Off-Leash Area tells stories of mad freedom in 2.5-car garage

Categories: Theater
Paul Herwig as Genevieve G in Off-Leash Areas Le Squat copy.jpg
Strange doings: Paul Herwig as Genevieve in "Le Squat"
​"It's like a fantasy camp for crazy vagabonds," says Off-Leash Area's Paul Herwig when asked about his latest show opening Friday. Le Squat is based on Herwig's experience living in an artists' community in the 1980s in a squat in Paris. Like all of Off-Leash Area's innovative and original work, it sounds like a sensory journey--not least because it's being performed in the garage behind the house he shares with collaborator Jennifer Ilse

"I've tried to pull out all the stops," says Herwig. "There's so much packed into this 70 minutes: a giant puppet, mask work, movement, really cool music. And the characters are all frighteningly and hilariously mad."

The venue the company calls, appropriately enough, "Our Garage," is the definition of intimate, with roughly 20 seats. There are still reservations available for this weekend and next, though, and every Off-Leash show offers a mix of sight and sound akin to a strange dream state (no kidding, they can really be that good). 

Herwig's inspiration for the show came via an exhibition brochure that he's been carrying around with him for the past 27 years. Each page contained art created by a member of the community at the squat; rather than hew to conventional narrative, Herwig has taken each character from the brochure as inspiration for segments of the show. 

"It's kind of like that exhibition brochure brought to life," he adds. "Very hand-made and rough."

Herwig adds that he isn't merely trying to tell a cool tale about his youth--he's driving at capturing a mood of abandon from bygone days that he can only relate from the vanatge of adulthood. 

"The point is not to tell this story about Paul's experience as a young man," says Herwig. "It's giving you page after page of these images, and the words of these crazy street people. It's kind of a celebration of freedom, and throwing yourself to the wind, and not asking yourself questions about consequences. Which is what you do as an adult."

Indeed it is what we do, for the most part. Except when we move into the realm of art, where open-ended possibility becomes the rule instead. 

Le Squat runs Fri,-Sun. from June 18-27 at Our Garage in Minneapolis. Reservations are available for a suggested donation of $10-$15 (advance reservations required). For tickets call 612.724.7372. 

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