For centuries, the United States held true to its reputation as a sanctuary nation, greeting immigrants fleeing unfortunate circumstances back home with the opportunity to start anew.
“Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” demands Emma Lazurus’ verse at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
But what happens to the refugees seeking shelter within America’s borders when Lady Liberty lowers her lamp and closes the proverbial “golden door” to the homeless and tempest-tost?
The 80-minute “science-fiction magical realism human cartoon opera” and “live silent film” about intergalactic asylum seekers fleeing to the presumed safety of planet Earth but ending up instead in a totalitarian nightmare opens 2/19 at Z Space.
I spoke to Moore (also the director of the San Francisco Clown Conservatory) about The Supers, the immigration crisis, and the challenges of getting “meaningful entertainment” funded in 2020.
48 HILLS How would you describe The Supers to someone who’s never seen one of your shows?
SARA MOORE We are creating a new genre of theatre that could easily be called “clown opera.” This is pantomime storytelling set to a full symphonic score. It has all the heightened experience of grand opera but instead of voices, you have amplified cartoon physicality.
48 HILLS What inspired the story of cosmic refugees, fleeing across galaxies to the hopeful safety of Planet Earth, then confronted by a multitude of authoritarian forces?
SARA MOORE Certainly our current immigration crisis has informed this story, but even more so the idea of who has supremacy and why that very concept is idiotic and downright cruel. There is room on this planet and in this very vast universe for all beings to exist, thrive, and get along. I’m a clown and therefore filled with near-supernatural hope.
48 HILLS Your show recognizes the power of everyday heroes. Why is this important in 2020?
SARA MOORE There’s absolutely no doubt that we are in perilously divided angry times in our own country. Plus, nationalism and outright fascism are on the rise worldwide. More than ever we need stories of people helping, as Fred Rogers so beautifully said.
48 HILLS What are the challenges of telling a story entirely in pantomime, with a symphonic score? What’s gained and what’s lost when using these mediums?
SARA MOORE It’s certainly very freeing to let go of talking. So much can be conveyed with the body and face, and adding very specified music to this creates an otherworldly landscape, a trance-like reality where the audience can find a new kind of immersion. I do not miss the tactile world of dialogue in this genre. Plus, it’s damn fun to be a human cartoon!
48 HILLS Tell me about your work at the Clown Conservatory. Also, what are the most important lessons that a clowning student can learn?
SARA MOORE Huge question! The study and practice of Clowning is ancient and draws from many cultures and techniques. At ClownCon we are focused on what we call “human cartooning,” which is foundational to The Supers. We are invested in training the versatile, amplified, eccentric performer who is ready for circus, stage, and film along with resistance and relief: protest, hospital clowning, and humanitarian efforts. Come join us for the most invigorating 24 weeks of your entire life.
48 HILLS What did you learn opening for Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Rita Moreno, Sammy Cahn, and Phyllis Diller among other legends while working for Merv Griffin?
SARA MOORE That was an insanely important part of my varied and wild career. Mr. Griffin was a delight and everything you’d imagine he was: a pied piper, a papa and mentor, and a lovable guy, overall. He saw my potential and offered me grand opportunities, along with the great producers Roger Minami and Billy Thomas.
I was in my early 20s at the time and not altogether aware of the scope of what I was experiencing. These were real stars. Carol Channing was like looking into a mirror in some ways and I’m ever grateful for her kindness and love. All the lovely people I got to perform alongside were pretty real and fabulous. I learned discipline and how to pump sheer joy into a performance—and endurance. It was a brutal but wonderful schedule.
48 HILLS Tell me about working with gay icon Quentin Crisp on your 1998 film Homo Heights.
SARA MOORE It was like being in a dreamscape, working with Quentin. He was the first true genius I’d ever really met. He exuded an awareness and understanding of the human experience that I’d never witnessed at this height. It was extraordinary, having written a character based on a combination of Captain Picard and Ian McKellan, only to have the most famous English queen agree to play him.
One of the greatest compliments of my life was folks thinking Quentin had written his own dialogue, which he didn’t. I grew up with an English mother and a constant intake of Masterpiece Theatre, so I knew how to write for a British cadence. It was sweet synchronicity with Mr. Crisp.
48 HILLS What are the challenges of getting funding for your work in 2020? And what’s coming up next for you?
SARA MOORE Funding is always an issue. I wish I had a trust fund, but my family’s currency has always been love and support, though sometimes I wish my dad had been a successful bettor at the racetrack! I am ever grateful to our funders at Circus Center. I hope more people with money will kindly offer their support, especially now when we need meaningful entertainment that speaks to bringing us all together in these harsh times. Love is the last great technology, but sometimes love is money!
That said, I am now working on a new clown opera: Cyclones. It’s about the cosmology of the great Cyclone roller coaster and its many clones; another story of bringing people together. Stay tuned.
February 19 through February 29
Z Space, SF.
More info here.