It is a sunny winter afternoon. Snow is lightly falling, coating a wooded trail with a thin layer of white.
Suddenly, a herd of baby goats skips across the path, their shepherds not far behind. They pause when they see a few fairies flit through the forest, followed by a flurry of fantastical creatures, all bursting with color.
It is a magical world. It is a fantasy vision that Kate Mueth, founder of the dance theater company Neo-Political Cowgirls, dreamed of when she was a girl while exploring the woods of her small Illinois town.
Today, she calls it “Zima”—the Polish word for “winter.” And on Saturday, March 2, inside the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, the Neo-Political Cowgirls will bring Ms. Mueth’s fantasy world to life with their signature immersive style of theater that breaks down the fourth wall.
Simultaneously free yet plugged into the performance, the audience will be part of the art.
“It’s odd because this kind of work has been going on in Europe for a while now. Americans are getting their first stab at it,” Ms. Mueth said during a telephone interview last week. “There’s a lot of interesting, weird stuff happening to audiences. For me, the way to make sure it’s not just another gimmick is it’s got to be story-driven, just like any play. I want to feel wrecked when I leave a place—wrecked with joy or wrecked with sadness. I want it to give me a feeling. If there’s no storyline or the characters aren’t digging in or inviting the audience in to tell them something, it’s like going to the wax museum.”
The adventure will begin with a weary troubadour, danced by Sarah Azzara, searching for her lost love. She will pass out a riddle while singing a song, explaining that each creature on the path—whether a nymph or moon goddess—will act out one clue through their words or movements to help solve the puzzle by the trail’s end.
“It’s a really neat experience and visually stunning,” Ms. Azzara said during a telephone interview last week. “It transports you to a different place in some odd parallel time.”
The riddle—which Ms. Mueth says she didn’t make easy—does come with a cheat sheet, and while she was mum on Zima’s specifics, she encourages participants to brush up on their Greek mythology before attending.
“It won’t be impossible at all if they’re in the dark,” she said. “The real theatrical part of it, for me, is what we learn from myth and how it’s so prevalent and pertinent to our lives—how we see ourselves in our own lives and the elements of challenge we go through. And the idea is to take theater outside of a building and explore in the world around us. That love, from being small and being inspired by nature, has carried to me now in my ripe old age.”
Now in its second year, Zima will not be adding to the nature that is already there at the wildlife refuge, Ms. Mueth said. The Neo-Political Cowgirls will simply be enhancing it.
“I’m hoping it just makes audiences and people watching it slow down a bit, imagine a little bit more, pay attention a little bit more,” she said. “As we get older, people are complaining about the cold, the winter. So how can we address this issue a little bit? Get people out in nature, out in the winter. Get them to experience it a little differently.”
Mythological creatures will do the trick, according to dancer Margi Pulkingham, who will portray Selene the Moon Goddess.
“They bring out an element of fantasy,” Ms. Pulkingham said during a telephone interview last week. “It’s fun to be in nature because it’s so magical on its own, you know? But when you have these characters out there in the woods, it makes you feel like you’re in a different world, like you’re in a fairy world or someplace totally different than your natural surroundings for a while. It just makes it magical, kind of like being a leprechaun.”
Ms. Azzara, who is new to Zima this year, said she envies the audience’s experience. Stationed at the front of the trail, she’ll be missing all the action inside—including her boyfriend Matthew Miranda’s performance as one of the shepherds.
“They’re very funny, from what I understand,” she said. “I can never watch them because I’ll be in a different spot.”
She laughed, and said, “But I’ve got to tell you, I really like being able to say, ‘My boyfriend is a Cowgirl.’”
Kate Mueth and the Neo-Political Cowgirls will perform “Zima” on Saturday, March 2, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge. Light refreshments and live music by Joy and the Weatherman will follow. Rain date is Sunday, March 3, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 and $5 for children. Proceeds benefit the refuge. For more information, call 653-4771 or visit quoguewildliferefuge.org.
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