Capital Fringe 2014 Preview: ‘Balloon Plays’ by Babel Theatre

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Sometimes a Fringe show is like a recipe: it’s all about starting with the right ingredients.

In the case of Balloon Plays, we started with a whole mess of balloons, added three clowns, and finished with a dash of music, always keeping mind that we were creating something that should delight both the young and the young-at-heart.

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The idea for the show goes back ten whole years, to an experimental theatre company that creator Brett Abelman was part of at the University of Maryland. A 24-hour play festival with some balloons available backstage led to a short play about a woman waking up in a world of balloons and making friends with one of them. Something in the process of a character finding herself amidst balloons suggested a bigger show.

Instead of expanding on that idea, we scaled it down and simplified it. We sought out three great clown performers who have creative chemistry together, so that they could play in the balloon world and turn them into scenes and stories: a balloon song, a balloon bed, a balloon puppet.

Finding the three clowns was the trickiest and most important part of making this show. For one thing, everyone in this town is super busy during June and July. And clowns come in different flavors, too – some have snarky energy, some are goofy, some are sweet. It was important to find a match of temperament. Abelman and Director Elena Day (a skilled clown in her own right) eventually found three women who instantly clicked together: Nora Achrati, Rachel Hynes, and Kolleen Kintz.

Everything from there has been about experimenting in the kitchen with balloons, so to speak. We didn’t want to try and replicate the amazing balloon art that professional balloon artists (“twisters”) do, where you see them making balloon dresses and giant balloon animal creatures. We wanted to find our own magical, imaginative kind of play, using the basic shapes and colors  of balloons to see everything they could suggest. And more importantly, we wanted Nora’s, Rachel’s, and Kolleen’s personalities to come through. The show is about these three specific clowns and what they do together.

Moreover, it’s also about balloons specifically, and the way they open up and interact with the imagination. Balloons stretch, they squash, they bounce; they let light through; you can put things inside them; they float, they drift, they bob – and, of course, they whizz, deflate, and pop! Our creative clowns can do anything they can dream of with these properties and abilities. We have intentionally avoiding using the fancy balloons that you can get that are in the shape of a heart or Bugs Bunny. We’d rather use round red balloons and long white balloons and discover the heart or the character in those shapes.

I think we tend to associate ‘using your imagination’ with childhood in our society, but in reality I think abstract creating is much more interesting to adults. If we twisted balloons and made them into a rocketship shape, that would be less entertaining to adults than to children, because it’s so literal. Using a couple long, wobbling balloons to make a rocketship shape, and using the natural air and squeak sounds of balloons to suggest the launching sound, however – that’s something that adults can appreciate. It invites you to exercise the dreamy part of your brain.

Personally, I think the most exciting thing about this show is that we get to create it for the Fringe. If this was a strict children’s theatre venue, we might not have the license to let the balloons be beautiful and balletic or for them to be funky and funny in the way they move and the way we use them.

The toughest thing about this show was giving it a genre description. It’s got sweet moments, and wondrous moments, and moments that are just plain fun. It all comes down to what the balloons can do – so although it’s a bit of a comedy, a children’s show, a clown show, a storytelling show, a puppet show, a dance and music show, in the end the only thing we can call it is Balloon Plays.

Fort Fringe-The Shop-607 New York Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC

Saturday July 12th at 12:45 pm
Tuesday July 15th at 8:15 pm
Thursday July 17th at 7:00 pm
Saturday July 19th at 4:30 pm
Wednesday July 23rd at 7:45 pm
Sunday July 27th 12:30 pm

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