By Tessa Raebeck
It was the dead of winter—snowstorms followed by extreme cold followed by icy roads—and Kate Mueth was sick of hearing people complain.
“I was getting annoyed with it,” said Mueth, founder of the Neo-Political Cowgirls, a local dance theater company that explores the female voice. Mueth, who lives in Springs, started looking for a way to help people see the cold months differently.
Determined to help the local community find the “magic” in winter, Mueth came up with the idea for ZIMA!, based on the Polish word, zima, for “winter.” ZIMA! is a fantasy scavenger hunt in which participants, guided by mythical creatures played by the troupe, solve riddles that lead them through an over-arching story to arrive at an answer.
The creatures will again gather in Sag Harbor this weekend for ZIMA’s third appearance at HarborFrost. On Saturday at noon and again at 12:30 p.m., groups can gather at the Civil War Monument, at the point of Main Street near the Corcoran building, where Madison and Main streets split. Groups will receive the overall riddle and a map, then listen to a storyteller who will set the tale for their forthcoming adventure.
Following the introduction, the guests will venture out in search of six vignettes, short scenes performed by characters that give hints to the riddle. The theme for the treasure hunt changes with each performance. This year, gods and goddesses will fill the stores and sidewalks of Sag Harbor, sharing their mythical stories in elaborate costume and full character. Athena could be hidden in a shop window or Zeus could be entertaining in an alleyway; the actors will be split about half and half between indoor and outdoor locations.
By the time the guests have gone through all six vignettes, not only have they seen performances and met a variety of characters, they also will, with some luck, have an answer to the overall riddle. The route leads guests from the tip of Main Street toward the harbor.
Neither too challenging nor too easy, according to Mueth, ZIMA is fun for all ages and families are encouraged to attend. Patrons usually work through the riddle in groups.
After the first ZIMA, Mueth was delighted to see how the hunt brought people together who didn’t otherwise know each other in a common quest for a solution to the riddle.
“That just thrilled me,” she said, “because I really believe in theater as a way to bring people together—the humanity.”
“And I thought,” she added, “this is a really pure way of that happening without it being $150 seat or $350 seat on Broadway. It’s people interacting—and hopefully getting a magical experience.”
That dedication to magical experiences is helping the Neo-Political Cowgirls grow from a small, local troupe to a recognized theater company. The company is entering its sixth year producing and creating new work and is looking to expand.
In “Eve,” another of the troupe’s productions, the performers move through 13 different rooms and involve the audience in the performance.
Just as she doesn’t like to hear complaints about winter, Mueth isn’t a big fan of the fourth wall—she prefers to challenge traditional notions of theater and the roles of performers versus audience members.
Having performed primarily on the East End for the past six years, the Neo-Political Cowgirls are in the process of taking “Eve” to New York City.
“We have to expand,” said Meuth. “I’m so committed to this community and where we live, but at the same time, financially we have to keep moving, we have to keep expanding because it’s costly.”
Manhattan is the first step, but Mueth has her sights on bringing the show to Berlin, Boston and around the world.
“Our audiences aren’t necessarily just in the Hamptons,” she said. “We’re grateful to our audiences in the Hamptons and we’re so happy we’ve reached a really wide group of people, a lot of different ages, and we will continue to do that. We’re not fleeing the Hamptons.”
In March, the troupe will host “a backward audition” for “Eve” in the city, for which it will invite influential theater players and producers and anyone else who may want to support the show.
Although Mueth has her core set of actors (many of whom will be in Sag Harbor Saturday) she is always looking for more talent.
“I often go to the same people,” she said, “but I’m also casting a wide net as well, because you never know what you need or what you’re looking for … I’m always looking for really good actors, really good movers.”
As part of Harbor Frost, ZIMA! will start at the Civil War Monument at the intersection of Main Street and Madison streets at noon and again at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, February 8. The walk lasts approximately 35 minutes. A donation of $5 is suggested.