Monday, October 28, 2019

Rock and Ice Article: Climbing Takes on the Theater

Climbing Takes on the Theater: Durango Dirtbags Win Award for Their Play “Lobuje”

Climbing stories have made for classic books, been in the magazines for years, and more recently have made the leap to the big screen. Now they’re taking on the stage.
By Donna Stewart | October 23rd, 2019
Photo: Donna Stewart.
“WHY DO YOU WANT TO CLIMB THIS MOUNTAIN?” Mike Largent, climber, actor, writer and founder of the adventure-based Theater Troupe, Theatre of the Wild, demands from fellow climbers, roaring into their faces drill-sergeant style.
The climbers, standing at military attention, shout back, “TO TELL A MOUNTAIN CLIMBER STORY THAT DOESN’T END WITH JAMES FRANCO UNDER A ROCK, SIR!”
This is the opening scene for the ground-breaking play, Lobuje, named for the 20,000-foot Himalayan peak and based on the raw experience of the theater troupe, Theatre of the Wild, who summitted the peak last November. Their docu-dramedy is the first time a mountain climbing story has ever been performed on the stage. How did the story translate to the unusual terrain? They won a People’s Choice Award at the Fort Collins Fringe Festival in July and they deserved it.
While the troupe’s leader, Mike Largent, did nearly die of hypoxia and had to be rescued by a helicopter, the opening scene guarantees the audience that that’s not what this story is about… at least, it’s not all this story is about. And that’s super refreshing because I’ve heard more than one person “meh” when the latest film debuts about badasses sponsored by Black Diamond or The North Face finding the next big edge on which to test their already considerable skills. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all still deeply impressed, but it’s getting harder for us to connect to their stories. And, frankly, we’re seeing so many that maybe, just maybe, they’re starting to be a little same-old, same-old? Where are the stories about those of us living real lives kicking and scratching our slightly less-toned tushes through a bit of adventuring?

[Also Watch VIDEO: Return To Mount Kennedy]

“Go Big or Go Home” is actually starting to get some shrugs and yawns here and there as audiences, overwhelmed with the litany of the how’s of these adventures, have started yearning for the deeper waters of the why’s and who’s, with the who’s being who are these people really, where did they come from, what drives them, and how much like “me” are they? Along with these deeper questions, people, especially non-climbers, also want to know, “Why does this even matter?”
The answer to these questions is what Theatre of the Wild’s Lobuje is all about. One of the core-binding principles of the four troupe members (Mike Largent, Sarah Grizzard, Theo Reitwiesner and Gustavo Palma) is that pushing yourself through adventures, whether in the wild or otherwise, carried out on the individual level, improves the world on a global level. The important thing is that you’re getting out of your comfort zone. “It isn’t about being the best,” says Theo Reitwiesner, a college student pursuing a double major in psychology and outdoor recreation at Fort Lewis College, one of the only colleges in the country that literally offer a degree in Adventure Education. “It makes us better people and that’s good for the whole world.”
Photo: Donna Stewart.
Theatre of the Wild want to remind the audience that growth promoting adventures come in many different forms. “You can do more, you can get out there in whatever way that means for you, and it’s worth it,” says Largent. “You’ll grow.”
Lobuje brings this message through revelations not of the pure badassery of the players, but through the revelations of their lovable, fabulous human fallibility, starting with three of the climbers downing a bottle of martini premix like some sort of post-race sport drink rather than pouring it out at airport customs, which naturally came with some uncomfortable consequences over their long flight to Kathmandu. The message—that anyone can and should have adventures—is brought home as you watch this crew who had been so busy with work and school and life that they didn’t have time to fully train, struggle and crawl their way to the summit. That is, except for Largent, who had perhaps the deepest, most powerful adventure of all, struggling to breathe until he was forced to evacuate by helicopter, alone, with the hopes a rapid descent to lower elevations allowed him to live.
When asked why no one went with him, Reitwiesner said Largent waved them on saying, “What are you going to do? Lick my wounds or hold my hand?” Full disclosure from this writer: If we’re climbing in a foreign country and I just spent the last 24 hours unable to talk because I had to concentrate on trying not to drown in my deepening lung lake, I’m gonna want you to hold my hand all the way to the hospital like the big baby I am.
True to the opening scene, however, Largent’s near-death experience is only an aside in a story that is sometimes frightening, sometimes hilarious, but always raw and honest, performed by a talented troupe of performers, three of whom are theater veterans.

[Also Read Gambling In The Winds – Finishing Hayden Kennedy’s Unfinished Line]

The entire performance is played out on the back of an old dump truck the troupe has converted to simulate the troupe’s climb to the peak. They custom built a fold out stage that features a retractable climbing wall they actually clip into and scale.
“People say they felt like they were immersed, like they were really experiencing it and that’s exactly what we were going for.” Said Gus Palma, who was relatively new to climbing when the troupe took on the climb. “We want people to ask themselves: What’s their version of their stories? What do they want to do? Not talk about, not daydream, not read about, but do?” says Largent. And nobody has to die or leaves a limb pinned under a rock for it to matter.
Theatre of the Wild have one more performance coming up October 25-27 at the Alpine Club’s Craggin’ Classic in Moab, Utah. For more information:

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Epically Human - Published in The Durango Telegraph 9/12/19

Epically human
Theatre of the Wild's "Lobuje" offers answer to today's radness overload

Epically human
Members of Theater of the Wild in a scene from "Lobuje" earlier this summer at the Fringe Festival in Fort Collins. The play, about a real- life climb to the 20,000-foot Himalayan peak, was performed on a makeshift climbing wall on the flatbed of a truck./Courtesy photo by Donna Stewart
 Donna Stewart - 09/12/2019
“I’m saying, let’s take f***ing action toward things that we’re passionate about, without apologizing and without reservation. We don’t have time for that,” Mike Largent, founder of Durango-based performance art troupe Theatre of the Wild, said.
It sounds like a battle cry, a pep rally-to-action before facing some sort of epic challenge. But Theatre of the Wild is out to challenge ideas about who and what exactly is “epic,” especially, but not exclusively, in the wild.
Truth is, we’re getting bored with titans. In the last few years, I’ve heard more than one person “meh” when the latest mountain climber story hits the theaters. With 500,000 peak baggers in Colorado alone, it’s getting so even free-soloist Alex Honnold has a hard time maintaining his level of appeal.
Audiences are starting to desensitize to epicness. We’ve struggled and lost right along with the best climbers in the world. Yet another climber spends days, weeks or even years confronting his or her limitations  by struggling to the top of something craggy? Lucky them, but what else is new?
Here’s something new: a live theater production that features climbers, not sponsored by Black Diamond or North Face, reveling in the adventure of the personal.
“Why do you want to climb this mountain?” Largent roars, drill sergeant-style, into each climber’s face in the opening scene for the troupe’s new production, “Lobuje.”
“To tell a mountain climber story that doesn’t end with James Franco under a rock, sir!”
It’s true that when we watch movies or read the titan’s tales, we get jazzed, eager to run out and start conquering mountains or slaying dragons. But sometimes people just feel like these tales are more demoralizing than inspiring. We can’t relate. Sure, they make us dream big. We spend every spare moment at the crag and lots of moolah on gear. Yet, at some point, we realize we’re just not going to be the next Honnold or Tommy Caldwell.
Which isn’t to say it’s not worth trying. It’s just that most of us just don’t have the time and money to sustain the lifestyle necessary to hold on till Arc’teryx looks our way. Personally, every time I’ve approached breaking the V3/V4 barrier, I’ve either broken a bone, had to work more or gotten pregnant. Life gets in the way. With the current philosophical emphasis being “go big or go home,” it’s hard to rally for adventures that seem, on the surface, nothing to write home about.
Undoing that mindset is one of the goals of Theatre of the Wild’s “Lobuje.” Their message: You do you, and to heck with bragging rights. They want to remind us that it’s not about what we get to the top of, or how many miles we walk, run, paddle or crawl. It’s that we’re showing up, for ourselves, in whatever way  that manifests for us at the time, regardless of whether anyone else will be impressed.
The four troupe members (Largent, Sarah Grizzard, Theo Reitswiesner and Gustavo Palma) are no strangers to obstacles. Each of them worked long hours or several jobs at once to make “Lobuje” happen. When hoops popped up, they hopped through them. And they believe we can all do a little more ourselves if we’re willing to jump, too. “We want people to ask themselves: What’s their version of their stories? What do they want to do? Not talk about, not daydream, not read about, but do?” says Largent.
Last July, the Durango-based troupe debuted their theatrical docu-comedy at the Fort Collins Fringe Festival (earning a People’s Choice Award). The first ever recorded play documenting a mountain climb, “Lobuje” follows a motley crew of performers as they attempt to summit the 20,000-foot Himalayan Peak of the same name.
As the group takes us on their true, very relatable 2018 journey, they reveal the unique, the tragic and the quirky in each of their personal stories. With raw honesty and courage, they give the audience full exposure to what drives each of them to subject themselves to the kind of life-and-death tests that await. While “Lobuje” isn’t one of the highest peaks in the world, it’s still a big, freaking craggy mountain covered in ice with the hiking starting at around 15,000 feet – 7,000 feet above the danger line for altitude sickness (which Largent got and nearly succumbed to, by the way.)
And “by the way” is how that part of the story is told, not as the focus, but merely as an aside of an adventure that is sometimes frightening, sometimes funny. Three of the climbers actually start the long trek with a martini hangover, which they had to endure while navigating foreign systems and technological quirks.
While it’s true their climb lacks all of the traditional juice that fuels most mountain-climbing tales (loss of life, limb or marriage), what they bring to the table is an action comedy that strives for deeper waters. In the process, it gives the audience a human version of the typical climbing experience: a mountain climbing story about and to inspire everyman/woman.
“We’re not really here to say you could be the next professional athlete,” said Largent. “We’re here to say that that doesn’t matter. You can do more, you can get out there in whatever way that means for you, and it’s worth it. You’ll grow. It’ll make you a better person, and that will benefit the whole world.”
That message comes through loud and clear, in large part because it’s being conveyed to you not only by the people who actually made the climb, but by a group of talented actors who are as passionate about performance art as they are adventure. Largent, who also serves as artistic director and lead writer, taught theater at Arizona State University and Fort Lewis College. He holds an MFA in performance from Arizona State, which specializes in developing new work and might be where he perfected some of his incredible facial expressions. He uses these masterfully in each of the several roles he plays in the performance. As a matter of fact, all the actors wear many hats, an inside joke you’ll get when you see the play. Watching the characters “transform” so completely and convincingly is one of this play’s marvels.
And where would you see this kind of play? Why outside, of course! The theatrical play is styled for outdoor performance on a truck/stage custom built by the troupe. The fold out stage features a retractable climbing wall that simulates their climb to the peak. And here’s the thing, it’s all so convincing that you actually believe you are there.
Could Alex Honnold do that?

Epically human
link to original article: