The Moving Company’s new show Out of the Pan Into the Fire is now playing at the Southern Theater. Director Dominique Serrand talked with me about the process of creating the show in collaboration with students at the University of Iowa.
Tell me about the process of creating this production.
The process is pretty much to arrive at the university with a frame, if you will, of the play with some text, not all of it, but some of it. The characters, basically an idea of the story in the space, and then start with the students.
Did you have more characters in the play in Iowa?
We did have more characters, but we had more students, so we had each of them play. We had two actors per character and they would exchange during the show, which was kind of fun. Then, we ask them to improvise.
What we do is that we basically work, if you will, in sections in scenes, thematically, and then we organize which way they go, and that changes constantly. For instance, we should have kept the Stumpfmutter and the Young Prince—both of those were originally in, but we had six more. An insect, a bird as puppet. Then when we looked at the production and we said they were unnecessary. We got rid of them for the production here.
It was basically announcing to the children…it was setting up [the characters’] fate, and we thought it was redundant and we could do that with just the two kids and the Stumpfmutter and we didn’t need to do it with an extra character.
You start with a ton of material—way too much—and then you try it and then it isn’t the way the story wanted to go. What makes is so personal to the group we were working with. We knew we had eight actors in Iowa so we did a show for them, knowing we would do it only for four here.
How would you describe the difference between producing there at a university and here? How does the show change the moment you re-own it here?
It’s interesting—that’s part of the experience, is to teach and to expose or to show the designer a little bit the way we function, the way we work and how we build images. And then they go, they take it from there and they build their own project and we critique it and eventually we and they build it, knowing full well it will never be the same when we do the full production. But we try to get some things to work well for what we have in mind.
For instance, in the Iowa production I wanted to have the outside be more visible, be more present, so there was a garage door that opened and there was video behind, a projected video of the outside which was a back alley. It was really lovely. It was really beautiful. Which I filmed. But when we came here we decided we thought it was costly and unnecessary, that we didn’t need to see the outside. So those things you know you do it you knowing that eventually you do the full production you won’t have it.
It is not different; say, when you refer to the great director Peter Brooke, and his experimental research center in Paris. One of the things they used to do was, they would rehearse for weeks and months. The first thing they would do, they do an entire set, like bring everything, they needed a tree, they brought in a tree, they needed water, whatever they needed, they brought it in and they did the full thing and as they worked on the piece, set and then eventually they get rid of everything that wasn’t’ necessary and it ends up being very spare and very stunning.
I feel like there is a little pocket of physical theater here in the Twin Cities. What do you know about these other companies?
When we first arrived here with Jeune Lune—which was, you know, over 30 years ago—there were basically three companies who were doing some kind of physical theater work. They were all very different kinds of work. Heart of the Beast was doing beautiful work with puppetry, which are wonderful. And then you had the Palace Theater, extremely physical, but it was new something that people were not used to. I think that Jeune Lune indirectly created a lot of companies.
Image: Nathan Keepers, Steve Epp, and Christina Baldwin in Out of the Pan Into the Fire; photo courtesy the Moving Company. Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.