While we’re constructing a lighthouse and learning octopus dances, we thought we’d drop you line telling you a little something about The Missoula Oblongata, the group who wrote our next show, The Wonders of the World: Recite. We think they are awesome and you’d probably dig them, too!
The Missoula Oblongata are two friends who met in school in Missoula, MO, Donna Sellinger and Madeleine ffitch. (That’s the real spelling of her name, by the way.) They are a traveling company, so they design and build their shows with an eye to portability. Donna and Madeleine aren’t actors; they just wanted to make crazy shit happen onstage, like killing an entire audience with a meteor. Performing is just a necessity; the real passion lies in the designing of the show, and the building of it, and seeing impossible things made real. They’re really fucking good at that. They’re akin to a band in the way they travel–all together in a van, all their shit piled up in the back, maybe sometimes not smelling their best–but once the suitcases are opened, it’s like Mary Poppins’ magic bag. Something more magical than your typical rock show emerges. And, thanks to that portability, a lot of people have seen this magic for themselves! They’ve performed their shows all over the country and Canada, and in the strangest venues, like a post office and a permaculture farm.
That’s the greatest thing about The Missoula Oblongata: they take theater to a new place. And not just venues! No, their theater methodology is nothing less than a life support system for a dying art. There’s a lot happening in the entertainment industry that is more interesting to people than what’s going on in the playhouses. What sets theater apart, what keeps it relevant? Theater needs to offer its audiences something they can’t get from their DVRs, something electrifying! TMO knows this and they do it so well. For example, for one of their shows, they sold tickets as pre-sales only, then instructed the buyers to arrive at a certain train station at a certain time, “dressed appropriately for the theatre.” The audience was collected and taken to a secret location where the play was ultimately peformed. And once they did a play in a car for only two audience members at a time–fortunately for the people waiting to see it, the play was only a few minutes long. (You can see something like this at the Inman Park Festival, with the incomparable Out of Hand Theater‘s The Break-Up.) The Missoula Oblongata’s lighting is controlled by the actors onstage, and the stage magic they create is nothing short of spectacular. And they do it all with next to nothing. They built a lighthouse out of Venetian blinds! A suitcase can become a chair or an impromptu puppet stage! What looks like a wall is revealed to be a sheet-turned-screen for a shadow play! Everything in their shows is useful, convertible, and collapsible. You’ve really never seen anything like it.
And the shows are really good, too, which is almost surprising once you hear about their writing process. Madeleine and Donna don’t even live in the same state. Nor does their third member, Sarah Lowry. So when they are writing a new show, they start with a list of the aforementioned crazy shit they’d like to make happen. Then they each write a script, exchange scripts with one another, rework the scripts, re-exchange, and so on and so forth until they have one show encompassing as much as possible from each individual script. It sounds insane, like it would never work, but somehow it does, and a weird, charming, dark and twisted show comes out of the process. It’s as if Punch and Judy and Buster Keaton had a demented love child who, despite being loved and well-educated, is haunted with dark visions of the world that are simultaneously scary and hilarious. That’s what sets TMO apart–they show you how ridiculous our fears are, without dismissing the fear altogether. We know the world’s a scary place, but we still have to live here, may as well enjoy it!
Wonders of the World is a great example of this. It’s the story of a boy, Eugene, and his grandmother, Cora, who live in isolation in a lighthouse. Cora is constantly telling Eugene about “the wonders of the world!” which “include, but are not limited to, poisoning, and war, and uncanny murders, and lunacy.” It is Eugene’s tenth birthday, and he wants to share it with the only two people he knows: his grandmother and the mailman, Wolfram Frybrid. But Cora and Wolfram have some history, not that Eugene is going to let that stop him. It’s his birthday, and something is going to change. And boy, does it. Wonders truly is a wonder, a collection of hilariously absurd and heartbreakingly real moments in three people’s lives. It doesn’t matter that Cora is claiming that she’s had affairs with everyone from Napoleon to Ulysses S. Grant, or that Eugene is really precocious for a ten-year-old, or that the mailman has the only portal to the rest of the world in the form of a radio with bad reception; they seem at once entirely possible and entirely fantastical, and they exist easily in both dimensions.
This isn’t the only reason the show excites us. You see, you don’t just get a show when you come to Wonders, you get the entire night sky and a piece of cake to top it all off. It’s a full-bodied experience, a 4-D movie, if you will: it tantalizes all your senses.
Plus, it’s how we met them in the first place. James Yates, co-director of the show, and Laura Krueger, who is playing Cora, both got to experience this show as told by The Missoula Oblongata at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in 2006. They and former members Kristi Deville and Angelyn Pass were there performing Resisting the Birthmark and, upon seeing Wonders of the World: Recite!, became friends with Madeleine and Donna. Since then, we’ve hosted them here in Atlanta, once in a stone house and once at Eyedrum, with two different shows that were as phenomenal as this one is. We’re not breaking our tradition this year–The Missoula Oblongata will be back with their new show, as a double feature with our production of Wonders! The show is untitled but “has something to do with robots, Antarctica, and a walrus.” We can’t wait.