Bruce Wylie is the antithesis of most actors. On stage, he's generally tongue-tied. Away from the spotlight, however, he's downright eloquent.
Wylie is co-artistic director and co-founder of the Seattle Mime Theatre, a three-member troupe whose original shows integrate music, masks and an "earthier . . . more natural" performance style called New American Mime. The company, which includes Wylie, co-artistic director Rick Davidson and company member Jean Hamilton, presents its version of Carlo Collodi's "Pinocchio" and three short vignettes on Saturday afternoon at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.
Speaking by phone from his Seattle office, Wylie explained the fundamental differences between New American Mime and the silent, somewhat exaggerated performance style made popular by legendary French mime Marcel Marceau.
"Our movements on stage are much more natural-looking, more earthy," Wylie said. "Vulgarity sometimes creeps into our work because that's more reflective of life as it is."
(Earthiness aside, parents attending Saturday's performance can rest easy. Wylie recommends "Pinocchio" for children ages 5 and up.)
Tony Montanaro, who adapted Collodi's tale for SMT, was one of the chief influences in the development of this more relaxed performance style, said Wylie, who, with Davidson, attended Montanaro's mime training program in the early 1970s.
"Tony gave people a whole new vision of the possibilities of mime," Wylie said. "Prior to that, all of us were (patterned) after the French models like Marceau--the aesthetic of silence, the white face, the sort of ethereal movement. That's appealing in its own way, but Tony pointed out ways that we could use mime to evolve as artists," which included working as an ensemble and incorporating dialogue when necessary.
Nonetheless, storytelling through movement, rather than through staging or dialogue, is still the goal of most SMT productions. The "Pinocchio" set, for example, consists mainly of a fabric backdrop, a couple of screens and a bench. Costumes and props are understated, and masks--many made by company members--are substituted for elaborate makeup. The three-member cast portrays nearly a dozen characters. This "less-is-more" formula works especially well for family audiences, Wylie said.
"One of the great delights in this is that people are seeing a whole world of characters just through the abilities of mime and their own imagination, with very little used in the way of props.
"This is not a Spielberg thing where we spend $20 million and nothing is required of the audience but to take it in," he continued. "A large part of what happens up there has to do with the audience's creative perceptions. They're participating. That's why this kind of theater is so powerful."
Founded in 1977, the Seattle Mime Theatre tours about three months out of the year, and has performed across the United States, and in Britain, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. In addition to their children's shows (which also include adaptations of "Cinderella" and what Wiley calls a "very liberated version of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' "), the troupe presents mime showcases for adult audiences, as well as mime workshops and seminars on college campuses. SMT also produces original works each year at their theater in Seattle.
Saturday's performance is presented by the Lively Arts at UC Irvine, a public performing arts and lecture series. Program manager Berry Tesman says upcoming family-oriented shows include "Ireland's Finest," an evening of traditional Irish music and dance at the UCI Student Center on Feb. 1; an April 20 performance at the Bren Events Center titled "Amigo: La Fiesta en America," featuring 22 high school and college-age musicians, singers and dancers performing traditional and contemporary Mexican music, and an April 25 show at the Irvine Barclay by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.
* The Seattle Mime Theatre production of "Pinocchio" along with three short mime pieces will be presented Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. Tickets: $10 to $12. Information: (714) 854-4646.