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Silent Theater

Listening to The M.U.T.E.S.

Apr. 19, 2010
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"I think all actors should study silent films," says Alice Wilson, founder of The M.U.T.E.S, "They are a wellspring of useful information about our craft. So many ways to communicate without saying a word!"

Wilson's fascination with movies made before dialogue was an option led her to develop one of the city's busiest theater troupes. Since their April 2009 inception, "We've averaged two and a half times per month." The group, whose name is shorthand for The Marvelous Unspeaking Troupe of Entertaining Scoundrels, has performed throughout southeastern Wisconsin and far as Manitowoc and Evansville, IN with a flexible sensibility that allows them to play family-friendly entertainment occasions as well as more innuendo-laden dates for older folks.

Wilson's interest in another troop, whose work is intended for adults only, led to her inspiration for creation of The M.U.T.E.S.

"I had auditioned for The Alleycat Revue burlesque and that same night literally had a dream about people acting out skits as if they were silent movies,” she recalls. “The next day I started calling actors I'd worked with that I thought might be interested." That dream wasn't likely due merely to Wilson's willingness to proffer the old-fashioned tease of burlesque. "Ever since I can remember, I've been into things from past decades. Seems I've always understood on some level that the past was important and lead us to where we are today. In high school I was the weird girl that wore combat boots and ‘50s/’60s flowered granny dresses from the thrift store." The M.U.T.E.S. is an extension of her own aesthetic.

Part of M.U.T.E.S.’ uniqueness comes apart from their mimicry of early 20th century cinema. Sometimes they ply their artistry as a roving band of actors for outdoor events such as Pridefest and car club meetings. "When we're in a theatre we don't have to worry about getting pooped on by seagulls," Wilson remarks on the differences between outdoor and indoor acting.

For their younger viewers, The M.U.T.E.S provide an educational function, too. "I love exposing kids to something unique that gets its inspiration from the past. I love telling them that television and movies used to be all black & white & hearing them say 'cool.'"

Prospects look cool for the speechless scoundrels, too. Wilson's vision and ambition for her ensemble extends far beyond the the stage. Besides writing their semi-improvised schtick and researching more about the era to which it's beholden, plans include "live musicians, maybe get a stage manager, keep strengthening as a group, appear in a commercial, appear in a film, collaborate with other groups Wisconsin Hybrid Theatre, world domination..."

With the kind of work ethic The M.U.T.E.S. has already exhibited, that last goal may not be as much of a jest as Wilson might have meant.

The M.U.T.E.S. celebrate their first anniversary with a series of shows April 23-25 at Alchemist Theatre, 2566 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.  


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