CitySpeaks: PigPen Theatre Co. Brings Storytelling Back To Its Roots

November 20th, 2017 / Posted in 2017-2018 Season, CitySpeaks, Home Page Latest News, TOMaTom, Uncategorized

The Old Man and The Old Moon appeals to human nature’s need to connect with others and tell stories.

By Jillian Bradshaw
Artistic Intern

PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man And The Old Moon at The Gym at Judson on Broadway.

When you hear the word “storyteller,” what comes to mind? A stand-up comedian? A wise old man who recounts stories of his past? Or a poet, perhaps? How about an ensemble theatre company that’s taken DIY (do-it-yourself) theatre across the country? PigPen Theatre Co. originated in 2007 when the creators met as freshmen at Carnegie Mellon University. Since graduation, the company has produced their original plays in New York City and toured them across the country, produced an album and EP, as well as made their feature film debut in Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep. As part of their creative methodology, PigPen is known to use found objects to create props. A sheet becomes ocean waves; a mop head and empty cleaning container becomes a shaggy dog; and a piece of cardboard lit with a flashlight creates a rickety old ship. In addition, the creative team behind The Old Man and The Old Moon provides indie-folk music and Foley SFX (stage reproductions of everyday sounds) to enhance the play’s sense of time, space, and movement. With the use of found objects, light, and music, PigPen Theatre Co. is able to bring this intimate story to life with some theatre magic.

“Our stories come from our lives and from the playwright’s pen, the mind of the actor, the roles we create, the artistry of life itself and the quest for peace.” ~ Maya Angelou

Whether teaching lessons and morals, providing inspiration, or preserving history, storytelling is innately human. In order to tell stories based in fact or fiction, you must have use of your imagination. That’s why children make the perfect storytellers. Although you may not fancy yourself a storyteller now, there is no doubt that as a child, you once dipped into your imagination to tell a story; if only for entertainment’s sake. When watching The Old Man and The Old Moon, you may be struck by the imaginative world and childlike essence of the production. PigPen has mastered the art of creating a world so fantastic, yet grounded in the tradition of storytelling.

PigPen Theatre Co. in The Old Man and The Old Moon.

The transition from oral storytelling to theatrically-staged performances has created a framework that deeply influenced the theatrical experience of PigPen’s production. Beginning as an oral tradition passed from generation to generation, folklore and stories developed into a theatrical form around the world. The roots of oral storytelling are evident in Japan’s Rakugo, a theatrical performance in which a single performer gives a complicated, yet comical performance by themselves while seated in front of an audience. The Old Man and The Old Moon shares similarities with the Japanese puppet theatre, Bunraku. In Bunraku, puppets act as the visual medium for audiences, while music and songs are provided by separate performers. Like this traditional form of theatrical storytelling, the characters in The Old Man and The Old Moon transition from being portrayed as puppets to the actors performing as the characters without a mask.

“There is no force on earth, be it electric, hydraulic, or whatever you call the other one for wind, that comes even near close to matching the power of memory.” ~ PigPen Theatre Co.’s The Old Man and The Old Moon

After observing a tech rehearsal for The Old Man and The Old Moon, I can say without a doubt that the story is transformed by the Foley SFX, folk music, props, and lighting. These tools help the story stay grounded in the concept of memory. Although not a memory play in the traditional sense, The Old Man and The Old Moon, uses memory to transport characters from one scene to another. In The Old Man and The Old Moon, The Old Man is on a quest to find his wife who is traveling to the end of the world searching for the source of a tune she hears calling for her. The tune she hears comes from a memory that both the Old Man and the Old Woman share but neither can remember. Their love for each other is tested and grows stronger through the journey they undertake, presenting a message of love and forgiveness, aligning this piece with stories that have been told since the beginning of time.

The guys of PigPen Theatre Co. from left to right: Curtis Gillen, Dan Weschler, Arya Shahi, Ryan Melia, Alex Falberg, Matt Nuernberger, and Ben Ferguson.

If you would like to see PigPen Theatre Co. give an in-depth interview on their approach to storytelling, check out their TEDxTalk presented at Columbia University in 2013:

The Old Man and The Old Moon runs at City Theatre from Nov. 11 – Dec. 3, 2017. Tickets for PigPen Theatre Co.’s, The Old Man and The Old Moon can be purchased here, or by calling the City Theatre box office at 412-431-2489.