ZIMA! Is Back — But This Time at LongHouse Reserve - 27 East

Arts & Living

Arts & Living / 2219551

ZIMA! Is Back — But This Time at LongHouse Reserve

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One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

One of the mythical ZIMA! characters visitors will encounter along the paths of LongHouse Reserve. KATE MUETH

A ZIMA! character occupies the Buckminster Fuller

A ZIMA! character occupies the Buckminster Fuller "Fly's Eye Dome" at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character greats visitors at the Buckminster Fuller

A ZIMA! character greats visitors at the Buckminster Fuller "Fly's Eye Dome" at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character has a story to share at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character has a story to share at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character has a story to share among the lights and paths at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character has a story to share among the lights and paths at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character has a story to share at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A ZIMA! character has a story to share at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A trio of ZIMA! characters have a story to share at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

A trio of ZIMA! characters have a story to share at LongHouse Reserve. MARIANNE BARNETT

Leah Chiappino on Dec 5, 2023

The East End’s beloved cold-weather tradition — ZIMA! — a winter experience, is now occupying the pathways of LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton. The annual event, produced by the theater and dance troupe The Neo-Political Cowgirls, is a unique combination of arts and theater meets scavenger hunt.

The journey of ZIMA! (which is the Polish word for “winter”) consists of mysterious vignettes, each featuring a different performance by a collection of somewhat mythical characters. The audience’s goal is to discover a hidden message by piecing together a series of clues gathered after completing the walkthrough. The garden pathways at LongHouse will be lined with lights and glowing sculptures to guide visitors on their magical journey.

Kate Mueth, the founder and artistic director of the Neo-Political Cowgirls, said the outdoor theatrical scavenger hunt began as a way to “embrace and celebrate winter and the beautiful landscape where we live.” The theater, poetic images and thought-provoking vignettes make the audience stop, think and appreciate all winter has to offer, she said.

“[The audience] just kind of gets that energy of winter, and how we’re looking at the world around us,” she said.

As a native of Illinois, an appreciation of the cold is in Mueth’s blood, a love she hopes others get from the experience. When she moved to New York, the constant complaining she heard about the cold and snow grew old and tiring, leading her to want to turn winter into a positive for people.

“I’m a Snow Queen,” she admitted. “I love snow. I love winter. Growing up, it never stopped us like it does here. The weather that we close school for around here is so silly to me ... I just think there’s so much beauty to be found in winter, and it just requires people to bundle up and have some hot drinks ready, and that to me sounds like a wonderful party.”

Some 15 years after Mueth first started the event, ZIMA! has become a winter mainstay for the East End community.

“We’ve been doing it for quite a while, and you know it’s stuck,” she said. “It’s just been a fun thing that we have some people that come year after year after year to take part in it. It’s become a beloved classic.”

Typically, people wander all over Sag Harbor or Montauk and try to find the different ZIMA! set vignettes. This year what’s different is the venue at the 16-acre LongHouse Reserve. The event is also taking place at night and under the twinkling lights, another first. Mueth notes that the audience ranges from kids to seniors and is frequently an intergenerational family affair.

“We actually had a group of people that would come; they get all of their collective friends together,” Mueth said. “There’d be like five couples — they arrive in their big clump of people and do it all together as an annual event. And that always meant a lot to us because arts really should be bringing people together.”

The riddle of ZIMA! is usually a challenge, but with the dark, it’s slightly easier. The experience will take about 20 to 30 minutes. “People aren’t going to have to go digging too deeply to find [the vignettes],” said Mueth.

Each vignette the audience encounters on their journey is different. Some of them have some spoken words or poetry. Others involve music or simply movements. They are typically tied together with a cultural myth, tied to gods of winter.

“These different cultures that have these stories and mythological tales, rooted in winter gods, goddesses, mythical creatures, storylines, are all fascinating because they’re all interwoven into dissension into darkness,” said Mueth. “Really that’s where poetry is born. It’s that introspection, it is that alone time, it is that self-discovery time that we’re actually able to emerge in and wake up and get into the light in the spring.”

This year’s show centers around a series of images growing more out of the artwork in which each vignette is established. It starts off at the Buckminster Fuller piece “Fly’s Eye Dome” with Old Man Winter; another vignette shows up in “the bowl,” a landscaped area which serves as LongHouse Reserve’s amphitheater. The vignettes also open the doors to less storytelling and more wonder and thought.

“You just go all the way through and you find these particular creatures or happenings going on in particular spaces,” Mueth explained. “In creating it, it was just inspired by the actual artwork that is in the vicinity of where we’re putting them.”

The performers were personally selected by Mueth based on their capability, talents and availability. Casting for the piece was a challenge due to the limited number of available actors, said Mueth, with many leaving the industry due to financial struggles. Mueth pays her actors, she said, and in turn, the role is a true challenge that requires courage to step into. For six nights, three hours each night, they are standing outside, performing the same choreography over and over.

“Actors who take part in this year after year after year are really the most badass people,” she said. “A lot of people these days won’t step up into a challenge if it’s going to hurt a little bit or if it’s going to require some effort and work and determination.”

ZIMA! is being held at LongHouse Reserve this year thanks to a collaborative and positive relationship that developed between Mueth and the Neo-Political Cowgirls and LongHouse’s director Carrie Rebora Barratt and Jason Amis, its head of operations and facilities, over “The Dreamer” — a summer project performed outdoors at LongHouse. That performance featured the troupe’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

“They are so welcoming and excited by their property, being used in these artistic ways,” said Mueth. “And we just really hit it off. We have a great energy together, great vision together, and we’re just really thrilled and grateful to be able to be invited back to play some more.”

ZIMA! at LongHouse Illuminated takes place on Friday and Saturday, December 15 and 16, with walk throughs at 4, 5 and 6 p.m. The event ends with festive warm drinks, a winter market and community gathering. Tickets are $45 ($35 members, $15 students, free for ages 12 and under) at longhouse.org. Proceeds benefit future programming such as this. LongHouse Reserve is at 133 Hands Creek Road in East Hampton.

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