Looking for the magic in the mundane
Revelations in human awkwardness
I design my shows to celebrate the beauty of being human. From an early age I ran into my parents’ room, threw myself with great drama on to their bed, and cried that I never wanted to grow up. Looking back I can remember why, as a child I saw the absence of play in the adults around me. And – the adults around me were pretty amazing – growing up in San Francisco, with a high school physics teacher father that brought home his labs to try out with me (you know, throwing eggs at a sheet, spinning a glass of water on a small platform, the usual…) and my mother who was a painter and photographer, when I had a nightmare, no matter what time it was, would have me draw my nightmare and explain it to her – erasing all fear and allowing me to sleep soundly. So, it wasn’t that the adults around me were not amazing, but there was something that I had that they didn’t and I didn’t want to lose it.
The story of Peter Pan spoke to me deeply, for I wished to access play, discovery, adventure and imagination always. Now, as an adult I hope that this passion can be seen in my work. The struggle to grow up, be a part of society and keep that age-less curiosity, play and adventure has been difficult, and often awkward and hilarious – that is what I work to put before my audiences – the ever present, and infinitely rich, clashing of innocence and ego.
I discovered my love of creating physical comedy in an elective class I took my senior year in UCLA’s School of Drama called Vaudeville. I didn’t care about preparing for the class, I was almost done with school, I was in love… you get the layout. I came in unprepared and decided to improvise. The assignments were prompts like “tell us the story of the time you were stranded on a desert island with only some dentures and a violin” or “tell us the story of the time you were abducted by aliens” I never thought I was funny until I stopped trying to be funny, in fact I thought I was comically challenged, and still today, I never assume people will laugh. It is all in the situation, saying yes, being present… It was then when I was least concerned with what people thought, or if my story was going to entertain, combined with my earnest interest in what I was talking about — the words spilling out and my body gesturing before I could think about what I was doing — was when people began to laugh.
It took me a whole year of trying to work hard to be funny the following year at The Clown Conservatory to finally give up! Something in me said “%$#@ it, I’m done trying to do it right, I don’t know what ‘right’ is!” I started making work for the fun of it. I gave up what I thought my teachers wanted to see and I began to play. This is what I never wanted to lose when I was a child and had forgotten. I wanted to keep the willingness to play without care of what others thought, without the fear of messing something up, to ask the “stupid” question, to try something differently than the person next to me.
I have found that one’s capacity for letting go of looking good mixed with an authentic passion to communicate can generate charisma. I see it in children and I see it in people who are present, who can play, who can listen and who care about something bigger than themselves. I notice that a lot of play disappears when people are trying to look good, look put together, seem smart, so on and so forth, and I notice that people’s eyes seem to glow, the corners of their mouths turn up and they forget for a moment what they look like when another person plays, is there with them, discovering with them and fails big. I want to remind people of magic; I want to give people permission to try things and mess up. My work can include things like a dinner scene performed flipped on its side or a succession of failed love attempts; things like a lettuce eating contest or desperately seeking stability from a bouncing ball. We are so afraid to break our small chance that we think we have of having a great life, but what someone forgot to tell us is that we are unbreakable. It is in our risks, our failures and our woundings that we find our eternal strength and our riches.
This is why I love making messes, misunderstanding concepts and forming stories that show the purity of the human spirit. I work to do this in my stage shows, my film and video work, in my creative play workshops and trainings and in my public speaking. My aim is to create opportunities for people to come home to themselves. Magic is everywhere and in everything, it just takes a little bit of play to notice it.
Summer Shapiro writes, directs and performs theater productions that are fueled by a fascination with everyday life, turning it on its head and exploring the magical in the mundane. Since 2007 Shapiro’s original works have toured to San Francisco, Hawaii, Orlando, Los Angeles and New York. Shapiro’s Legs And All, costarring Peter Musante of Blue Man Group, won Best of The Best in 2009 Bay Area Theatre from SF Bay Times, best in show at the 2010 FRIGID New York Festival and the 2009 Ticketholder Award for Best Special Event/Performance from Los Angeles Entertainment Today. She has performed her original solo show, In The Boudoir, sharing the bill with Cirque Du Soleil veteran John Gilkey and continued on to headline the 2009 WOW Festival. Shapiro’s PANTS! The Best Show Ever sold out in the San Francisco and New York Clown Theater Festivals in 2008. She has been a company member and teaching artist with The Medea Project: Theater For Incarcerated Women as well as assistant director for the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival’s The Merry Wives Of Windsor. Shapiro has trained, performed and taught workshops in her craft in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Ireland, and has performed on the streets of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Berlin. She holds a B.A. in acting from UCLA’s School of Theater, attended the Samuel Beckett School of Theater at Trinity College, Dublin and graduated from the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco.