This past weekend I had the unique experience of watching a newly arrived family from Afghanistan watch their very first theatrical play, in the very first theater they had ever sat in – on Broadway, but not a Broadway show. Still, the effect of watching them enjoy their first show was moving, and quite magical.
It also helped that it was at one of my favorite theaters for children in NYC, the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street. The show we would see, “Pss Pss,” hailed from Switzerland, as the bulk of their programming is from around the world. Like all the other shows I have seen at the New Vic, it appealed to adults as much as children. I can definitely vouch for that.
The boys, ages 7-12, were mesmerized the moment Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari walked on stage. Inspired by Chaplin, Keaton and the stars of silent films, the two silent clowns fumbled through their interactions. There were lots of laughs along the way from the four boys and their father. This was true slapstick, funny as funny gets. It was clear that the clowns loved each other but simply could not get on the same wavelength as their interaction revolved around mishaps, antics, and tripping over each other and a ladder that was almost like the third character in the show. Oh, and a rope for them to swing on above, the fourth character in the show.
The show was perfect for my theater newbies, as they are still learning English and are adjusting to their new culture. The show was interactive, involving audience members, one in particular, in a hysterical way. It’s a lesson in clowning, and certainly eye-opening for anyone who has not experienced the magic of theater. The two actors/clowns were clear professionals, never breaking character, with priceless expressions. I saw the boys laughing countless times from a few rows back, where I was seated, and the dad could not contain himself either.
“Pss Pss” has performed over 600 times in some 50 countries across 5 continents, earning the coveted Cirque du Soleil prize and the 2016 Swiss Theatre Award along the way. Having performed for sold out crowds at the London International Mime Festival, Avignon Festival France and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, “Pss Pss: most recently received the 2018 Victor Award for Most Popular Show at the American conference of International Performing Arts for Youth (IPAY). Camilla Pessi and Simone Fassari studied at the prestigious Teatro Dimitri clown school in Switzerland.
I’ve talked about the New Vic countless times on this blog. I went there more often when my kids were younger. I love how committed to the arts it is and how it grants access for all students, teachers, kids, families, and communities of New York to experience and engage with the exemplary international programming of theater, dance, circus, puppetry and more on its stages.
Ticket and Membership information is available online (NewVictory.org) and by phone (646.223.3010). The New Victory Theater box office at 209 West 42nd Street will be open Sunday and Monday from 11am-5pm and Tuesday through Saturday from 12pm-7pm.
Disclosure: I was provided with tickets by the lovely people at the New Victory Theater to take this refugee family to the theater, for which I am very grateful.