By Nancy Tannler

Portland residents interested in theatre arts are familiar with the names and work of Jerry Mouawad, Carol Triffle and Imago Theatre. These two artists have propelled this hometown company into a world class performance troupe because of their creative drive, imagination, passion for performance and the abundance of talent they have attracted along the way.

In an interview with The Southeast Examiner, there was an opportunity to stretch out and hear a recap of their history. The whole tale would take a lot more than this interview has the space to tell. What it does reveal is all the astounding entertainment they have made for Portland, national and international audiences over the past forty years.

Jerry started acting in the seventh grade. In high school decided to take it further, enrolling in the Hayes-Marshall School of Theatre Arts. He studied techniques of  modern theatre influenced by the renowned director Jacques Lecoq and French theater master Jacques Copeau.

Copeau lived from 1879 to 1949. A French director, producer, actor, and dramatist, his famous Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in Paris revolutionized the stage and made way for the modern theater of today.

Lecoq (1921 to 1999) was a French actor, mime and acting instructor. His methods focused on physical theatre, movement, and mime. Lecoq’s idea was the examination of existence of humanity through movement; a higher study of mime.

“I remember one of my first  classes, we watched a piece of paper floating to the ground. Our task was to reenact the piece of paper floating to the ground,” Jerry said. The theater prompted actors to experience the elements and animals as well as sensations of people.

Carol was a student of ballet, performing with the dance troupe, The Company We Keep. She also studied extensively with Lecoq completing his exclusive teaching program. Going from dance to theatre was a seamless transition for her for, she said, “I got tired of not speaking.”

She met Jerry while taking a dance class from Danny Diamond at the Hayes-Marshall School.  They collaborated on a creature for a Tears of Joy production and that creature stole the show. (Tears of Joy, a puppet troupe founded in 1971 by Janet and Reg Bradley, still performs in the Metro area and the western states.)

Their collaboration continued and eventually lead to the creation of what is now Imago Theatre starting around 1979/80. By 1986, they were touring internationally.

The frog mask was one of their earliest creatures. “I performed the frog mask as a solo show first appearing at Saturday Market along with a collection of other masks,” Jerry said.

“At the time Carol and I also began creating a dance theatre piece that was showcased at PSU’s dance department in the late 70’s; early 80’s.”

The creation of masks and costumes and developing movement to bring the essence of their creatures to life was how FROGZ came into being. This was Imago’s signature production: sophisticated entertainment that delighted both children and adults. “We rehearsed everyday and the creatures just started to grow,” Carol said.

The production evolved over the years with the addition of new actors, designers and original music. Their road trips expanded eastward eventually earning them status as an international success.

Imago’s work has been seen on television, on tour in Europe, Asia, and throughout North America, including twice on Broadway at the acclaimed New Victory Theatre and an extended run at the Tony Award-winning American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts as well.

Since their auspicious beginning they have directed, starred in, choreographed and written shows, created sets, made masks, run the business and kept the show on the road. They have fifty-three plays to their credit as well as other outside collaborations.

Their well-known  plays are Zoo-Zoo 2009, Big Little Things, 2003 and other favorite Imago shows include Ginger’s Green, Dead End Ed, House Taken Over, Oh Lost Weekend, The Dinner. Apis, or the Taste of Honey; Stage Left Lost, The Reunion; The Black Lizard; The Caretaker, and more. Read about them at imagotheatre.com/productions.html

This month, Imago opens a world premiere presentation of Mr. Mouawad’s new work, To Fly Again wherein a zany group of clown musicians and a clan of clay tossed dancers roam a barren land. Psychedelic and existential humor pervades as the clowns are constantly interrupted by the dusty dancers who live in a world beyond speech.

Ms Triffle, one of Portland’s absurdist playwrights, has penned a dark comedy called Fallout where three characters are trapped in a fallout shelter and their identities slide and all perspective of life is confused. Fallout opens this June.

Imago Theatre brings cutting edge theatre to Portland thanks to Carol and Jerry with their  actors, designers and staff. The community has the opportunity to experience one of a kind productions that combine absurdity with the universal themes of humanity both humourous and poignant and told in a most unique way.

To find out more about performance times and Imago Theatre go to imagotheatre.com.  Tickets can be purchased at the door 17 SE 8th St. or by calling Imago at 503.231.9581. Tickets online at ticketswest.com or 503.224.8499.