Five minutes into his play, Andy Massingham realized he had dislocated his thumb.
“I remember looking at it and thinking, I’m five minutes in, I can’t end the show,” he said, demonstrating with his thumb.
“So I just turned up stage and — ” he grabbed it with the opposite hand and made a popping sound, “it worked.”
He wiggled the digit as proof.
Massingham suffers a few bumps and bruises while performing his play, Rough House, which he describes as “a guy struggling with gravity.”
But that’s part of the art of slapstick comedy.
It’s like hockey and soccer or, better yet, professional wresting, he said.
To give that illusion of pain, you have to be ready to take a few lumps.
Massingham will be performing this physical comedy at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight and tomorrow.
He started rehearsing for the show when he was eight years old.
That was when he discovered the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Sid Caesar and Lucille Ball.
He would try to duplicate the physical comedy that he saw in those old black-and-white reruns and movies.
Massingham became an actor and studied theatre but continued to work on his slapstick routine.
“Every once in a while, I would do benefits or little five-minute routines,” he said.
“It was just for enjoyment, for my own amusement more than anything.”
Rough House began as a challenge to learn if a whole show could be created out of the comedy shtick.
At first, it proved to be difficult and Massingham began to think that an hour of slapstick wouldn’t work.
But then a friend suggested that he get into a theatre with lighting designers Rebecca Picherack and Michelle Ramsay and improvise a bit.
“That proved to be the master stroke,” said Massingham.
“The lighting designers became my collaborators.”
Much of the lighting is done manually, casting Massingham’s shadow as another character in the performance.
Through this collaboration, the play is still progressing with each show and the team continues to improvise slightly.
With the exception of a few bits of music, the play is done in complete silence.
“I decided right off the bat that I wouldn’t speak, that it would be silent,” said Massingham.
This is “partly as a tribute to silent films and also because I wanted it to be universal — so that I could play it for all age groups in all languages.”
However, this silence creates a danger. Someone might confuse Massingham’s performance with mime.
“Mime is one of those words isn’t it?” he said.
“We don’t want to use it — we don’t want to even acknowledge that it exists — but we all use it no matter what.”
But this performance is different from the white-faced miming of Marcel Marceau; Massingham uses, what he calls, “natural miming,” the gestures and facial expressions that we use everyday to communicate with one another.
Some people use this natural miming more than others.
Massingham is one of them.
During the interview, he used his hands as often as his mouth and contorted his face into a variety of expressions to get his point across.
At the end of every performance, he speaks with the crowd to learn their impression of the show.
The question-and-answer period was first incorporated for child audiences, but the actor soon noticed that adults wanted to get
“They were asking all of these deep philosophical questions, you know,” he said.
“They get something completely different out of it.”
The sparse set and even sparser dialogue has some that watch the performance making allusions to the works of Samuel Beckett.
“That’s great,” said Massingham, “but I don’t think of that when I’m doing the show.”
“At first when I was doing the show I said no, the show has no meaning, but it’s unavoidable at a certain point — you start to think about the bigger picture.”
Massingham will perform Rough House tonight and tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 each.