February 26 -- Nate Best portrayed a ram during “ZIMA!” an immersive theater production by the Neo-Political Cowgirls.
Kate Mueth’s performers are committed to their art, to their characters and to their courageous leader. And when she asks them to dance and portray mythological creatures for two hours in the bitter cold, they do it without complaint—for the most part.They don ram horns and fairy wings, bird feathers and abstract costumes, transforming themselves into the winter spirits of Greek, Irish and Slavic lore—depending on the year—all for what Ms. Mueth and her company, the Neo-Political Cowgirls, call “ZIMA!” a fantasy world brought to life through their signature immersive style of theater that breaks down the fourth wall.
“Isn’t that fun, to be able to escape into this other form of imagination and present it to people?” Ms. Mueth said. “And I’m so lucky I’ve got so many different performers willing to play. How many people are willing to go out in the middle of winter and perform and freeze in the cold?”
This weekend, it’s 13 women and one token man, Josh Gladstone. “He happens to be my husband,” Ms. Mueth said. “I’m roping him in because he’s so good at playing these massive, hairy gods. He’s got that big, booming voice. It’s wonderful.”
Now entering its fifth year, the adventure will begin on Saturday afternoon at the Montauk gazebo on the green, where audiences will be introduced to a Slavic riddle that they must try to solve by traveling both downtown and braving the beaches, meeting gods, goddesses, fairies, nymphs and spirits, with clues along the way. The journey will end at the Montauk Playhouse Community Center, where they will learn if they’ve successfully unlocked the answer.
Until then, Ms. Mueth’s lips are tightly sealed.
“It always features winter spirits—spirits that are representing the underground, quite often death. That’s what winter is, in terms of gods and goddesses,” she said. “The riddle is always, essentially, the hunt for spring.”
Actor Chloë Dirksen as Morana, goddess of winter, is at the center of it all. She first met Ms. Mueth in 2012, when they both performed in “The Crucible” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, but this will be her first “ZIMA!” experience.
She can only imagine what her director has in store. During a sneak peak of “Voyeur” at the John Drew Theater in East Hampton last spring, Ms. Mueth had her wear a formal, floor-length black dress while eating “a ton of flourless cake” with her hands—and she doesn’t even like cake.
“Kate is fearless, imaginative and unbound,” Ms. Dirksen said. “Her ideas transcend conventional narrative, so working with her as a performer is freeing, and you work in a place of pure, immediate energy and emotion. The stories she tells tend to exist in a timeless realm, which is tremendously exciting.”
The narrative is less laid-out and direct than it is show-and-tell, Ms. Mueth said. It will kick off with Alkonost, a mythical being that is half-woman, half-bird, and portrayed by Kasia Klimiuk. She will interact with a nest of eggs, each telling her a different prophecy, she explained, leading the riddle-hunters off in the right direction.
And this year, she said, she will be wearing proper footwear.
“My first year, it was actually very cold. There was snow everywhere,” she said. “I wore crappy shoes, so my feet got very, very cold until the sun came out. I’ve learned my lesson. But there were kids walking about, and it was nice to interact with them.”
Last year, “ZIMA!” drew about 100 participants over the course of two hours, according to Ms. Mueth, who won’t be dancing during this production. After all, someone needs to steer the ship, she said, and make sure her performers aren’t catching frostbite.
“I think so many times we really shut down in winter, and we have to,” she said. “But there’s so much magic in winter, and I think if we keep trying to be brave and go into it, and find the magic and mythology and meaning of winter in our own lives—in terms of metaphor—I think there are a lot of riches there to explore. Let’s pretend we’re Canadians and really get out there.”
The Neo-Political Cowgirls will perform “ZIMA!” on Saturday, February 28, from 1 to 3 p.m. in downtown Montauk. Start times are every 20 minutes, beginning at the gazebo on the green in the center of Montauk. A reception will follow at the Montauk Playhouse Community Center. Appropriate for all ages. Tickets are a suggested $5 donation. For tickets and more information, visit montaukplayhouse.org.
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