Entertainer Wolfe Bowart, who grew up near Sabino Canyon, returns to the Old Pueblo to perform his latest theatrical production. During the three months when he’s not touring, the 46-year-old splits his time between Tucson and Perth, Australia. In an e-mail interview, Bowart – the son of counterculturalist writer and editor Walter Bowart and grandson of Abstract Expressionist painter Edward Dugmore – previews his show, honors his influences and defends mimes.
Q: When’s the last time you performed in Tucson?
A: We premièred our previous show “LaLaLuna” – a quirky tale about the night the light bulb in the moon burns out – in Tucson in 2003. We’ve since toured that show in Brazil, Hong Kong, Greece, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It’s great to be able to return to Tucson to première the new show. “Letter’s End” may have a similar path – after the three performances in Tucson this weekend, we head to the U.K. and then directly to Australia for a 150-show tour.
Where did you go to school in Tucson?
St Michael’s, Schweitzer, Treehaven, Green Fields and Project M.O.R.E. I got around. Last week, I went back to Green Fields and performed an excerpt from “Letter’s End” for the students. Great fun to be back after so many years.
What is your most enduring memory of the Old Pueblo?
Growing up playing in the desert. With today’s urban sprawl, I think, many kids these days might be missing a wonderful part of being a Tucsonan.
How did you fall into physical theatre?
I was about 12 when I started learning circus skills and magic. I’d direct the neighborhood kids in loony movies. I’d have my pet turtle magically perform push-ups on demand (my dad was convinced the turtle and I were psychically connected – he never did find out how I did that).
I later went to college and studied theatre and applied what I learned to physical theatre. I’ve always enjoyed exploring ways to tell stories through physicality first and language second.
Who were/are some of your influences, and why?
Buster Keaton, for his surreal imagery. Charlie Chaplin, for his ability to do it all – write, direct, act, arrange the music, conduct the orchestra, edit the film. He was a true Renaissance man. Jacques Tati for the same reasons. Tati had a simple grace in his comedy – nothing was ever forced.
How long did it take you to master all the skills you incorporate into your act: mime, clowning, acrobatics, juggling and magic?
It’s a lifelong study. I began unicycling at 12, which is hard in the desert, and juggling at 11. The degree was an intensive four-year course in which I learned stage combat, playwriting, directing, movement, acrobatics – all tools applied to tell the story in “Letter’s End.” And after years of performing professionally, I’m still learning.
How did you come up with the concept for your new show, “Letter’s End?”
I have always been interested in memory and how we remember events and people. I was fascinated with the idea of a room full of boxes and letters that represented the inside of a mind. The metaphor of a lost letter office as a room full of forgotten memories. I thought, what a wonderful platform to create a story using circus and film and visual theater.
Why did you decide to première it in Tucson?
I don’t often have the opportunity to perform in my hometown. Also there’s such a big artistic community here. It’s a great place to develop new works.
Critics have described your act as “sublime craziness” and “controlled lunacy.” How accurate are those characterizations? Which others would you add?
I like to create a sense of freewheeling craziness onstage, but underneath all the comedy and magic and circus going on, there are very detailed backstage, light and sound cues occurring that are timed down to the second. So it definitely is controlled lunacy in that sense.
I’d probably also add “family-friendly” and “funny.” The term “family-friendly” has got a bad rap in the past. People have come to associate family-friendly shows with shows that are good only for toddlers and leave everyone else out in the cold. “Letter’s End” truly has something for everyone, no matter what your age.
Clowns and mimes (especially) seem to get a bum rap in pop culture. Why do you think that is?
There are actually many modern clowns in our pop culture. Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, even Jackie Chan are physical comedians or types of clowns. And shows like Cirque du Soleil, The Blue Man Group and Slava’s Snow Show are all physical theatre shows. I think people are coming to understand that clowning and physical theatre is not just squirting flowers and pratfalls.
In “Letter’s End,” you embark on a wondrous story that might make you feel like a kid again and that just so happens to be told without much language.
IF YOU GO
What: “Letter’s End,” a family- friendly physical-theatre production by Wolfe Bowart
When: 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd.
Price: $15 adults, $8 children 11 and younger. Tickets available at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave.; Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s Toys, 4811 E. Grant Road; Williams Magic & Novelties, 6528 E. 22nd St.; online at http://spoontree.tix.com; and by phone at 800-595-4849