KAPOOT carries physical theater to extreme entertainment

1:14:34 PM CDT - Thursday, February 26, 2004

By Shannon Littlejohn

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"Being an artist is about finding your own voice," says Nick Johnson, associate professor and director of dance for WSU's School of Performing Arts.

In the art of physical theater, KAPOOT's voice comes through clearly and hilariously even though the characters never speak a word, Johnson says.

The KAPOOT Clown Theatre will perform Saturday, March 6, in Miller Concert Hall as part of Wichita State University's Connoisseur Series. It's a return engagement for the wild and crazy theater troupe, last seen on campus in 2001.

"They were very well-received," said Wendy Hanes, associate dean of fine arts who attended the 2001 performance with her 4-year-old granddaughter. "It's wonderful fun, and it's totally appropriate for children." Now, the granddaughter is 7 with a 3-year-old brother. Hanes says she'll bring them both to this year's performance.

Hanes credits Nick Johnson, associate professor and director of dance, for attracting KAPOOT to WSU. Johnson is a founding member and artistic director for the School for Mime Theater (originally the Goldston & Johnson School for Mimes). Now in its 25th year, the school offers an annual summer program at Canyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

The creators of KAPOOT, Dan Griffiths and Stephen Chipps, are alums of the Goldston & Johnson School and friends of Johnson.

"They coined clown theater," said Johnson. "They don't speak but they do make up their own language, and you can understand it."

Chipps and Griffiths, who created KAPOOT in 1999, also have studied with Marcel Marceau, Polish mime master Stefan Niedzialkowski and international touring artist Rick Wamer. They have performed in more than 45 states and 35 countries.

In addition, Chipps has taught since 1985 as artist-in-residence for theaters, museums, community centers and schools, and has received awards for his work with children. He lives in Lakewood, Ohio, where he creates masks and other visual works, and writes in his spare time.

Griffiths lives in Chicago, where he is artistic director of LID Productions (KAPOOT's home company) and teaches clown theater at the Actors Gymnasium. He'll teach physical comedy this summer in Gambier, Ohio. He also has a Kansas connection -- a bachelor's degree in drama from Saint Mary College in Leavenworth.

KAPOOT now also features Jim Williams, who began training with Johnson at age 16 in a 1996 workshop. He also has studied at the Goldston & Johnson School for Mimes, the Trinity/LaMaMa Performing Arts program in New York City, the St. Petersburg (Russia) State Theatre Arts Academy, and with Marcel Marceau, Bill Irwin and Greg Goldston.

Together, the trio continues to celebrate the extremes and absurdities of life through hilarity, pathos and modern satire. KAPOOT's performance is a fusion of acting, mime and clown techniques inspired by European clown traditions and American influences, said Johnson.

Critical reviews of their performances are entertaining, too.

"The monochromatic trio recall everything from Beckett to Blue Man Group to the Beatles' Blue Meanies" (Chicago Free Press); "A masterful piece of bent buffoonery ... (they have) imaginations like deranged hobgoblins" (Chicago Journal); "The only word to describe these antennae-bearing artists is genius" (Wichita State University Sunflower).

"KAPOOT's shows are very funny," says Johnson. "And it's great to bring new original theater to Wichita."

KAPOOT will present a full show with two acts for its WSU appearance. The artists will also present workshops and performances for theater and dance classes on the Thursday and Friday before the March 6 show.

"We've become inundated with narrative-type theater in the movies and television," says Johnson. "With innovative theater, your brain is working in a different way. There's a certain freedom in just sitting back and enjoying what you see. That appeals to the American public because we're tired of bad television and movies."

For more information about KAPOOT, visit www.kapoot.org.

KAPOOT Clown Theatre will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 6, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are $12, $10 and $8. Call the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233 for reservations.

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