Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spinning Wheel: Act!vated Storytellers

I saw the traveling performers Act!vated Storytellers when I worked as a children's librarian for King County Library System between 2000-2001. They were performing for a school assembly in Bellevue, but the library was hosting the show. Performers Kimberly and Dennis Goza and their young son Zephyr used acrobatics and props to make poetry kinetic. When Kimberly fit her body through the head of a tennis racket (strings removed), I was quite impressed.

Years later, Act!vated Storytellers are still traveling all around the country, presenting theatrical shows in English and American Sign Language with humor and high energy. Zephyr is now 17 with three books and a punk band called A Simple Disaster.

I am pleased to introduce Act!vated Storytellers for the penultimate interview in the Spinning Wheel children's performers series. Here they are-- Dennis, Kimberly, and Zephyr Goza-- in their own words:

What exactly do you do for a living?
DG: Actor, writer, producer
KG: I theatrically perform folktales and classics with my family. I am an actor, web designer, fall guy, entrepreneur, booking agent, costume designer, director, business manager, set designer, seamstress, travel coordinator and squeeze through tennis rackets. Basically, anything you see on the stage I do, anything you hear Dennis does (but even that is a fuzzy line).
ZG: I'm a performer. My family and I each portray multiple roles in our shows. We also serve as our own setup/teardown crew.

How long have you been working in your chosen profession?
DG: About 20 years, give or take a diversion or two
KG: 20 years or so. Kinda lost track.
ZG: 14 years.

What prompted you to work with/ perform for children?
DG: Had a childhood dream of running away to join the circus, and never grew out of it.
KG: Dennis and I met doing children’s theatre and decided to form our own company. I love the immediacy of the feedback from the uninhibited audience.
ZG: I grew into it, really. Mom and Dad started the theatre company before the family, so by the time I came along they were already well into it. I started reciting Shakespeare at two, starred in a commercial at three, and played Tiny Tim and Ghost of Christmas Future on a national tour of A Christmas Carol at age four. If anything, they had a hard time keeping me off the stage!

Why do you continue to do it?
DG: I like to think I'm helping to build the future. Plus, it's just plain fun.
KG: Love it! Can’t imagine doing anything else. I love all aspects of theatre, on stage and off. Which is why I love running our company.
ZG: I'm a natural entertainer. If it has to do with entertaining people, chances are I've had some experience with it.

Which performers are your inspirations for your work?
DG: Buster Keaton, Marcel Marceau, Laurel and Hardy, Garrison Keillor
KG: I’ve been told my physicality is very Jim Carrey. I draw inspiration from Lucille Ball though.
ZG: Buster Keaton! I'm a huge fan of his. I'm also partial to Johnny Depp, and I love any quirky/odd/offbeat/unusual characters and anything on Broadway. Beyond that, the number of performers I draw inspiration from is too long to list. (Although I have to mention that Colin Farrell and Shia LeBeouf are cool.)

What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of your profession?
DG: Composing music, drawing, bicycling, writing poetry, studying philosophy, betting on horse races.
KG: Gee just about everything I do is tied to the business from performing to traveling to web design and promotion. It rather consumes me. I do enjoy biking and wish I had more time for some epic journeys. I am still trying to figure out how to make enough money to eat while touring the world by bicycle.
ZG: What are some things I don't? I do all kinds of work in the entertainment industry, so technically I have a bunch of different professions. When I'm looking to unwind, though, I usually go to the movies, hang out at the bookstore, or just chill around with friends.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
DG: Hmmm.. quite a paradox. If I told people the things they don't know about me (of which there are many), they'd no longer be things people don't know about me. Oh well, here's one: I was once in the Navy.
KG: I feel like an open book. We have been keeping a travel journal online for the past 4 years. Ummm… I air dry my feet after a shower by wiggling them in the air. And I like to dance like crazy when no one is looking.
ZG: I'm into something called parkour, which is a little like urban gymnastics.

Was there ever a time when your audience surprised you? What happened?
DG: At a school in Kansas City, we dropped some pennies on the stage that were used as props, and several kids scrambled onstage to pick them up, practically breaking each others' necks.
KG: After 200 shows per year for the past 15 years or so there isn’t much we haven’t seen. One time in particular wasn’t so much the audience as the janitor. We were in the middle of a show in a gymnasium. The kids were seated in the bleachers when the janitor starts mopping. We didn’t know why she chose that particular moment to clean. We were in the middle of a scene that took place on a ship so Dennis just ad lib a line thanking her for “swabbing the deck.”
ZG: There's been a few times the audience has caught us off guard, both in a good and a bad way, but usually it's just in some small way like laughing someplace where we weren't expecting a laugh.

What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?
DG: Lately, I've been in love with the song “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. It's a simple tune (which is part of its charm, I suppose) but what a shot in the arm! It never fails to lift me higher than a kite on helium.
KG: I am reliving the 80s. I recently learned that I love Styx. Oh and “Damn Good Story” by A Simple Disaster is getting a lot of play in my ears. Shhh! don’t tell Zephyr. He hates it that his mom rocks out to his band’s music.
ZG: Avenged Sevenfold's new CD! (Also, I'm prone to singing anything by Tenacious D at random intervals in time.)

If you could headline a festival with three other performers, who would they be?
DG: Judy Kuhn, Dory Previn and Garrison Keillor
KG: I’ve been headlining with two of my favorite performers for the past 15 years!
ZG: .......I have no idea. I'd love to perform with pretty much anyone.

What’s the song or story that never gets old for you?
DG: The Odyssey is still the greatest story of all time for my money.
ZG: What's My Age Again. I sing it incessantly, much to the annoyance of my peers and family.

I asked Zephyr how his perceptions about his audiences changed over the years as a child (and now teen performer), and also about his hopes and ambitions for the coming years.
ZG: I never really had any feelings about performing in front of people my own age when I was younger (or now, for that matter). By the time I was old enough to have any problems in front of people my own age, I'd already been doing it for long enough that it was intuitive. Now that I'm closer to moving out, my future will probably with my band in North Carolina. I'll also be doing several other things, such as designing haunted houses/themed attractions, making movies, doing whatever stage productions I can get my hands on, writing more books, performing stunts, and starting numerous businesses.

The Pivot Questionnaire, as popularized by the Actor’s Studio:

What is your favorite word?
DG: Cuspidor
KG: Yes
ZG: the moment, it's "superfluous"

What is your least favorite word?
DG: Conservative – because it's almost never used accurately anymore.
KG: No
ZG: I try not to have a least favorite word. It's not nice to demote verbage.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
DG: Music, especially Broadway. Philosophy. And absolutely everything about my wife.
KG: I use my drive time to get the ideas going and organize my thoughts. I keep a notebook by me to take notes. When I need ideas for props or costumes I go shopping. Living in an RV we don’t have space (or the desire) to collect a bunch of stuff. So I have no need to buy things – just look at them. I also enjoy working out. It’s nice to get away from all of the demands of day to day life and just take some time for yourself.
ZG: Going to one of the Disney parks or any sort of themed attraction, or writing music with my band.

What turns you off?
DG: Religion. Or more precisely, religiosity. The overwhelming compulsion that many people have to impose their simpleminded beliefs on everyone else in the galaxy has resulted in more evil than just about anything else in history.
KG: Being told “You HAVE to....” No I don’t.
ZG: Bad comedy movies and sitcoms

What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
DG: The F-word has a certain raw elegance to it, although I get tired of its overuse as a swear word. I often swear with “Crap “ or “Yodsnarotch”.
KG: Bite me!

What sound or noise do you love?
DG: The female voice
KG: Laughter! Especially from our audiences.
ZG: The gentle buzz of a guitar amplifier

What sound or noise do you hate?
DG: Boisterous speech
KG: Street sweepers and leaf blowers in the parking lot in the middle of the nights or pre-dawn hours
ZG: Rap and country music

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
DG: There are other professions??
KG: Web Design or astronaut
ZG: Perhaps being a forensic pathologist (I'm a pretty big CSI buff)

What profession would you not like to do?
DG: Politician, salesman and deodorant tester.
KG: Fold tissue by hand and insert in boxes
ZG: Professional cleaner of anything

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
DG: “Hey kiddo, wait until you get a look at the record of your life; it turned out far better than you ever thought.”
KG: NOW, the party can start!
ZG: "DUDE! That was the best entrance anyone has made in a long time. The fire was a nice touch. Also, I love your band. Can I have your autograph?"


jules said...

Ooh! Ooh! I wanna meet them and see them perform!! Sorry for all the "!"s, but as a sign language interpreter AND co-founder of a children's theatre for the deaf, I have a feeling I'd fall in love with them.

See what happens when I get behind on blog-reading? I get behind on great posts like this.

I'm going to try to use "Cuspidor" and "yodsnarotch" in the same sentence today, too.

Great interview! And doesn't every child have a dream of joining the circus? I'm glad they found a way to satisfy that performing urge. And ASL on stage? It doesn't get any better than that!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Jules: I definitely thought of you as I was writing up this interview. I hope you get to see Act!vated Storytellers perform.

I certainly dreamed of joining the circus... or was it a carnival? Something performance oriented, that's for sure.:)

neelienotes said...

Nice interview! It's funny that she mentions modeling Lucille Ball in the interview because I immediately thought that Kimberly reminded me of her while watching their show today ... now I see why :)

As an aside, it was great meeting you and your family today!

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Neelie: It was great meeting you too! I love this little internet of ours. And yes, while I would have not thought of Lucille Ball on my own, knowing that Kimberley takes inspiration from her makes total sense.