Photo by Mark Vancleave
Hans Christian Andersen crafted a string of beloved stories, from "The Little Match Girl" to "The Little Mermaid," during the late 18th and 19th centuries. The man behind the stories was a complex being, full of insecurity, ambition, and sexual confusion.
Open Eye Figure Theatre's Michael Sommers took on the challenge of exploring the storyteller, but the eventual show is much different than a biography or a retelling of Andersen's most famous stories.
"All of it fascinated me. He was manipulative and the Andy Warhol of his time," Sommers says.
"Andersen's writing is so weird. The stories are unsettling and they go places you don't expect. There was still a lot of paganism and superstition in the culture, so he carried these two worlds. He couldn't have written these if he was born earlier or later. He carried the past and moved into the future," Sommers says.
Sommers teams up with performer Kimberly Richardson to create The Clumsy Man, which opens this week at the south Minneapolis theater.
The creator connects the development of the work to two earlier pieces he created at Open Eye: 2011's Refreshments and 2012 A Hole. Like those works, Sommers envisions a work that encompasses more than just Open Eye's stage.
"Coming from A Hole and Refreshments, I am interested in having a different kind of experience. I've learned how language works inside of these things," Sommers says.
Like those works, The Clumsy Man works to merge different styles with a work that takes its inspiration simply as a starting point. "At one point, the biographical elements went away. It is still connected to him, with his diaries and fragments of his stories," Sommers says.
Instead, Sommers focuses on a single moment, when Andersen returned to his hometown of Odesne, Denmark. "He had always dreamed of coming home and finding the city illuminated for him. When it happened, he had this terrible tooth ache. All he could think about was this terrible toothache," Sommers says. "I found that very funny."
The piece explores "the awkwardness and clumsiness we carry around," Sommers says. That starts at the very beginning, when the audience will gather in the theater's lobby, watch a short video, receive a snack, and be invited to wear a paper crown. "We want them to feel a little clumsy as audience members," he says.
Sommers has worked with Richardson in the past (including this year's To the Moon), but this is the first time he has collaborated with just a single performer. "I was a little scared to start. I've never been in the room with one person. The great thing about Kimberly is that she is a rare breed of performer and actor who commits so deeply. She is always proposing from her side. I don't want to use the world collaboration, but there is back and forth and an equal ownership of the creative process," he says.
The Open Eye space also guides them. "This space doesn't allow any fat. We have to be super clean and precise in this world we are making," Sommers says.
IF YOU GO:
The Clumsy Man
Open Eye Figure Theatre
506 E. 24th St., Minneapolis