Tami Stronach

Q&A: Stronach’s Choreography Drives ‘Light, A Dark Comedy’

Tami Stronach began her career playing the Childlike Empress in The NeverEnding Story (1984). However, she followed the screen credit by pursuing dance. While dancing full-time on her toes, she started to miss theater so her next move brought her back. Fortunately, acting chops didn’t have to suffer the lift her high step always gave her. As part of Flying Machine with several friends, this company approached theater though movement, and for seven years, she stayed connected to both disciplines before folding. But the members eventually realized they missed each other, and coalesced movement around providing high quality theater for families. The formation of Paper Canoe would coincide with a New Victory Theater LabWorks program seeking plays for children and resulted in a production that “sucks the light out of the theater,” according to Stronach, who choreographed the play and stars as the lead character Moth. OffOffOnline: So does Light, A Dark Comedy have everyone in the dark, bumping into each other?

Stronach: No, the play is well lit. The audience can see everything. It’s the language of the play. But the premise is the sun has been stolen and forgotten. We’re trying to show how quickly history can vanish, and the importance of keeping stories alive.

OffOffOnline: Who stole the sun and why?

Q&A: Stronach’s Choreography Drives ‘Light, A Dark Comedy’

Stronach: The world was constantly lit and everybody worked all the time. This meant everything was go-go-go, and people never saw their children. At the same time, the space for reflection and dreaming got sucked up into this constant, bright, manic whirlwind. So an inventor tried to bring balance by creating a dark maker and ended up stealing the sun. The world was left in the dark, and Moth, my character, is trying to bring it back.

OffOffOnline: Where did this idea come from?

Stronach:We were brainstorming, and our director (Adrienne Kapstein) just said, “what if we created a world where there was no light.” We decided that was near impossible. But the impossibility intrigued us. Then Greg Steinbruner, Robert Ross Parker and I went on a writer’s retreat. We covered the wall with Post-it Notes and came up with the first two acts. But eventually Greg made revisions and completed the end. On the other hand, this is physical theater. So the story was written as we improvised things in rehearsal. We would then go home, and write what they saw. So the relationship between image and text was very organic and fluid. This amounted to a play written by a choreographer, a writer and a physical theater artist—providing all these different entry ways into the drama. Then last year Greg Steinbruner rebuilt the script into what it is now with the help of dramaturge Jeremy Stoller. Ultimately our goal as a company is to produce work that is as rich in narrative and text as it is invested in creating visual poetry. 

OffOffOnline: Can you describe this world a little more?

Stronach: The actors wore a headgear called dim makers, which helps them see, and the city functions on a grid of hooks and ropes so people don’t get lost. It’s sort of like the trolley system in San Francisco. But acts as a metaphor for staying inside the box and not questioning the way things are. As a result, adults might contract “the sleep,” where they enter into a dream state and never come out.

OffOffOnline: How does Moth figure into all this?

Stronach: She unplugs from the grid, and goes off into the darkness where she meets a boy who has lived his whole life alone. Figuring out all these genius mechanisms for surviving, they then meet Sunny and Ray who have created a clandestine radio show. From their platform, the duo pretends to be on a beach and have gone into complete fantasy to deal with the problem. So they sit around and pontificated about the sun without doing anything about it. But the idea is to have characters with flaws and together there’s enough inertia and alchemy to achieve the things that shift society.

OffOffOnline: The play is billed as a little scary? Do parents have to worry?

Stronach: Well, it’s a mix. There’s a lot of humor, but I think losing your mom in a black void would be scary for a 4-year old.  An 8-year old, on the other hand, should be fine and doesn’t mind being a little scared—especially since we have a happy ending.

OffOffOnline: What was the challenge of writing for children and adults?

Stronach: People underestimate the intellect of kids. They come into the theater with fewer assumptions and are more willing to be carried away by the story. So the story can reach audiences of all ages.

OffOffOnline: Finally, what message are you conveying about breaking free from your parents’ worldview?

Stronach: Moth doesn’t accept the gloomy truth she’s supposed to accept, and she changes the world. So I want my daughter to believe that she has the strength to find solutions that my generation didn’t think of.

Read Ray Morgovan's review of Light, A Dark Comedy here.

Light, A Dark Comedy runs until April 10 at the Triskelion Arts Muriel Schulman Theater (106 Calyer St. between Clifford Pl. and Banker St.) in Brooklyn. Matinee performances are Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets cost $18. To purchase tickets, visit www.papercanoecompany.com

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The Opposite of Light

Light, A Dark Comedy is a clever and smartly written play wrapped neatly with an amazing array of costumes, puppetry, lighting and media. It delivers a futuristic world ruled by an evil mayor and her equally evil, if somewhat “pretentious mystical nitwit,” sister. Sunlight has been literally sucked from the sky and leaving everyone to "stay online" or fall into darkness. No one really remembers actually seeing the sun, however, there are references and ditties scattered throughout the play that alludes to the sun. So much so that the words "day" and "light" have been replaced with the word "dim." What happens to the human spirit when subjugated by darkness and despair? And, for a young girl–what will she resort to for extra rations for her and her mother?

While pulling from modern mythology, movies and history, Light, A Dark Comedy is rich with symbolism making for an ominous, expressive tale for a modern age by playwright Greg Steinbruner. The story follows a young girl called Moth on a journey through her own darkness, from completely believing the evil Mayor to eventually confronting the truth and the Sandman. Along the way, Moth, played by Tami Stronach, encounters the Sleeper Services, who take away those who have fallen asleep. Moth also comes across the evil Mushanto Mushroom Corporation–where orphans are conscripted to work off their debt to pay for the care of the sleepers, The Underground–a rag tag group making up the resistance movement, the Queen–whose whispers cause people to sleep so that she can control their dreams, and finally Sunny and Ray–who broadcast an illegal radio show with supposedly cryptic messages for The Underground. The story languishes in the middle and it might be a tough sell for children due to the length and heavy subject matter. However, the detail in the story woven by Steinbruner and the tightly choreographed production is incredibly engaging.

Light, A Dark Comedy is brought to life by a great cast who, with the exception of Stronach, play multiple roles while creating and re-creating the stage for each scene. Here, darkness and shadows allow for characters to blend in while holding up a screen to complete the set or make a large flock of birds swirl overhead. Stronach, similar to Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, is the thread throughout this 90-minute journey and is rarely off stage. She, as well as the entire cast, is completely immersed in her character, movement and the story. Everything is so tightly intertwined to bring anything less to the stage could easily be catastrophic. Carine Montbertand plays the evil Mayor with great aplomb delivering a wicked, sinister character. It is her portrayal of the Mayor’s sister, The Queen, though, that appears forced. It is almost as if she is trying too hard to make her character uniquely different than the Mayor. Steinbruner's play challenges six actors, including himself, to play 16 roles in one production. With the extraordinary direction of Adrienne Kapstein the cast utilizes every opportunity to nuance 16 characters to life. From language and dialect to physical attributes and an abundance of costuming this is a challenging play both physically and mentally, and the cast made it appear seamless under her guidance. It is quite surprising when only seven actors appear on stage at curtain call.

Before all of this could take place, a talented development team created a very complex and moving production. Barbara Samuels delivers unique lighting to a relatively sunless play, Theresa Squire layers costumes for 16 characters to change into quickly, Mark Van Hare designs subtle sounds and striking music, Tom Lee designs vivid projection imagery, and Lake Simmons' delightful puppetry includes an expressive chicken laying an egg and a giant dragonfly who buzzes about the characters. Tying the vivid production together is Deb O with a steampunk style set design that utilizes three rolling “stages” and holds a multitude of props to create scene upon scene.

Light, A Dark Comedy is an unexpected 90 minutes that touches each of the five senses and is an invitation to explore the sixth. As Moth describes, “It’s on the tip of your tongue, but the name of the thing–the thing that’s missing–just doesn’t come to your lips.” It’s when Moth ventures out into the world and she comes to the crossroad of curiosity and dreaming, that she understands that only light can overcome darkness.

Light, A Dark Comedy runs until April 10 at the Triskelion Arts Muriel Schulman Theater (106 Calyer St. between Clifford Pl. and Banker St.) in Brooklyn. Evening performances are March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and matinee performances are Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Tickets cost $18.00. To purchase tickets, visit papercanoecompany.com.



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