A high-kicking giant. A clumsy cowpoke. A grumpy, pipe-smoking trout fishing beside an imaginary stream.
Welcome to Masked Marvels & Wondertales, the eye-popping one-man variety show by Michael Cooper, the virtuoso storyteller, mask-maker and mime. In January Cooper will bring his colorful cast of characters to St. Louis for a performance sponsored by Washington University’s Edison Theatre.
The special one-day-only show — which will launch Edison’s spring ovations for young people series — will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 17, in the university’s 560 Music Center.
Combining the mythical and the autobiographical, Cooper employs astonishingly detailed masks as well as impressive physical dexterity to tell original stories that highlight the presence of the miraculous in everyday occurrences. Vignettes include “The Baby,” inspired by the birth of Cooper’s first child; “The Horse,” which pays homage to his father, a veterinarian who courted Cooper’s mother on horseback; and “Fish-or-Man,” in which he asks the audience “How do you think a fish would feel… if he were the one winding the reel?”
But the stars of the show are Cooper’s exquisite masks, each of which can take up to 300 hours to make. Working primarily with scavenged materials, Cooper begins by ripping paper bags or old cloth into small pieces that are then dipped into glue and laminated over a carefully crafted clay sculpture.
Once the layers dry, the clay is dug out and removed, leaving just the hollowed-out mask ready for final flourishes, which often includes some clever engineering. The fish mask, for example, can blow bubbles from its mouth, while Cooper’s wind creature features spinning limbs mounted on an old bicycle wheel.
Born in raised in rural Maine — where he still resides — Cooper earned a bachelor’s degree in peace studies from Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, where he also developed an interest in performance. He then spent six years training with two of the greatest mime teachers of the 20th century: Etienne Decroux of Paris, France, and Tony Montanaro of Paris, Maine.
Today Cooper spends roughly half of each year on the road performing Masked Marvels & Wondertales — a show he has continually developed for close to three decades, in more than 8,000 performances. Credits range from the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Hong Kong International Children’s Festival to The Comedy Store in Los Angeles, the Dublin Theater Festival and the Great Woods Center near Boston.
The ovations! for young people series presents specially priced Saturday matinee shows for audiences of all ages. Following Masked Marvels & Wondertales, the series will continue Feb. 28 with the Ahn Trio, three Julliard trained sisters who breathe new life into the standard piano-trio repertoire. The series will conclude March 28 with Diavolo, the high-flying Los Angeles dance company.
Tickets to Masked Marvels & Wondertales are $10, though subscriptions to all three ovations! for young people events are available at $6 per ticket. Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office — located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. — and through all MetroTix outlets.
The 560 Music Center is located at 560 Trinity Ave. in University City. For more information, call 935-6543 or e-mail email@example.com.
This event was previously scheduled for Jan. 24.
Founded in 1973, the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis.
Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors. The OVATIONS! Season is supported by The Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
WHO: Michael Cooper
WHAT: Masked Marvels & Wondertales
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 17
WHERE: E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall, 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Ave., at the intersection of Trinity and Delmar Boulevard
SPONSORS: Edison Theatre ovations for young people series
INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.