Academic journal article TheatreForum

A Wild Man of the Theatre: Josh Fox and His International WOW Company

Academic journal article TheatreForum

A Wild Man of the Theatre: Josh Fox and His International WOW Company

Article excerpt

Josh Fox and his International WOW Company have been stirring up audiences at home and abroad for the past nine years with their explosive brand of theatre, his short period of time, 32-year old Fox, founder, artistic director and lead playwright of WOW, has fearlessly produced, created, written, and directed over 30 shows in the US, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand, most of them selffinanced. His plays cover a wide range of topics, styles, and forms, from the experimental to the more traditional. Some are sprawling theatrical collages with over 30 actors in multiple roles; others are smaller, more character -driven with straightforward dialogue. Whatever the form-a guided bus tour through Manhattan to a warehouse in Brooklyn to watch suicide bombers, hooded prisoners in orange jumpsuits, and National Guard trainees interact with ordinary people, or a more conventional narrative about a bunch of down-and-out guys, victims of police brutality-WOW's aim is to address the effects of globalization on today's world and explore questions of personal and cultural identity through the theatre.

Of course Fox is not alone in this endeavor nor does he want to be. Although he has become the chief playwriting voice of WOW, he favors a collective process of composition and writing to build WOW pieces. His primary interest, visible in his shows as well as his working method, is in community and to this end, he has assembled a diverse group of actors, dancers, musicians, technical and visual artists, hailing from 12 countries on four continents, who work together, in the United States and abroad, redefining community and creating innovative theatre.

Fox and friends founded International WOW in 1996 in Thailand where Fox had gone to participate as an actor in the Bangkok-Berlin-Bali "Rendezvous of Arts," a six-week festival organized by Manuel Lutgenhorst in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. They called their first piece ?WOW!, a word chosen because, according to Fox, "it is used in almost every language of English origin, with the same meaning all over the world." The show opened 12 July 1996 at the Chiang Mai University, ran for a week, and then, later, toured to Bangkok along with a second WOW piece, American Interference.

Early WOW pieces, predominantly image-based and highly choreographed, were mostly conceived and created in Thailand with Asian actors and dancers. Because Fox was working in a different culture, he wanted to find a common language that would incorporate performance styles and methods from both the East and the West. Thai dance, Indonesian Mask Work, Suzuki, Anne Bogart's movement-based Viewpoints, LeCoq exercises, and Tai Chi became and remain part of the WOW training routine. To develop scripts for the early shows, Fox worked with English language Western plays that had been translated into Thai. From these, he made a collage of scenes which he had the Thais rewrite and then he rewrote these rewritings. For American Interference, he borrowed lines from Hollywood films of the 1940s and rearranged them to create different story lines. "It was a little like painting by numbers without an outline," as Fox describes it. He also invented a collective, reciprocal process of composition, writing, and scene building which is still used by the company today. Called Tablework, it has the actors work from a set of questions (questions about Nuclear Holocaust and related fears and beliefs in the case of The Bomb, for example). Answers can take any form: personal writing, visual imagery, scenes, choreography, music, artwork, and so forth. Once completed, Fox acts as the "textual synthesizer" of the information culled from these answers, writing scenes which he then takes to rehearsals to be rewritten with the company members, "on their feet," as he likes to say. Even when Fox has written an original script, he develops it further in rehearsals with feedback from the company. "What I write becomes influenced by who they are and what they are bringing to the work," says Fox. …

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