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Me, You, Art and Trout

Mark Anderson’s new monologue opens Theatre Gigante’s 25th season

Sep. 24, 2012
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Theatre Gigante’s 25th anniversary belongs especially to Isabelle Kralj, the pioneering founder in 1987 of Milwaukee Dance Theatre (MDT), Gigante’s birth name. Kralj directed her very personal, movement-oriented theater single-handedly for more than a dozen years. In 1996, Milwaukee playwright-performer Mark Anderson, his national career firmly established, began to work with Kralj on a semi-regular basis. In 1999, after completing graduate studies in Michigan, he accepted the position of MDT’s co-artistic director. A year later, he and Kralj married.

They knew their art was something different than the name Milwaukee Dance Theatre implied. The new dual leadership provided an opportunity to re-brand the company with a name change, but given the hybrid character of the work, they weren’t sure what to call it. In 2008, they found words that felt true. The name Theatre Gigante, both humorous and heartfelt, speaks to the aspiration of artists with minimal funds to address big subjects across a spectrum of disciplines.

From the start, Kralj’s work combined modern dance with spoken dialogue and musical performance. She told stories, however nonlinear. Anderson brings a witty existentialism to her driven romanticism. The storytelling in his plays and monologues is, like hers, accessible yet offbeat. Neither talks down to the audience. They co-author and co-direct most shows now, doing what they feel is right. It’s tempting to generalize that Kralj likes to connect the personal to the mythic, to the place where words fail, while Anderson uses semi-autobiographical material as a springboard to humorous language flights. In any case, their combined style is distinct and original.

“Over the years, your backbone solidifies—not calcifies; solidifies—and you see more clearly exactly what your art is,” Kralj says, and Anderson adds, “It’s been a process of getting more comfortable doing whatever we felt like doing.”

Theatre Gigante will open its 25th season with a new one-man show by Anderson, his first in 15 years. The straightforward working title To Resume… has been replaced by Me, You, Art and Trout, a precise description of the subjects, the last referring to Richard Brautigan’s wonderful novella Trout Fishing in America, a revelation to every thinking hippie when it appeared in 1967.

“I remember the sense of liberation it gave me as a writer,” Anderson says. “Brautigan wasn’t a happy, bouncy hippie type; he was kind of mangled, a man who’d seen much darkness.” The monologue is Anderson’s consideration of his art, past and present. He’ll speak for himself as sole author, but he praises Kralj’s work as director. “I don’t see the bigger picture, necessarily,” he explains, “so her insights and observations are really helpful.”

“Where Mark is at in his life is also where the company is at,” Kralj says.

In October, Gigante will take its 2010 production, Three Other Sisters, on a five-city tour of Slovenia. Kralj has built strong ties with artists in the capital, Ljubljana. Slovenia’s second city, Maribor, was chosen by the European Union as this year’s European Capital of Culture, and the tour, with sponsorship from the Slovenian and American governments, is part of that celebration. The play features a live performance by its musical composer, singer/songwriter Vlado Kreslin, a European star often compared to Bob Dylan.

One testament to the importance of Gigante’s work in Milwaukee is the excellence of its collaborators. Three Other Sisters features choreographer-performers Simone Ferro and Janet Lilly, designers Rick Graham and Nathan Booth, and composer-musician Seth Warren-Crow. Playwright-actor John Kishline and actors Jim Butchart and Deborah Clifton are frequent guests. The mark of the late, great Ed Burgess, the company’s closest artist associate, is likely indelible.

In February, Gigante will stage the comedy Prah (Dust) by contemporary Hungarian playwright Gyorgy Spiro. A new signature work, a reimagining by Kralj and Anderson of Sophocles’ Electra, the tale of slain Agamemnon’s grieving daughter bent on revenge, will open in May. “We see in it a story of becoming oneself,” Kralj says. In June, the company will present internationally celebrated accordionist Guy Klucevsek in the second-floor bar of Paddy’s Pub, the city’s new great spot for intimate theater.

Me, You, Art and Trout runs 8 p.m. Sept. 27-29 at Kenilworth Square East, Studio 508, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place, with a post-show reception on Sept. 27 and a talk-back on Sept. 28. For more information, call 414-961-6119.

John Schneider performed with Milwaukee Dance Theatre in 1997. He originated roles in plays by Mark Anderson as a member of Theatre X. Isabelle Kralj choreographed productions of his plays at Theatre X and Marquette University, where he teaches theater and dance.


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