By Tessa Raebeck
While many 8-year-old girls spend their evenings playing with toys or watching TV, Kate Mueth preferred to wander her neighborhood in northern Illinois and peer into her neighbors’ windows.
She was not looking to see anything depraved or risqué, she was merely people watching, observing a mother helping her son with homework or a family enjoying a meal at the dinner table.
“I loved watching people wash dishes or read a book, the most seemingly mundane things,” Ms. Mueth said on Tuesday, July 22. “I was trying to make sense of my world, I was trying to make sense of my home life, how people behave…am I behaving properly? Am I normal? Am I whacked out? … and I think some people would think I am sort of whacked out, but that’s why I make art.”
Ms. Mueth, founder and director of the East Hampton-based theatre troupe The Neo-Political Cowgirls, has transferred this childhood fascination into the company’s latest production, “VOYEUR,” which opens, Thursday, July 31, at the Parsons Blacksmith Shop in Springs.
Written and directed by Ms. Mueth, “VOYEUR” is a personal reflection on time, friendship and the transient notion of normalcy.
Ms. Mueth believes the reason many artists, such as herself, are continually driven to create something new is because they are trying to “figure it all out.”
“It’s a very, very personal piece, surprisingly,” the director said, adding she didn’t expect it to turn out so. “I think probably, ultimately, every artist creates something very personal without even necessarily knowing it.”
In “VOYEUR,” a young girl guides the audience in small groups around the blacksmith shop’s exterior. Through a series of short vignettes, they peer from outside through the shop’s windows, watching the story of the life of another girl, the guide’s best childhood friend, unfold.
A “theater art installation,” as Ms. Mueth calls it, “VOYEUR” lasts about 20 minutes per group and explores what theater can entail.
While the actor on the exterior remains a young girl, the girl on the inside progresses through her life, growing from a child to a teenager and eventually an adult, mother and elderly woman.
“It’s essentially about two little girls who are in love as friends are in love, as little girls can be in love. It’s not a sexual thing; it’s a total friendship, sensual thing,” Ms. Mueth said. “And one of them goes away and it could be that she goes away psychologically, she goes away emotionally or literally physically moves away.”
Ms. Mueth, careful to leave the piece open to personal interpretation, said from her perspective, the little girl on the outside still yearns for the friendship she shared with the one within. While the girl inside seems to move on, however, “her life is ultimately not fully realized in terms of joy, in terms of fulfillment.”
“It’s very nostalgic for me,” the director added, “from a friendship I had growing up at a very young age, from birth, into a friendship that was really intense, really beautiful, really connected. And it broke. And it broke through betrayal and it broke through misunderstanding and it broke right around sixth grade, which is a very tricky time anyways.”
The abandonment felt by that loss of her first friendship compelled Ms. Mueth to examine time and the effects when a love that comes from such an innocent yet intense beginning is broken.
Her theater work, she said, is “always an examination of life, of emotions, of happenings, of humanity. And how we deal with it, how it feels to be human, how it feels to survive certain things in our lives.”
Ms. Mueth relates to both the young girls, the one who moves on within the blacksmith shop and the one watching from without.
“I think that’s kind of what childhood friendship is,” she said. “When you’re in one of these closely bonded friendships, where you begin and where your friend ends is kind of impossible to see.”
For girls, Ms. Mueth said, a best friend, “that person that you can be with 12 hours and still want to spend more time with,” is practice for our relationships later in life, for lovers and marriage, “of how we relate and how we love and what we get from each other in terms of nurturing.”
“VOYEUR” examines the passage of time and the impact of growing up—and often apart—on that most intimate relationship with your first best friend, “somebody who you feel that bond with and you can just go and play and be in this imagination land; you literally are creating your world together. And that’s your world—you can’t do that with just anybody.”
“VOYEUR” is July 31, August 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, at 7 p.m. until 8:20 p.m. at the Parsons Blacksmith Shop at Springs Fireplace Road and Parson Place in Springs, East Hampton. Tickets are $15 and can be ordered ahead of time at brownpapertickets.com/event/756705.