Center. TheaterMania chatted with Floriana about what has given Mummenschantz such staying power, and what's new in this edition of the show.
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Mummenschanz and how you've been able to stay successful for 40 years?
It was founded in 1972 in Switzerland, and we had our first major success at the Avignon Festival in France. We then went to Germany and the United States. We had our last two performances at Lincoln Center, and Anna Kisselgoff [of the New York Times] gave us a rave. That's when we started a true career with Mummenschanz. We never thought we'd be as successful as we still currently are.
This is a different show than we've seen in New York in the past. What can you tell us about what's new?
This addition conveys 40 years of creation. The first 35 minutes represent what we did in the 70s, with the clay mask and slinky balloons [puppets]. The second section represents the 80s to the year 2000. This section is more abstract, more sculptural. The next section starts at the year 2000, and it includes us stepping out of the figure, and some marionette-like work. There are oohs and aahs and laughter and applause- people are surprised when the thin little [puppet] talks to you and expresses an emotion. The current show features 30 of the best sketches we've made.
How do you deal with the balance of being the creator of Mummenschantz as well as performing in it?
How do you balance a marriage? You love it, you fight it, it's constant. My daughter is old enough to have left me; I'm dedicated to my work completely, and I love it. I wake up at night and dream how we can improve and change something. I think now we have a very nice mix -- people find it funny and playful.
You mentioned something about seeing people of all ages in the audience of your show.
It speaks to all ages. We recommend it for six year olds and up. It's not so common for people to see a show that works for both children and adults, which is why ours is special.
Mummenschanz runs through January 6th.