Pee-wee Herman Show

November 11, 2010 by Post Team 

Pee-wee Herman Show, (CP) – In a rehearsal room near Times Square, one of Broadway’s freshest talents is preoccupied by puppets.

It’s not as silly as it sounds.

Alex Timbers is directing a run-through of “The Pee-wee Herman Show” and that means he’s in charge of 20 puppets and eight puppeteers. And while some of the puppets are in the room today, others don’t exist yet. Still more have to be imagined since they cannot be moved from the nearby theatre.

So a run-through gets a little hard.

“It’s even more surreal than watching the show itself,” says Timbers.

In other words, right in his comfort zone. The 32-year-old artistic director of an off-off-Broadway theatre company called Les Freres Corbusier, Timbers has often put on unusual productions such as “Hedda Gabler” with robots and a rock show with President Herbert Hoover as the main character.

This month, he’s accomplished what few directors — and certainly directors this young — have achieved: He has two shows simultaneously on Broadway, “Pee-wee” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which he wrote and directed.

“Broadway is a place that seems to celebrate advanced age,” he says. “There’s that old adage that you have to have grey hair to direct. So it’s been really cool to do this stuff at a young age and to come to it through an experimental theatre background.”

Timbers’ work often combines highbrow and lowbrow, sincerity and subversion, creating a heady brew he calls “post-ironic theatre” that he thinks will connect with a younger audience.

“I think what happens in theatre is there’s not really a dialogue with popular culture, which I don’t think used to be true. I mean, the kind of music in theatres would be the music on the radio and visa versa. But there’s so little dialogue right now between the kind of music, the kind of comedy, that exists in popular culture and in the theatre,” he says.

“As someone who loves theatre and thinks that the live experience is so important, I’m really interested in finding the ways that we can bring in that style of comedy, bring in the viscerality of going to a rock concert.”

He succeeded in that mission with “Bloody,” an emo-driven rock musical about the seventh president of the United States. Led by Ben Walker who struts about in tight pants and eyeliner, the show includes the song “Populism Yea Yea” and portrays many of the Founding Fathers as idiots, one of whom is called a “douche bag.”

“We’re trying to create layers of accessibility so there are different entry points — for a 15-year-old who loves Ben Walker and thinks everything is sxy, for a 20-year-old improv comedian, to a 65-year-old New Yorker-reading intellectual,” says Timbers.

“My shows usually are, I hope, really irreverent, inherently theatrical, immersive, and anarchic and have an intellectual element without being snobby, have viscerality and are somehow interested in society — interested in politics, interested in emotional transcendence, interested in history.”

Paul Reubens, 58, says he relied on the younger Timbers to keep his own zany “The Pee-wee Herman Show” crisply directed, a big honour from an artist who is the star, producer and co-writer of his creation.

“I love to work with people who know more than I know or are experts in fields I’m not an expert in,” says Reubens. “I’m not a theatre person — I’m not a theatre director, for sure — so I look to him, kind of like, ‘What do you know that I don’t know?’”

Timbers, which grew up in Manhattan and Illinois, started his troupe while an undergraduate at Yale University, with the mission of combining “historical revisionism, multimedia excess, found texts, sophomoric humour and rigorous academic research.” He says the prevailing conventions of theatre may be strangling its creativity.

“Musical theatre is ridiculous. You know, people breaking into song? It’s stupid. It has nothing to do with anything,” he says. “It’s funny, it’s laughable. And yet, in its purest form and its most perfect form, it can be more emotionally transformative than any movie or any TV show.”

Timbers says the best way to stage a musical these days is to immediately acknowledge to the audience that what they’re about to watch is all a bit silly and then move ahead to create a moving experience. He points to shows such as “Urinetown” and “Hairspray” that wink at the audience, as if sharing the conspiracy.

Next up for Timbers is a partnership few might have expected from someone who has mocked Scientology and has directed a show called “Incompetent Scumbags.” He’s working with the Walt Disney Co. on a prequel to Peter Pan based on the book, “Peter and the Starcatchers,” by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.

The project — the first straight play Disney has ever commissioned — has 12 actors and no scenery probing the back story of Peter Pan. Timbers say it’s both funny and moving. “It’s kind of like Disney does Steppenwolf,” he says.

But is he in danger of losing his edgy theatre cred by doing Disney and two Broadway shows? “I would be very stupid if I stopped thinking about the work that I generated that helped get me here,” he says.



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