Meet Andrew Kim, Lens’ Theater Artist of the Year

Amy Danielson

 

Andrew Kim is preparing to leave Minneapolis for Vashon Island, just outside of Seattle. To the uninitiated, this statement might seem like nothing special, but to Andrew Kim devoteesñconsisting of virtually everybody who has seen his showsñthe news is dire indeed. In recognition of his work in the past year, which has included City Rhapsody at the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, Passage through Theater Mu, and his one-man show Want (which played this week at the Center for Independent Artists), The Lens happily hands Kim recognition as Theater Artist of the Year.

What makes Kim worthy of this honor? Let us look at Want for some ideas. The show consisted of four short scenes, incorporating different puppet and mask disciplines: a sock-monkey tied itself in knots and showed us its posteriorñand this was just an introduction to an act. Through cartoonish word-balloon filled with exclamation marks, a little toy baby exclaimed “I want!” again and again, eventually receiving an SUV for its efforts; a strutting janitor challenged audience members to a tug-o’-war, fretting with embarrassment when he lost to the two burliest men in the room. This production was influenced by Balinese tradition in which one person portrays many charactersñKim wore masks throughout the performance, most wooden monkey faces, and did not speak. His pantomiming and gruff noises were eloquent enough. Seattle-based musician Gregg Dare performed his own twisted music in accompaniment, playing accordion and wheezing out vile songs about alcoholism and failed love affairs.

Kim’s work has also been part of the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre’s annual May Day Parade. He designed and built large-scale yaks, dragons, ants and other marvelous puppet creations for the festival. His imagination with puppets has proven to be exceptional, and we live in a state filled to bursting with skilled, imaginative puppeteers. Kim’s production of City Rhapsody included tough, streetwise poetry, furious squirrels, city buildings that danced together, and newspapers that turned into birds.

Kim moved to Minneapolis after school to work with Dong-il Lee, one of the founders of Theater Mu, where he also attended Carleton College. He discovered his passion for puppetry and performance at the Heart of the Beast after leaving Carleton. Kim had directed some plays in college and was interested in pursuing some additional work in theater. He was especially interested in Korean mask theater at the timeñan influence that has continued in his work, and remains one of the most distinctive features of a Kim production. During Kim’s time at Theater Mu, Dong-il Lee invited him to perform at the Heart of the Beast in a show Lee was co-producingñthe start of an auspicious career.

Since then, Kim has studied various disciplines and styles of mask and puppet making and performance. He has worked with Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater, a nationally recognized puppetry troupe that takes a distinctly political approach to puppetry traditional mask dance studies in Korea and Bali. Kim has also studied mask carving in Bali and clowning at the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre. “I love clowning,” Kim said in a telephone interview, “because it is so profound when it works.”

This year Kim will continue to expand his repertoire, as he plans to study hand puppetry and learn to carve Native American masks. Kim says that puppets and masks help to evoke images of a different part of the brainñthe language of dreamsñand this affords a unique opportunity for creative freedom. “Giving an object breath, sight, emotions, a story is a powerful act of transformation which nudges the audience to a very different place inside themselves which is at once strange and familiar,” he says. Kim uses masks as a means of transformation. They simplify and clarify emotions, reinforcing the intended meaning of a performance piece. Despite conventions, Kim believes, somehow you can extract a deep resonance with the audience, which is both entertaining and powerful. One of Kim’s greatest pleasures as a director and performer is surprising people when they’re not expecting something beautiful and meaningful.

He credits his evolution as an artist with the weaving together of disciplines at the Heart of the Beastñall artists learn all aspects of the show’s creation from building the set and puppets to marketing the production to performing and directing. This experience in all facets of the production process allowed Kim to realize his full potential as an artist. For the first time he had the opportunity to work hands-on with the visual arts which inspired him. The culture of Heart of the Beast encouraged his comfort with his own material, something that Kim has cultivated only in the last few years.

Now Kim is leaving Minneapolis, but not before creating a distinct and extraordinary collection of plays. While in his Seattle, one of his main objectives is to solidify a collective of puppeteersñwhich he has named The Monkey Wrench Puppet Collectiveñin which puppeteers can help each other to produce each other” “s work. Kim will be back in Minneapolis in May for the next May Day Parade, but until then, we will have to make do with memories. As he prepares to depart, we salute his ingenuity and unique poetic sensibilities. They will be missed.

 

For more information about Andrew Kim, log on to http://andrewkkim.tripod.com.