Groundbreaking silent theatre company to perform at UTC this Tuesday night
In 1972, three young people came together in Paris: Andres Bossard, Bernie Schürch, and Floriana Frassetto. Each had unique experience in the performing arts, and they decided to create a new form of theatrical expression together. Thus, the theatrical troupe Mummenschanz was born.
Admittedly, the name is peculiar—perhaps the peculiarity of the name reflects the peculiarity of the performance. Bossard, Schürch, and Frassetto wanted to create a nonverbal theatre that could defy linguistic and cultural boundaries. Simply put, Mummenschanz is a silent mask theatre troupe that makes use of surreal masks and strange props.
At a Mummenschanz show, there are no words and no music; it is a visual theatre experience. Of course, neither words nor music are needed to convey meaning. Founding member Floriana Frassetto points out the advantages of silent performance: “I think in a world like today where there’s music everywhere—from your home to the drugstore to the parking lot—it’s wonderful to sit back and let go and imagine your own music.
“What we perform on stage is visual,” Frassetto says, “but there is an incredible rhythm that the audience feels together, with their reactions, with their laughter, with their sighs, with their enjoyment. This rhythm is also musical, even though it’s silent. Funnily enough, there are people at the end of the show who will ask us, ‘What kind of music did I hear?’”
Initially, Mummenschanz enjoyed success at various international festivals. By 1974, only two years after Mummenschanz’s formation, they were touring in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Shortly afterward in 1977, the group made it to Broadway.
“We never expected for us—a nonverbal, non-music show—to go on Broadway and stay there for three years,” says Frassetto. “We never expected that we would go as far as 43 years, either. We thought maybe it would last a week, and then we’d be done. We never expected to go all over the world. But we have.”
After over four decades of performance, Mummenschanz has expanded its repertoire to include dozens of skits. “Sometimes bringing a skit to life just takes seeing a material and pasting it together and then improvising with it, seeing what it can do,” Frassetto explains. “Sometimes it takes months.
“We work with a lot of materials like plastic, foam, and rubber, and there is a lot of wear and tear because we have to constantly use these materials. So there are little repairs to be made every day. But it’s a fun process,” Frassetto comments with a laugh. “I love the creation of it because it’s like a sculpture standing in front of you. You can see the shapes in a material before you work with it—maybe this one will make a face.”
Along the way, cast members have come and gone, but the essence of the troupe remains the same. Mummenschanz has continued to tour, delighting audiences across the world. Recent years have seen the emergence of more complete programs, the development of more mask and playing techniques, and the broadening of Mummenschanz’s repertoire.
The company will be touring in America through this April—a tour that includes a stop in Chattanooga at UTC’s Fine Arts Center as part of the Patten Performance Series.
The performance will include founding member Floriana Frassetto as a main cast member, and the current featured players are Philipp Egil, Pietro Montandon, and Raffaella Mattioli.
Frassetto describes the show: “With a choice of about 25 sketches, we are portraying 40 years of our work. The first part of the show portrays the ’70s and the ’80s. And then the second part of the show portrays the type of work we’ve done from the ’80s into today.
“In the ’70s,” Frassetto explains, “we performed with the toilet-paper mask, the clay mask—masks that we wore over the face. Later on, we created masks that we wore over our heads. And then we started using these inflatable materials that were very big. And then from the year 2000 on, we kind of stepped outside these materials. This show portrays that progression.”
When asked what she hopes audience members learn from Mummenschanz shows, Frassetto chuckles and says, “Oh, I don’t pretend that we teach anything. We help the audience to let go into a world of their own personal, individual imagination. So the adults can imagine what they imagine, and the children, of course, who are explosive with imagination, will explode into their own worlds, and then there is a dialogue between the two. That’s the fun part of it—that adults and children can both let go together into their own dimension of creativity.”
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The performance will be Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at UTC’s Fine Arts Center. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors, and $15 for students. For more information, visit mummenschanz.com